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The skills necessary to lubricate productivity

In a modern, service-based economy, and especially in the current market, the development of technical skills is increasingly important. However, Deloitte's clients frequently tell us that fundamental skills - teamwork, communication and personal effectiveness - are as important as technical proficiency, if not more so.

The 2008 Confederation of British Industry employment trends survey showed some two-thirds of employers were dissatisfied with the general skills of school-leavers and nearly a quarter with graduates.

The Government acknowledges that the lack of these skills is a key issue. A recent report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills said: "Employability skills are the lubricant of our increasingly complex and interconnected workplace . In 2009, too few people have these skills."

Clearly, there is much work to be done to address this gap. Significant developments, such as the introduction of the 14 to 19 diplomas and expansion of apprenticeships, have potential to improve skills attainment. However, the real challenge is to ensure people are ready for the workplace: the development of attitudinal and behavioural skills is still not sufficiently addressed.

There are two key areas that need attention. The first is teacher training. New teachers need to adopt a different approach, one that focuses on a business contract with the pupil and learning based on experience.

The second, bigger challenge is employer engagement. But we must be careful not to call for engagement for engagement's sake; there has to be mutual benefit.

The country can ill afford to be in a situation where education providers, government and employers all point at each other as the cause of, or solution to, the problem. Only by collaboration can employability become a core element of every young person's education at school, college and university, and continuing through employment.

At Deloitte, our staff is our most important asset in enabling us to deliver outstanding service to clients. Employability skills are crucial to the success of the business. This is why, following extensive consultation with clients, we developed our own initiative.

By working with government, the education sector and clients, we have been able to develop a programme that helps young people develop the skills, attitudes and behaviours they need to secure and sustain employment. By 2012, we will have trained 800 teachers and some 40,000 young people.

Engaging in a collaborative approach helps us build our connections. It also helps us develop our own staff's skills through an internal volunteer programme to support student courses.

The programme makes sense for education providers, who can see the personal growth in students and the improvement in retention and achievement rates. It also makes sense for employers, who tell us these young people are able to hit the ground running.

However, if we are to make a significant difference to the productivity of the UK, we need government and businesses to get behind this kind of employer-led activity. We have to persuade more employers of the business benefits of appropriate engagement with education and students. And we need teachers to help students rise to the challenges of developing these job skills.

If we are all serious about working together and co-ordinating our response to this issue, we can make real progress.

Ken Sargison, Director, education and skills, Deloitte business consultancy.

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