Employers attack government education targets


One of the UK's largest employers' groups has called on the government to abandon its 50 per cent target for young people entering Higher Education and to focus instead on vocational training.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents more than 135,000 firms, said that the skills required for business are acquired from many areas, not just Universities.

A new BCC's Skills Taskforce report claimed that skills shortages among workers are presenting "critical barriers" to Britain's economic progress. And it stressed the need for vocational training, even for those who continue in post-16 education.

"Young people need education AND training not education OR training," the report states. "Therefore, when they are gaining academic skills, they should still be learning vocational ones too."

The Government should address the "parity of esteem" issue, the report continues. Vocational courses are not seen as equal to academic ones when they are of equal value to employers. The careers advisory service must present academic and vocational courses on an equal footing, encouraging students to choose the path that best suits their needs, not an arbitrary government target.

Criticising the government's training policy as lacking economic understanding, the report also argued that much of the Government's thinking has been driven by an "educational outlook rather than a real understanding of what is happening in the economy and the labour market".

BCC Director General David Frost said: "Our taskforce has reported back to us that business is suffering from a lack of suitably skilled workers. The emphasis on sending young people to University is not going to plug the skills gap as business needs more skilled workers not necessarily academics.

"Those who would benefit from going to University should of course go, but others may well achieve more from taking other paths."

Isabella Moore, BCC president, agreed: "A highly skilled workforce is an essential ingredient to the success of the economy. The competitiveness and productivity of the UK's economy can depend upon ensuring the availability of skilled workers.

"However, the UK is suffering from a critical skills shortage with large numbers of vacancies and productivity lagging behind many of our major global competitors."

David Frost added that the UK's education and training system was not meeting the needs of business.

"To grow and prosper, safeguarding our economic future, our members need a radical overhaul of that system," he said.

"If young people were offered a wider variety of options at 16 and 18 then they could fulfil their potential and provide the human resources for business to achieve more than they do at present and be even more successful in the global marketplace."