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'Schools and business must work together to close skills gap'

To develop a modern education system that will drive our economy, schools must collaborate with business, says the CBI

We need to create a modern education system that will help to drive the UK economy post-Brexit, says the CBI

To develop a modern education system that will drive our economy, schools must collaborate with business, says the CBI

Education and skills are consistently at the top of the priority list for companies. The reason for this is clear: they are the number one driver of productivity, business and economic prosperity. But more than this, a world-class education system is essential for social justice and a fairer society.

Technology is revolutionising the way people work, create ideas and interact with one another. Indeed, many of the companies or products transforming the world today didn’t even exist five or 10 years ago. The way that everyone learns must adapt; the economic and social cost of not tackling this head-on is just too high.

The responsibility to tackle this head-on is a shared one, with business having an essential role to play. We know, for instance, that pupils who have four or more interactions with employers while at school are five times less likely to be out of work as an adult.

Today the CBI publishes its Annual Education and Skills Report, in partnership with Pearson. The survey, in its tenth year, is the most comprehensive pulse check on what business thinks about education and skills – the good and the bad. The results this year give reason for optimism, but also highlight significant challenges.

For the first time since 2014, employers expect to have job openings across all skills levels, but two-thirds of businesses are worried that there aren’t enough sufficiently skilled people to fill them. Given this, the 10 per cent drop in employers reporting that they have apprenticeship programmes is worrying, as is the stalling progress on business-school partnerships – down by close to 10 per cent on a year ago.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as employers deprioritising education. All the evidence shows this commitment remains, with the government’s latest figures showing that business has invested more than £44 billion on training each year, and our survey finding that 85 per cent plan to maintain or increase this over the coming years.

School partnerships with business

Therefore, given the mixed findings, how should we react? Policymakers, business and the education sector must play a role in creating an effective modern education system.

First, we need to get technical education right, which means continuing to reform the apprenticeship levy to reverse the fall in apprenticeship starts, as well making sure we raise awareness and engage employers, parents and students better in the development of T levels. Too many people still shrug their shoulders when asked what T levels are.

Second, business needs to do more. Whether that’s employers helping to make sure that the curriculum and education prepare young people for successful careers; business leaders inspiring and opening people’s minds to all the different vocations and education routes available; or a greater number of business leaders becoming trustees and school governors. To encourage this, schools should be rewarded by Ofsted and the Department for Education for building partnerships with business.

Third, we must work together to improve the UK’s culture of lifelong learning. The National Retraining Partnership between the government, the CBI and the TUC, is an opportunity to address this. At its heart, the partnership is about increasing the availability and knowledge about retraining opportunities.

Finally, our higher and further education institutions, including universities and colleges, are crucial to meeting the UK’s future skills needs critical for global competitiveness. This means post-18 education needs to respond and adapt to the changing world of work by offering education and flexible training for learners from all backgrounds, ages and circumstances.

If we don’t rise to this challenge, we will lose out as a country. So let’s use the evidence and data from this survey as a wake-up call and a guide to creating a modern education system fit for the future.  

John Cope is the CBI’s head of education and skills policy

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