The level of skills among UK adults is better than in countries including China, France and America, according to the findings of a new survey.
In a report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis), multinational companies place the UK second only to Germany for its overall workforce skills.
The data was collected through a survey of employers across a number of industry sectors, including financial services, ICT and advanced manufacturing. The UK was compared to six other countries: Germany, France, the USA, Netherlands, Denmark and China.
In terms of specific skills, multinational employers have positive perceptions of the UK workforce’s teamwork and motivational skills and communication skills.
However, while qualifications and work ethic are seen as a strength by many employers, they are seen as weaknesses by a substantial minority.
The UK is perceived to be ahead of Germany and the USA for commercial awareness and communication skills. but behind both for problem-solving and multi-tasking skills.
The one desired improvement to workforce skills that was mentioned the most, both by employers with and without a UK presence, is improved education and training opportunities.
The findings of the research paper, Multinational employers’ perceptions of the UK workforce, will be especially welcome following the UK’s poor showing in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OCED) survey of adult skills.
Last year’s survey, the first of its kind ever conducted, that young people in the UK are leaving school no better skilled than their grandparents and are lagging behind their peers in other countries.
Of the 22 countries that took part, the UK, represented by data from England and Northern Ireland, was ranked 14th in literacy and 16th in numeracy overall for 16- to 65-year-olds, below average in both categories.
David Harbourne, director of policy and research at Edge Foundation, called the findings of the new research “very encouraging”. “One in five multinationals wants to see improved training and education opportunities at the skilled and intermediate level, “ he said.
“By contrast, only one in twenty see a similar need for more management training opportunities. This isn’t altogether surprising. For decades, the UK has emphasised higher education, whereas in Germany technical education is seen as a real source of economic strength.
"That means we have some catching up to do, for example through University Technical Colleges which draw on the German Realschule model, and boosting higher level apprenticeships and further education programmes.”
Chris Jones, chief executive of vocational body City & Guilds, said it was "concerning" that some multinationals perceived a lack of relevant qualifications.
"That’s why we cannot afford to be distracted by the push towards academia," he said. "Qualifications and skills more broadly must focus on the needs of employers, so people are being effectively trained for the workplace.
"This should be a priority if we want to secure the UK’s reputation as a hub of skilled workers and an attractive business investment opportunity.’