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75% of UK school leavers lack essential job skills according to finance bosses

UK school leavers perform poorly against their European peers – twice the proportion lack functional skills – imposing costs on business and dragging down productivity

British firms are struggling to find skilled candidates for junior roles, according to a survey[1] of the membership of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). The poll of 1,700 finance professionals across the UK and Europe reveals that a third (31%) of firms take more than two months to fill junior roles, and on appointment three quarters (75%) of UK school leavers require significant training.

With record employment in the UK, the research finds that a lack of essential skills in new hires is affecting the performance of firms. More than 90% of those surveyed in the UK reported that their workload had increased as a result of skills shortages, with 46% agreeing it had caused a fall in departmental performance. The impact of skills shortages was similar for finance teams across Europe.

The research draws a stark contrast between the capabilities of UK and European school leavers. While both sides of the channel reported a similar lack of technical skills to work in finance, UK candidates were found to be almost twice as likely to lack functional skills, basic literacy and numeracy, than their European peers. 40% of UK firms felt candidates lacked such capabilities, compared with less than a fifth (18%) of those on the Continent. 

Noel Tagoe, Executive Director of CIMA Education said: “That so many are leaving the school gates so ill-equipped for the world of work fails British business and more importantly it fails the candidates. If the UK is going to continue to prosper as a service economy we must maintain our skills base. As a nation our physical assets are limited, but our intangible assets embodied in the skills and creativity of our workforce are limitless.”

The survey, which also covered business attitudes to graduates and apprentices, reveals a more positive story for the UK’s higher education sector. UK graduates were found to require less training than their European counterparts just 39% of UK graduates required significant training compared to 43% of those in Europe. Similarly a sixth (15%) of UK graduates were found to be lacking in functional skills compared to a fifth (19.5%) on the Continent. 

The research provides a mixed message for the further education sector, with employers reporting that while just a fifth of UK (23%) and European (22%) apprentices were lacking in functional skills, the gap in technical skills between UK and European apprentices was significant. Two thirds (63%) of UK apprentices were under-prepared in technical skills compared to just a 37% in Europe. 

Demand from UK finance departments for CIMA’s entry level qualifications has boomed in recent years, rising from 25% in 2009 to 35% in 2014 of total students. The growth is an illustration of how British firms are increasingly investing in raising the basic skills of their candidates. Such qualifications are intended as knowledge refreshers and require a good understanding of both English and maths, but record levels of employment amongst 16-24 year olds are encouraging firms to assess the potential rather than actual skills of candidates. 

Tagoe concludes: “The divide between employers and educators remains vast, raising the cost burden on British firms and holding back the productivity of the workforce. The realities of the workplace must be better reflected in the classroom through discussion and practical experience. At CIMA we have added case study assessment to our objective examinations to provide employers with a better guide as to the competency of their employees. We need young people to be passionate about their career choices, preparing the path so that we can all share in their future success.”

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