'Failure at GCSE is no bar to jobs'

Survey of employers suggests that success in formal qualifications is not their main priority. Joseph Lee reports

A survey intended to warn teenagers about the dangers of dropping out of education has shown that most employers would take them on even if they failed their exams.

Nearly three-quarters of companies said they would consider hiring staff who had failed to get the five good GCSE grades - or the vocational equivalent - which the Government considers are essential for employment.

More than a third would be prepared to offer skilled jobs with good pay and prospects to those without the level 2 qualifications.

But the survey of 412 employers for the Learning and Skills Council also found that school-leavers with few qualifications will have to overcome employers' prejudices.

Their CVs would be ignored by 15 per cent of employers, and eight out of 10 would think they would struggle to do the job. Nearly four in 10 students last year failed to get five good GCSEs or vocational equivalents, and half of them dropped out of education and training altogether.

In a statement, the LSC said the research amounted to GCSE dropouts being "unemployable".

Julia Dowd, director of young people's learning, said: "You could put that story out - that 74 per cent would offer an unskilled position with low pay and prospects, and that a third of employers would offer a good job to people with low qualifications.

"But the really important message we are trying to put out to young people is that a fifth of them are thinking of dropping out of learning and we want to bring home the implications of that. If they are looking for short-term work and money, they are likely to suffer in the future."

The survey found that school-leavers without good GCSEs or vocational qualifications earned an average of pound;1,700 less in their first job.

Over their lifetime, those with the minimum qualifications would earn Pounds 4,000 a year more on average.

"There are all these myths around - like that if you are not going to sixth form to do A-levels, you might as well get a job or do GCSE re-sits," said Ms Dowd. "Re-sits are not always the answer."

She said students needed to be made aware of all the options which could lead them to qualifications because there are fewer and fewer unskilled jobs available.

Those responsible for recruitment in companies were more likely to think qualifications were essential, with 74 per cent insisting on them. Nearly two-thirds believed that it would get harder for unqualified teenagers to get jobs in the future.

Matthew Knowles, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said most companies saw qualifications as desirable but not necessarily essential.

He said: "When they are sifting CVs, qualifications are one of the major things they take into account.

"But there are also 'soft' skills like punctuality, good communication and being able to relate well to customers which are important in work.

"If someone with no qualifications has put in a good application, perhaps done some work experience at school and there are no spelling mistakes, that's often just as good as one from someone with five good GCSEs."

He said businesses were continuing to experience problems with the literacy and numeracy skills of students with grade C at GCSE and often had to carry out remedial training anyway.

"It would be wrong to say qualifications don't matter," Mr Knowles said.

"They're doing themselves no favours coming out of school without them, but it's not true that they've got no hope."

* joseph.lee@tes.co.uk

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