Ability x Skills + (Knowledge) = the right formula for change?

Radical reform of the maths and English curricula is needed to re-fuel the economy with the skills it needs for growth.

A hard-hitting new report produced by the team here at learndirect highlights the way the current curriculum is failing businesses and sets out our plans to revitalise maths and English teaching in line with the needs of the economy.

The employment challenge

Too many young jobseekers are entering the workforce today without the skills they need to help businesses thrive and grow, including practical maths and English, as well as softer skills like communication and time management.

As a result, many companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit young people, with research from the Federation of Small Businesses finding that almost half of businesses are not very, or not at all, confident that they would be able to find a candidate under the age of 24 with the skills their company needs.

Not only does this lack of skills prevent both staff and the companies they are employed by progressing, it uses up both valuable time and money as 48% of firms have to provide remedial training to recruits.

Our report highlights that this lack of skills can, in part, be traced back to pupils spending too much time learning specialist elements of the school curriculum which they will never use in the workplace (particularly maths).

To overcome these problems and ensure workers have the skills employers want, the school curriculum needs to adapt and respond to the changing needs of the labour market.

What employers want

Employers are looking for well-rounded candidates. According to the CBI Education and Skills Survey 2012, employers believe schools should teach a combination of high quality vocational options and high calibre academic subjects, all underpinned by development of young people’s employability.

As well as basic levels of English, maths and IT, in today’s competitive and pressurised business world employers are crying out for problem solving skills and people who can analyse information and make decisions efficiently and confidently. We need to equip the UK’s workforce with the skills that will ‘future-proof’ their careers, skills such as:

  • Problem solving
  • Budgeting
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Team work.

Work experience is also high on employers’ wish-lists. The CBI’s Employer Skills Survey 2013 report found that 70% of employed young people highlighting they ‘lacked relevant work experience’, meaning they are likely to struggle to get jobs against their older counterparts. On average, only 7% of businesses will recruit someone straight from school.

It is these skills and qualities that employers are looking for and which will equip individuals with the competences needed for the world of work in the 2020s, 2030s and beyond.

The curricula

Year after year the CBI’s annual skills survey of employers tells us the formal education system does not adequately prepare young people for the world of work, with 70% of employers wanting to see employability skills as a top priority, with a particular focus on embedding these skills in the curriculum.

It is estimated of the average 130 hours spent studying the GCSE curriculum over two years, around 57 hours of this is focused on the functional elements such as those covered in the Functional Skills curriculum.  This leaves approximately 73 hours which could be used to provide additional functional maths (English and ICT) support for those who need it, or could be spent learning practical, transferrable skills such as financial literacy, team working, problem solving, communication skills etc, which are needed for employment or progression onto vocational education or training.

In return, we assert employers will be more likely to engage with schools to support careers advice and careers education more generally.

More time needs to be spent by young people on workplace skills. It is only by doing this that UK businesses will build the skilled workforce it needs for the 21st century.

Our formula for change

We are proposing five key areas for change to ensure our future workforce is well prepared for the jobs market to secure sustainable and economic growth for all.

1 – Split the maths curriculum in England to respond to the changing needs of the labour market. Those who want to progress onto STEM subjects would be able to take a full comprehensive GCSE while others could take a more practical maths-based qualification.

2- Offer Functional Skills as an ‘equal’ alternative to GCSE for young people who continue to study maths and English post 16. If young people have not achieved a C grade or above in GCSE maths they should have the option to study Functional Skills as a stand alone qualification.

3 – Greater focus on vocational pathways. If you people are made aware of the vocation options open to them at a young age, they can start working towards their chosen career sooner, perhaps with a Traineeship.

4 – Work experience matters. All young people should be given the option to undertake a work experience placement before leaving compulsory education.

5 – Greater use of technology in teaching and learning. Technology can enhance learning in subjects such as numeracy and literacy and also help prepare young people for the workplace

To find out more download a copy our report>