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CBI warns of 'skills emergency'

The UK must strengthen its education and skills systems to avoid being outpaced by international competitors, according to a survey from the CBI and Pearson.

The report, Inspiring Growth, found that the majority of businesses are concerned about the preparation of school leavers in important areas including business and customer awareness (66%), self-management (61%) and foreign language skills (60%).

More than a third of companies (37%) preferred their recruits to hold a mix of both academic and vocational qualifications, while a further 37% valued academic and vocational qualifications equally.

The report coincides with the summer budget, in which chancellor George Osborne re-emphasised the Conservative party’s commitment to generating three million apprenticeship placements over the next parliamentary terms by introducing an apprenticeship levy on large firms. 

CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said the apprenticeship reforms are a step in the right direction. “Nearly two-thirds of the employers who replied? to our survey plan to start apprenticeship programmes or expand their existing? ones – the highest proportion since these surveys began in 2008,” she said.

“But quality must not be sacrificed for quantity – and we need a laser-like focus on driving up the number of higher apprenticeships, which still only accounted for 2% of total starts in 2014.”

The CBI describes the skills shortage as an “emergency”, with the research finding that demand for higher-level skills is expected to be most prominent in sectors such as construction (+73%), manufacturing and engineering (+69%), and the science and hi-tech industries (+52%).