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Its too much to expect graduates to be ready-skilled

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At the Learning City in Europe conference in March this year, Ken Robinson, professor of arts education at Warwick University, questioned whether a British education provides employers with appropriately skilled employees. It is not simply a matter of saying more graduates will mean full employment, he said. What is the point if what they get [at university] is dreadful? Employers are beginning to say to graduates, You have a degree, but what can you do?' So is the British education system failing British industry? Steve Smethurst finds out

Tony Robinson, CEO, Small Firms Enterprise Development initiative


In large companies theres an ordered and structured career path for graduate trainees it doesnt matter if they cant contribute from day one. Theyll probably spend time in HR, marketing and finance, learning as they go along. In small businesses, you have to pull your weight straight away. The Step programme sponsored by people like Shell allows graduates to work summer placements and it rounds off their education. Weve also got a problem in that certain areas are heavily oversubscribed like the arts and creative industries we have to broaden the skills base. People need to learn not only negotiating, presentation and communication skills, but enterprise too. Theres nothing better than role models from the real world going into schools. People can learn so much from an entrepreneur nine times out of 10, theyll really get something out of it.


Ruth Spellman, CEO, Investors in People


There is a big gap between schools and colleges and the work environment but education is trying very hard to overcome this. Apart from the basic learning skills being able to read and write the traditional emphasis has been on gaining qualifications. But there is a greater recognition that soft skills are needed. But part of the onus has to be on employers too. They say they want people who are motivated, with excellent communication skills, but their entry criteria will still be 10 GCSEs... Every company wants to be spoon-fed the perfect candidate with all the skills, but no education system is going to give you that. More and more companies are recruiting for attitude then training for skills. Weve certainly found that companies like BT, TNT and Kwik-Fit that train their staff have better retention. They dont invest in their staff because they wake up feeling cuddly in the mornings, they do it because it makes business sense.


Phil Jennings, managing director, Graduatebase.com


All the talk has been about the hard skills gap such as in IT and engineering. But this misses the underlying problem that current educational progress does not provide what commerce and everyday business activity needs. Bear in mind you have to take academic qualifications out of the equation its merely a business card these days. What employers want is work experience. Lifes about dealing with people communicating, listening and understanding. UK plc is now a service-based culture and our education system has not moved to recognise this. There is too big a gap between the academics and their view of the role of education in society and the commercial world that needs people capable of doing jobs. Each side is retrenching into its core position. And education is chronically underfunded. In 25 years, the number of graduates has doubled, while the funding has effectively halved. All the talk of BT link-ups with Cambridge cant hide the fact that 95% of the graduate population dont have this kind of advantage. And students are getting arrogant about getting a job weve got full employment, so why should they develop their skills further?