'It's not skills we lack - it's attitude'

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Unmotivated or careless workers pose greater problems to industry than those lacking skills, says Dominic Cadbury

"ANYONE who stops learning is old," said Henry Ford. His message could be rephrased for business in the late 20th century: "Any company which stops investing in the development of its people will notsurvive."

The future now lies with employers who integrate lifelong learning into the way they run their organisations. But they cannot succeed in isolation. They depend vitally on the education system, as do we all if the national targets for education and training are to be hit.

Education is to an increasing extent about preparing for post-compulsory learning. Employers are now recruiting fewer 16-year-old school-leavers than in the past and 72 per cent of young people stay on in full-time education. Many more enter structured training programmes in work and 31 per cent now go on to higher education. They realise that to succeed they need to maximise their learning.

Employers have long been pressing for a better system of transition between school and work through an improved National Record of Achievement, modern apprenticeship and traineeship schemes, a coherent qualifications framework and learning credits. If these are effectively implemented, then this better system may finally have arrived. We will then have young people with the skills and qualities they need to flourish immediately in employment - sprinters rather than walkers.

Qualifications and the knowledge, skills and understanding they measure are important. Thanks to the efforts of teachers, trainers and young people themselves we do have higher skill levels than 10 years ago, as progress towards the national targets for education and training shows. Sixty-nine per cent of young people now achieve five good GCSEs, an intermediate GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualification) or an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) level 2, up from 46 per cent 10 years ago. As long as standards of qualifications are rigorously maintained, this offers encouragement. But even with these improvements, we are still behind many international competitors.

Equally important to employers are specific capabilities and qualities not always measured in qualifications but also crucial to success. Basic skills are vital. There are still young people who at 16 have inadequate reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools do need to address this. Getting these skills right first time is the fundamental job of primary education; education policy is now rightly focusing on how to cut the failure rates at the age of 11. Hopefully in future we will see childrenbetter prepared forsecondary schooling.

In recent years employers have also focused on a wider set of key skills: communication, team working, overall numeracy, self-management, problem-solving and information technology. They are "key" because they are important to almost all work and learning, they can be transferred between different contexts and they help individuals apply their more specialised abilities effectively. An engineer who cannot communicate or work in teams is ineffective, as is a journalist who is not literate in terms of information technology.

Key skills help young people to adapt and are particularly relevant to our increasingly flexible labour market. We now have a key skills national target for the year 2000 that sets out the improved levels we must achieve.

Values and attitudes are inherently difficult to measure, but they are critical to employers. As one recently said to me: "We have an attitude shortage in the UK far greater than skills shortages." An unmotivated or careless employee - even with spectacular qualifications - is worse than useless.

Employers are looking for honesty and commitment, regard for others, self-confidence and reliability. Above all they want individuals keen to continue their learning and to take responsibility for managing their own careers. Education alone cannot deliver all this, of course, and a good deal is up to individuals themselves. But employers can also help to give them the right opportunities to develop through their contribution to high-quality education business links.

Just as employers depend vitally on the outputs of the education system, so we, too, need to support it. The growth of education business links is a UK success story. It must continue to be so, with a much greater emphasis on quality and sustainability.

In 1995, 88 per cent of CBI members held links. The CBI recommends that all its members should be involved in links with education by the year 2000. By that date, employers should have formed links with all primary and secondary schools in the UK, as well as all colleges and universities.

s Dominic Cadbury chairs theeducation and training affairs committee of the CBI and ischairman of Cadbury-Schweppes

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