Bosses call for more practical English and maths skills

Nearly nine out of 10 British employers say employees need more practical English and math skills so that they can better succeed in the workplace.

Poor language and maths skills are having an impact on businesses, and 75 per cent of bosses believe action needs to be taken at a national level to see an improvement. Currently 37 per cent of pupils do not achieve grade A*-C in both of these subjects.

The research, commissioned by The Education and Training Foundation, reports that 46 per cent of employers are dissatisfied with employees’ English skills, 17 per cent with maths and 26 per cent with both subjects.

Practical knowledge and skills are highly sought after by employers, who express concerns that potential recruits and young employees are struggling to have a firm grasp of units of measurement, as well as mental arithmetic and approximation skills. There is a strong desire by employers for people to be equipped with practical and applied skills – and employers are concerned that a lack of these skills could impact on business. 

“Employers care about the quality of maths and English skills people have, not just the qualification,” says David Russell, CEO at The Education and Training Foundation.

“They told us about the type of knowledge and skills which hold real currency and support the success of their businesses. Nearly half of the employers we surveyed told us they recognised Functional Skills, and most of those who did so valued them for their content and approach.”

GCSE consistently emerged as a well-known qualification with an established brand. However, employers’ primary focus was the need for young people and adults with good practical maths and English skills, regardless of the specific qualification taken. 

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According to Ofqual, Functional Skills have become a widely used qualification. The number of Functional Skills qualifications achieved has more than trebled to just over a million in 2013/14, and outside of GCSE they are the highest volume of qualifications that Ofqual regulate.

“A decent standard of both numeracy and literacy gives learners confidence to be more independent in their workplace activities and be more willing to commit to their own continuous professional development,” adds Lee Passmoor, Apprentice Academy operations manager at Mercedes-Benz UK.

“This benefits the employee due to greater progression in their careers and increased job satisfaction, as well as the employers, due to increased productivity and efficiency. These skills also carry into an employee’s home life too.”

The Education and Training Foundation recommends that work be undertaken to aid and accelerate the growing awareness and understanding of Functional Skills. The qualification landscape is complex – with several hundred qualifications available and changes to terminology over the years. This prevents clearly understood routes becoming established.

Other recommendations in the report include ensuring that all learners have access to a curriculum of practical English and maths knowledge and skills; a review of the standards on which Functional Skills are based; and the creation of a mechanism to provide regular, reliable and representative feedback from employers and providers to inform continual improvement in curriculum and qualifications.

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