From education to employment

Jobseekers don’t know what employers want

Many people reading this will know the frustration of employers when it comes to recruiting staff with the skills to get on with the job. For many years businesses have been highlighting the poor maths and English skills of the people they recruit, as well as their lack of the so-called soft skills such as communication, teamworking and negotiation.

This is a fact underlined by the new charity National Numeracy, which recently launched its programme of activity with a report highlighting nearly half the working population have the maths skills of a child at primary school. Clearly, an adult who lacks maths skills to this degree is going to struggle in a work environment. However, despite employers’ well-rehearsed arguments, the message about what businesses are looking for doesn’t seem to have hit home amongst jobseekers.

Last month we released some research which showed jobseekers remain confused about what skills and qualities employers want.  Our findings show just one in ten jobseekers think workplace skills are important, whilst 88 per cent of employers say they are a top priority.  We also found many jobseekers say they struggle to impress at interviews, reflected in the fact four in ten employers say the majority of interviewees fail to impress.  We also found many businesses say the formal education system doesn’t adequately prepare people for the world of work.

This last point is particularly pertinent to our sector – and one the British Chambers of Commerce pointed out last October in its own research. As John Longworth, its Director General said at the time, ‘many firms looking to recruit are stymied by the poor skills available within the local labour pool. Even at a time of record youth unemployment, firms lack confidence in our education system’s ability to deliver basic literacy and numeracy skills.’

The government is working to address this with it schools policy – which aims to improve the quality of teaching, restore discipline, raise standards and empower teachers – as well as through apprenticeships.  The school leaving age is also rising to 18 which, while controversial to some, can only help.

With so many employers and employees feeling let down, these measures have never been so important.  Our sector needs to double its efforts to ensure the skills are delivered to help people get jobs and thrive in them. The findings of our research are worrying, but not surprising. All too often the disconnect between teaching and employability is clear. How often have you heard a colleague or friend say ‘I hated maths – when will I ever need to do algebra again anyway’?  This is why we need to be equipping learners with the skills they actually need and can use in a practical context.

It also means continuing to hammer home the message to jobseekers about how apprenticeships, online courses and other learning programmes are all great ways to help develop those key skills for work. But it can’t stop there. It’s down to all of us across the sector to ensure jobseekers know what employers want and how they can get those skills.

So, if you want to add your name to the many organisations that are supporting us in this aim – what we are calling the Make it Count campaign – do let us know by emailing [email protected]. Together, we can reach many more people and make a real impact.

Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation

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