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Education system needs to focus on preparing students for work, according to Centre for Social Justice report


Poor work attitudes among the long-term unemployed are the major barrier to tackling Britain’s jobless crisis, according to a new report from not-for-profit think tank the Centre for Social Justice.

Based on a survey and extensive interviews with employers, the report says a commitment to hard work, presentation and punctuality is more important than literacy and numeracy skills when firms fill "entry level jobs", such as the hotel and restaurant trade, retailing, catering and manufacturing, typically staffed by unskilled workers. Such jobs make up about a third of the total UK workforce of around 27 million.

The report states 82% of entry level employers rated attitude and work ethic as important to progression versus 38% for literacy and numeracy. Asked why they turned down applicants for unskilled jobs (which make up about one third of the workforce), 62% of employers cited "poor work attitude and ethic" and 57% said poor presentation. This compares with the 29% identifying lack of academic skills. A key recommendation from the CSJ is that schools should add a fourth "R" to their traditional prescription of reading, writing and arithmetic. The new element should be "responsibility", meaning that teenagers should be taught how to conduct themselves in the workplace.

A commitment by wider society to tackle social breakdown by, for instance, rebuilding the family unit, would also help foster responsibility among job seekers. The report also says Jobcentre Plus offices should follow the example set by commercial and charitable employment agencies and devote much more of their time and effort working with employers to find out their recruitment requirements. The report, Creating Opportunity, Rewarding Ambition, which was sponsored by Manpower, comes against the background of mounting concern over persistently high jobless rates, particularly among the long-term unemployed. More than 5 million people live in workless households, intergenerational worklessness is growing and nearly one million 16-24-year-olds are not in employment, education or training. All these trends predate the recession and arose despite the unprecedented economic boom of 1993 to 2008.

Although the CSJ applauds Coalition Government measures to tackle chronic levels of unemployment, such as welfare reform designed to incentivise work, a big boost for apprenticeships and vocational training and the introduction of the payment by results ethos of the Work Programme, it identifies poor work attitudes as a fundamental problem. It also points out that whilst the share of migrant workers had risen by 50% between 2002 and 2008 the rise in many entry level employment sectors was even more marked with overseas workers preferred by employers because of their motivation, capacity for hard work and ability to turn up for work on time.

Gavin Poole, CSJ executive director, said: "Many employers told us that they believe students should leave education "work ready" and that currently too many students fall short.

"Timekeeping, self-awareness, confidence, presentation, communication, teamwork and an ability to understand workplace relationships are too often below the standard required, particularly in younger job seekers.

"This skills deficit is also in evidence among older job seekers and it falls to employment intermediaries (such as the Government's Jobcentre Plus and commercial employment agencies and charities) who support adult job seekers to improve their employability skills. 'Employers expect schools to equip candidates with a wide range of basic skills, which are too often found lacking. This contributes to weak employability within the UK entry level workforce.

"The education system needs to also focus on the fourth "R", responsibility, enabling young people to take greater ownership over their future, to seek out the information that they need to make the right choices now, and to understand how their decisions today are likely to affect their future.

"Promoting responsibility would aim to improve employability and students' attitudes to work.

"A key message this report highlights is that for many who feel that work is beyond reach, employers do not agree. For those entering the workplace, often for the first time, attitude and personal responsibility are regarded much higher than qualifications."