Functional Skills: one year on

Boosting business through Functional Skills

With a quarter of adults in some parts of England only having the numeracy skills of a seven to nine year old, Functional Skills are playing a key role in equipping today’s workforce with the skills needed in tomorrow’s world.

This month marks one year since Functional Skills became mandatory for all apprentices who do not hold a GCSE in English or maths, replacing the old Key Skills programme which ended on September 30 2012.

In the past 12 months, thousands of apprentices have improved their everyday English, maths and ICT skills through Functional Skills qualifications, allowing them to function competently and confidently in the workplace.

So what is the problem?

Functional Skills are helping to tackle an ongoing problem in England’s workplaces; many workers simply don’t have the necessary skills to help companies grow and develop.

The Skills for Life Survey conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that many adults don’t have adequate levels of literacy and numeracy, with around 15% struggling with English and a quarter finding everyday maths difficult. Almost a quarter (22%) of British adults between the ages of 16 and 65 were found to have maths skills at Entry Level 2 or below, which is equivalent to a seven to nine year old.

Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) highlighted the problems this is causing for employers, with 32% and 31% of businesses respectively saying they are dissatisfied with some school and college leavers’ basic literacy and numeracy.

So why does it matter?

Maths and English skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace thanks to the growth of the service industry, meaning more jobs involve greater levels of communication and financial awareness, while as technology advances, most jobs require people to come into contact with some form of ICT.

If workers don’t have a good grasp of these everyday skills it not only prevents them from getting ahead, it can have a direct impact on their employer’s productivity, service delivery, growth prospects and competitive edge, according to Excellence Gateway.

Data from the Department for Children, Schools and Families shows that industry loses an estimated £4.8 billion a year because of poor literacy and numeracy skills. Firms of 51-100 employees could lose £86,000 every year, while those with 1,000 or more staff could lose £500,000 annually.

A lack of skills can also have an impact on the nation’s economic development. According to the Princes Trust, the UK has between 10 and 25% lower output per hour than competitor nations such as France, Germany and the US and much of this can be attributed to a poorer level of everyday skills.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the UK’s GDP could rise by 0.44% annually if the 10% of 15 years olds who fail to reach its minimum standard in numeracy were brought up to the basic level.

So what is being done about it?

Functional Skills aim to address skills issues in the workplace by providing relevant, well-taught and flexible courses which are embedded into Apprenticeships, so they are not actually seen as separate curriculum subjects but rather a valuable and complementary part of vocational qualifications.

They teach people skills which are applicable in the workplace, helping them to cope with everyday tasks such as completing paperwork, using spreadsheets and carrying out measurements and calculations.

Employers were involved in designing Functional Skills to ensure they meet the needs of businesses.

Clare Riley, the Director of Education at Microsoft, said: “Too often we see school leavers without the basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills which are essential attributes for any of our employees. Having studied Functional Skills, new recruits are more likely to be ready for the workplace which can only be a benefit to individual businesses and to the economy as a whole.”

How are businesses benefitting?

For employers, the benefits of a functional workforce include:

  • Improved efficiency, as employees are able to work more quickly, accurately and flexibly.
  • Increased customer satisfaction.
  • A confident, motivated workforce who can adapt to change.
  • Better staff retention, as employees are able to progress through the company.

There is anecdotal evidence that companies are already seeing the benefits Functional Skills can bring.

Speaking to Excellence Gateway, Chris Starling, Head of Apprenticeship at Virgin Media, said since the company’s service technicians have been undertaking Functional Skills, they have become more effective at communicating with customers.

They seem more confident, willing to contribute to discussions with colleagues, work as part of a team to solve customers’ problems and challenge the normal ways of working to remain at the top of their game. As a result, our customers are more satisfied with the service they receive from us, and happy customers are what every business wants!”

How can learndirect help?

We know every apprentice and every company is different – with different needs, different approaches and different ways of training.

That’s why we’ve designed our Functional Skills offer to be flexible – as part of an Apprenticeship, or as a stand-alone qualification.

We’ll work with you and your staff from the outset so we can tailor the training to meet your business needs.

We make use of collaborative web-based platforms to allow most of the work to be done online, which means your employees’ can learn in their own time and at their own pace. We use specifically-designed contextualised learning content which helps to improve maths, English and IT skills using technology, freeing up more time for your staff to be trained in the workplace and, ultimately, be more productive.

To find out how our Functional Skills solutions can help your business call us on 0800 101 901 or request our information pack.