GCSEs: Employers say young recruits lack basic skills

It will be an anxious night for thousands of teenagers ahead of their GCSE results, which are out on Thursday.

All week we have been looking at what the future holds for the GCSE exams.

A review, commissioned by the Welsh government, is currently underway into whether major changes should be made to them in Wales.

It is considering whether the system needs improving or changing completely, which appears to be happening in England.

I have been finding out what employers think.

A common complaint from managers is that they have to spend time training young recruits in basic literacy and numeracy, which they would have expected them to have developed in GCSE courses.

Basic skills

Concerns expressed by employers about the lack of basic skills of GCSE students are also reported in the consultation document published as part of the review.

It is interesting is how these claims are still being made at a time when unemployment is high and employers are able to pick and choose from the cream of young recruits.

Alison Itani, director at engineering company Wiltan, in Pontypool, is a member of the Wales Employment and Skills Board, which advises the Welsh government.

She believes employers have a right to expect more from their young recruits.

"We are an engineering business, we have work cards that need to be read and understood and properly interpreted," she said.

"We have a requirement for measurements to be very specific. Young people have to be able to interpret those measurements accurately.

"What we've had to do over the years is build in our own teaching of application of numbers as part of our basic training.

"These young people have gone through 11 years of statutory education and as an employer I would expect them to use the numeracy skills that they have been taught.

"The training an additional requirement that takes up time and extends the amount of time someone can't be productive."

In a statement the Welsh government said: "One of the main aims of the review is to consider whether we have a qualification system that assesses literacy and numeracy skills adequately and prepares young people sufficiently for entry into the workplace or for progression into the next stage of education."

Providing skills for the workplace was one of the reasons why the Welsh baccalaureate was first piloted for 14-year-olds in 2006.

It runs alongside GCSE and A Levels and has a strong focus on employment, with more emphasis on work experience than GCSEs.

This has mostly been welcomed by business groups such as the CBI.

Construction Skills, the training body for the building industry in Wales, says it has helped more 16-year-olds closer to becoming ready for work after they leave school by making them aware of issues like health and safety.

Not good enough

The current review, commissioned by the Welsh government, is considering whether the system needs improving, or changing completely, which appears to be the direction England is going in.

The UK government's Education Secretary Michael Gove has indicated that GCSEs in their current form are not good enough.

The process may result in different systems in Wales and England.

Robert Lloyd Griffiths, from the Institute of Directors in Wales, urged caution.

"Our members will want to know if a qualification in Wales is the same as in England," he said.

"That is important when they are recruiting because if someone comes from over the border they will want to know if that person is on a par with the person in Wales."

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