School leavers lag behind Europe in basic numeracy and literacy

UK school leavers perform poorly against their European peers and twice the proportion lack functional skills, which is imposing costs on business and dragging down productivity

British school leavers are lagging behind their European peers in basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to complete entry-level jobs in business, a new survey revealed.

The research carried out by Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), showed that a third (31 per cent) of firms take more than two months to fill junior roles, and on appointment three quarters (75 per cent) of UK school leavers require significant training.​ This was a third higher than elsewhere in Europe (47.1 per cent).

Noel Tagoe, executive director of CIMA Education said: “In the UK the school and the work systems are divorced from each other and this leads to schools not providing the subjects companies need.”

The professional body surveyed polled 1,700 finance professionals across the UK and Europe and it focused on skills shortages for finance team.

It showed that a third of companies are taking months to fill junior roles as many teenagers struggled with functional skills as well as working in teams and communicating with colleagues.

More than 90 per cent of those surveyed reported that their workload had increased as a result of skills shortage with 46 per cent agreeing it had caused a fall in departmental performance. The impact of skills shortages was similar for finance teams across Europe.

Tagoe added: “The divide between employers and educators remains vast, raising the cost burden on British firms and holding back the productivity of the workforce. The realities of the workplace must be better reflected in the classroom through discussion and practical experience.”

This is not the first time a report has highlighted the disparity in skills between the UK and Europe.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) found that 16- to 24-year-olds have literacy and numeracy levels no better than those of their grandparents’ generation.

However, demand from UK finance departments for CIMA’s entry level qualifications has boomed in recent years, rising from 25 per cent in 2009 to 35 per cent in 2014 of total students. The growth is an illustration of how companies in the UK are increasingly investing in raising the basic skills of their candidates.


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