More than half of UK small businesses are failing to hire school leavers – with many claiming that their numeracy and literacy skills, as well as their work ethics, are not up to scratch.
A report from accountancy body the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) found that just 27 per cent of micro and 48 per cent of small businesses hire school leavers. That compares with 63 per cent of medium and 65 per cent of large firms.
The top three skills that businesses felt that school leavers should have before starting work are numeracy and literacy, with 76 per cent believing that is most important, work ethic, 69 per cent, and communication skills, 51 per cent. However only 53 per cent of businesses that hired school leavers felt that they had the correct numeracy and literacy skills, and just 43 per cent saw a sufficient work ethic.
Regarding the use of work experience placements, the ICAEW found that 59 per cent of business offered pupils the chance to come in and learn about their businesses for a period of time during their studies. Of those businesses that did not offer work experience placements, a quarter cited a lack of time and resource as a reason particularly among SMEs.
However the ICAEW said that work experience can be beneficial for businesses. When asked what is the greatest benefit to their organisation of offering work experience placements to school-age students, 32 per cent said it could help develop a pipeline of future talent, while 31 per cent said it helps to expose young people to different careers.
A strong 85 per cent of businesses agreed that schools should be more proactive in promoting work placements among local firms, while 81 per cent also felt that companies should build stronger links with schools.
As a result, the ICAEW urged businesses to work more closely with schools to help young people gain “relevant” work experience and help their future careers.
The ICAEW recommended spreading work experience placements throughout the year rather than a week block, to enable a greater spread of education and better training for the workforce of tomorrow.
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“It is clear that businesses feel frustrated that the school system isn’t producing sufficient school leavers with the skill-set to enter the workplace. Schools are often focused on academia which prevents schools from engaging with local businesses. However, companies recognise that this is a two-way street and that they can, and should, do more. Teachers need support to give employers what they want,” said Stephen Ibbotson, ICAEW director of business.
“Some businesses have said that they lack the time or resource to properly train those on work experience, which isn’t surprising given that it usually takes place at a time of the school’s choosing, rather than when is best for the business. One idea would be to spread work experience across the year, on inset days – so that pupils can learn work ethic from a number of businesses or occasions, easing the burden on businesses that otherwise struggle to train young people.”
He added: “Our survey has shown that an increasing number of businesses are finding it harder and harder to find employees with the right skill-set. But teachers cannot do it alone, and this process has to include proper careers advice. Otherwise, time spent having to train employees on the basics hits our productivity.”
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