Basic skills are still in need of attention

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Scottish employers are happy with the standard of workers that colleges and training companies produce, according to the latest labour market survey report However, there is still concern about the standard of school leavers' basic skills.

The report by Futureskills Scotland says: "Scotland's education and training system produces labour of high quality when compared internationally and meets most employers' needs most of the time."

According to the survey, more than 80 per cent of employers believe recruits from further and higher education are well prepared for the world of work. It reports that most Scottish employers invest in training for their staff and are mainly satisfied with the training supplied by colleges and private providers.

Futureskills has interviewed 19,000 Scottish employers since 2002 and a further 6,000 this year.

According to the report, skill shortages which make vacancies hard to fill are not problematic in Scotland: "Skills shortages are relatively uncommon, affecting just 5 per cent of workplaces."

When they do occur, the report adds, the impact can be severe, affecting customer service, quality standards, new products and services.

It confirms previous labour market surveys which found that skill gaps, when those already in work are not fully proficient in their job, are more common than shortages, affecting one in five workplaces and 9 per cent of employees. But two-thirds of skill gaps are transitory and disappear as employees "learn the ropes" or complete their induction, it says.

Deficiencies tend to be in "soft" skills, such as problem-solving, team-working and oral communication.

Although there are frequent claims that the Scottish economy needs more middle-ranking technical qualifications rather than degrees, the survey found that growing numbers of graduates had been beneficial to Scotland.

The report said: "The recent increase in graduate numbers has been what Scotland's economy needed. Graduates have traditionally earned more, on average, than non-graduates. This remains true today, even with the large increase in graduate numbers."

The survey says it pays, literally, to have high qualifications: those with none at all are almost twice as likely to be out of work as those with higher education or degree-level qualifications.

But the proportion of those with no qualifications has been falling, from 19 per cent in 1995 to 14 per cent in 2005. At the same time, the number with degree-level qualifications has gone up from 11 per cent to 18 per cent because more people are entering college and university.

The report notes that, overall, the workforce will become increasingly better qualified as younger workers with better qualifications enter the labour market and older workers with fewer qualifications leave it.

David Lonsdale, CBI Scotland's assistant director, said: "Employers recognise that what is good enough now will almost certainly not be sufficient in future.

"This is reinforced by the looming demographic double-whammy - our population is ageing more quickly than in the rest of the UK, and our younger population is set to fall at a faster rate too.

"We face this future with evident weaknesses in our education system. Too few school leavers are fully equipped for the workplace, lacking even basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills.

"Some firms end up spending time and money teaching young recruits, through day-release courses, skills that ought to have been acquired during schooling."

Mr Lonsdale also expressed concern about the declining popularity of science and maths in schools, and the consequent drop in the number of engineering and technology graduates.

He said: "These are skills our economy will increasingly need, and continued decline could affect the prospects of some of Scotland's most important industries - oil and gas, renewable and nuclear energy, electronics, manufacturing and aerospace."

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