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Society as a whole and employers in particular must tackle educational underachievement, says CBI boss


CBI director-general Richard Lambert warned of the "long tail of educational underachievement" in the UK, in a speech about tackling youth unemployment, and urged business people and the whole of society to put this right.

Speaking yesterday, Lambert called for a range of policy measures including ensuring young people are not priced out of the jobs market, getting more value out of existing support available for young people such as incentivising firms to take on more apprentices than they need, identifying sectors with the potential to generate large numbers of jobs and making sure young people know how to apply for jobs while still at school.

Turning to the role of employers, Lambert said: "Business is an important stakeholder in the education system, and has a strong interest in breaking the cycle of under-achievement. That's not just because of its requirement for a growing pool of skilled employees, critically important though this is.

"In a tough job market, gaining as much experience as possible is vital to employment prospects. Well-structured work experience that focuses on employability skills can help young people understand what employers expect of them.

"Sir Stuart Rose, wearing his Business in the Community hat, recently launched ‘Work Inspiration', a campaign to improve work experience and make ‘young people's first taste of work...as relevant, meaningful and inspiring as possible'. This is something we'd like to see companies support.

"Some firms start them young. The Shell Education Service works with primary schools, with 50,000 children each year taking part in their workshops with a view to giving them a passion for science - and with teachers offered the chance to improve their skills and confidence in teaching science as well.

"And there are plenty of other great schemes out there. A great example at a company level is Deloitte's own Employability Initiative, which helps tens of thousands of young people across the UK develop the skills and behaviours needed to get a steady job. This is the kind of lead that other big organisations could follow.

"More generically, thousands of employers across the country are already working in Local Employment Partnerships with Jobcentre Plus to open up employment and training opportunities to disadvantaged jobseekers. The benefits of partnerships between education and employers at all levels need to be better articulated.

"Employers say the benefits to them of being involved with schools and colleges include recruiting, retaining and motivating staff, as well as building the awareness and reputation of an organisation, good or service. Students gain a better understanding of the world of work and the opportunities that it offers."

He added: "Although the UK spends significantly more per head on education through the primary and secondary system than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, the outcomes by some important measures are well below par".

"Given the poor state of the public finances, the first step must be to look for better value from existing support schemes. For example, the £1,000 subsidy being offered to firms that take on a long-term unemployed person doesn't seem to be having much of an impact.

"Money might be better spent encouraging firms to take on apprentices for the first time, so we welcomed the Department for Work and Pensions' decision to give SMEs £2,500 for every 16 and 17-year old apprentice they take on, with the target of 5,000 new apprentices by the end of March. Companies could also be incentivised to train more apprentices than they actually need for the benefit of their sector as a whole.

"Another step would be to identify sectors where large numbers of new jobs are going to be created in the years ahead, and to support relevant training in real work for young people. Social care is one obvious example, and construction is another. Why not create a large-scale apprentice programme to green the public domain - installing insulation, double-glazing and so on? There are plenty of skilled craftsmen with time on their hands to lead such a project.

"Young people also need support in entering the job market. Job application and basic interview techniques should be taught at school, with extended sessions at university or college level."

"Young and inexperienced workers' chances in the labour market are especially sensitive to wages, and although the overall impact of the minimum wage has been positive, trade-offs clearly do exist in terms of employment prospects. That has clear implications for how the minimum rate for young people should be set in the future."