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The learning gap between school and work

By PJ STEVENS Published 17th Nov 2014
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As technology becomes more advanced, so too do the skill requirements for the average worker. Education typically takes time to catch up, and that's why there's recently been a great deal of talk around the so-called "learning gap" or the gap between what employers need in terms of skills and experience, and the skills and experience that new jobseekers actually have when they leave school or university. The popular opinion is that this gap is widening, and that this will be a significant problem that employers will need to solve in order to use the millennial generation effectively in the workplace.

The reality of the learning gap

There is some debate about whether the widening of the learning gap is real, or just perceived as such due to the fact that with the retirement of the baby-boomer generation, there's a significant shift going on in workplace composition and culture. Regardless of whether the widening of the learning gap is legitimate, the gap itself is real, and a concept that's worth investigating.

A CBI survey published in July 2014 found that 61% of companies surveyed have concerns about the ability of school-leavers to perform independently in the workplace; around one-third are dissatisfied with the basic numeracy and literacy schools of the school-leavers they hire. These fact certainly points towards the legitimacy of the idea of a widening learning gap, and it's a significant concern for the UK's employers. Also of concern is that even those students who leave school with a good education don't necessarily have relevant job skills, or even a realistic idea of what having a full-time job will entail.

There is a definite divergence between the work-relevant qualifications that school-leavers have, and the skills that employers require, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields. One estimate from the Institution of Engineering and Technology states that more than 50% of UK employers are unable to expand due to difficulties in recruiting skilled staff; in particular, 59% state their organisations may be threatened by a shortage of trained engineers. It's been suggested that to meet its need for workers in STEM fields, the UK will need to literally double its output of graduates. A large part of this problem is that girls are still discouraged, via various means, from entering into STEM fields; redressing this particular problem would be of huge benefit to the UK's workforce.

On-the-job mentoring and training is more important than ever

According to the CBI study, the long-term health and stability of the UK economy is at risk as a result of the skills gap, and this is reflected in the intense concern that a majority of employers have about their organisation's ability to survive and grow. The burden is currently on employers to fill the learning gap by offering on-the-job training, and a significant proportion of organisations are aware of this and plan to offer solutions to the problem.

  • Overall, organisations plan to increase their investment in employee training by 26%
  • Two thirds of organisations that currently offer apprenticeships plan to expand their apprenticeship programs
  • 13% of organisations plan to start offering apprenticeships by 2017
  • Employers rank work ethic, general aptitude, and literacy/numeracy well ahead of academic results in terms of employee suitability
  • 44% of employers have had to train new employees in basic literacy and numeracy, and 28% have had to train school-leavers in these subjects.

To cope with these issues, the CBI is calling on Ofsted to put a higher priority on academic progress and character development in the school curriculum, to ensure that students leave their education with the knowledge and work ethic that employers need.

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