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GNVQ holders 'ignorant of business'

School-leavers who have taken the new vocational qualifications are among the most ignorant of all young employees when it comes to understanding business and industry, a survey of almost 200,000 young people has revealed.

The poor level of business awareness among school-leavers was "the biggest gripe" among employers interviewed, according to Katherine Adams, author of a report on the survey by Industrial Relations Services (IRS).

Nearly half the employers described school-leavers' business awareness as "unsatisfactory" or "poor". Only one employer described it as "good", with under a half saying it was "satisfactory".

The findings echo the concerns expressed in a recent report by Understanding British Industry which suggested that most 16 to 19-year-olds did not know the meanings of acronyms such as CBI and TUC. But the IRS goes further, suggesting a fundamental flaw in the Government's key initiative to encourage greater understanding of the world of work.

Ms Adams said: "Business knowledge appears weakest among those doing General National Vocational Qualifications, despite their vocational slant."

The report also shows a "disappointing" response among employers to the modern apprenticeship, hailed in the competitiveness White Paper last year as a new scheme to give high-quality training in the workplace for 70,000 16 and 17-year-olds.

Backed by Pounds 1.25 billion of government money, employers are expected to meet 60 per cent of the costs when the scheme starts this September. But less than one in six employers in the survey is taking part, compared with half who run traditional apprenticeships.

Ms Adams said: "A more enthusiastic response will be needed over the next 12 months if the new system is to make the hoped-for impact on skills." Equally worrying, modern apprenticeships are almost exclusively in the traditional areas of engineering and manufacturing. She said: "The hoped-for extension of apprenticeships into the service sector has - as yet - failed to materialise. "

Employer attitudes apart, there are grave doubts about the ability of school-leavers to cope with the demands of the modern apprenticeships. The number of employers expecting to offer school-leavers jobs has risen from 45.2 per cent to 48.1 per cent in a year, reflecting the small upturn in the economy.

But population trends and increased staying-on rates in full-time education means that school-leavers with relevant skills are becoming a "scarce resource".

The IRS survey shows that the decline in school-leaver recruitment has been halted, but this has brought difficulties. A fifth of organisations contacted said they had difficulty finding recruits of the standard needed. As well as a lack of business awareness, literacy and numeracy continues to be a problem. A quarter of employers said verbal communication was poor.

As Britain emerges from recession a repeat of the pattern of recruitment to dead-end jobs without training which blighted industry in the early to mid-1980s appears to be resurfacing, according to the IRS survey.

Most of the vacancies reported for young school-leavers were for clerical jobs. But less than a quarter of these offer training leading to a nationally-recognised qualification.

Those that do offer training tend to be low-paid, creating a disincentive. The IRS survey shows that while jobs without training for 16-year-olds pay an average Pounds 6,368, those with training average Pounds 4,835.

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