Why we need investment in education, not spending review cuts

Employers can’t find enough young people with high level skills, the basic academic grounding and worryingly, the key attributes to become productive employees. They were the grim findings from a survey of 294 firms carried out by the business lobby group , the CBI, and Pearson UK this week.

The employers reported the shortage of advanced technical skills is most acute in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM subjects. This represents a major worry for the future as much of the growth in the economy will be in these areas.

According to those employers, too many school leavers haven’t got the key attributes to make a successful transition to working life. A lack of work experience was the biggest problem reported – cited by 55% of employers who responded. A similar number (54%) raised concerns over young people’s ability  to self manage. Problem-solving was an issue for 41% and over a third (35%) cited young peoples’ attitude to work as a problem.

Also this week we learnt from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that countries with strong vocational education systems do much better at getting young people into employment. That was one of the conclusions of their Education at a Glance report – a round-up of statistics on the education systems of 43 countries. That report found that young people aged 15-29 in the UK spend an average of 2.3 years unemployed – a lot longer than in some of the other countries.

The study warned that people who leave school with few qualifications and do not go on to further education are worst hit. In the UK there are more than one million young people classed as NEET — not in education, employment or training.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education and skills, warned that the biggest challenge to the UK is helping youngsters who do not have decent qualifications and struggle to find a job.

The report found investing in education pays off. The likelihood of being out of work drops dramatically the more education a person has and people who carry on studying after secondary school are less likely to be unemployed.

In the context of these reports, giving us employers’ views and the global perspective, Michael Gove’s relentless drive on academic rigour in traditional subjects seems more outdated than ever. They also remind us just damaging the chancellor’s anticipated cuts to further and higher education in today’s Spending Review could be to young people and the economy.

Simon Renton
University and College Union


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