Private firms pay the price for workforce lacking basic business skills
Friday, January 08, 2010
by Howard Teale, general manager, Indicia Training
It’s fair to say that the number of people out of work in the UK - at 2.47 million - is at the highest level in 14 years. And more than one in three 16-24 year-olds, about 366,000, have been out of work for over six months. That’s the highest number of long-term unemployed young for 15 years. If things don’t start to improve, we could be facing losing another generation from the workforce, similar to what happened in the 1980s.
So what can be done to reverse this year-on-year rise in unemployment that the UK is currently experiencing? First of all, we must look at the skills people have to succeed in the workplace. And it’s here that a huge irony becomes immediately apparent. The UK’s young people are more skilled in IT than ever before - their use of social networking platforms, computer games, file-sharing and multi-media applications leaves most people over the age of 35 baffled. But they can’t operate most office systems. It would appear to me that their appetite for computer-based knowledge is being unexploited by our education system.
At Indicia Training we have seen the number of basic IT courses being booked by UK firms rise dramatically over the past few years. Courses on how to use Microsoft packages – the most commonly used computer programmes in business – have risen by 55% over the past year. And there is a simple reason as to why - more than half of all jobs in the UK are office based, and need these skills. Feedback from clients suggests that unfortunately, our young people are leaving school or college without these skills.
As such, private sector businesses are increasingly having to pay for the shortfall in these crucial skills by turning to private providers for training in basic business competency.
For many private sector firms, these skills mean a matter of commercial life and death. Take Scotland for example. Having done their bit to bring out the talent than undoubtedly exists in these intelligent and lively young people, the business manager wearily reads the words of the Scottish Government’s report Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy “from cradle to grave.” One of the key areas was “a response to the needs of the economy and the demand of employers.” So far we have yet to see these plans put into practice.
Standards of literacy and numeracy in Scottish schools have been stagnant for nearly two decades - 25% of 17-25 year olds are illiterate - and many academics fear the new curriculum is unlikely to resolve the issue. If basic literacy and numeracy skills aren’t increasing, how can young people be expected to grasp the skills needed to survive in business?
And it seems the Government has realised they’ve got it wrong. Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop has recently been demoted, to be replaced by Culture Minister Mike Russell. Hyslop has come under fire for months now over everything from class sizes, teacher numbers to the new curriculum. In his reshuffle, First Minister Alex Salmond stated that education needed a “fresh look” – an admission that his Government got it wrong?
So why are companies happy to fork out so much on training? I believe that research from the Federation of Small Businesses, which shows companies that invest in training are two and a half times more likely to survive the recession, has spurred a lot of firms into taking action. And with the UK economy on track to come out of recession by the end of this year, according to a variety of business monitors, it will be these firms, the ones that have invested in training, who will be the ones that begin to see the benefits. They will emerge stronger than before and will be better placed than their competitors to capitalise on the available opportunities.