Vocational skills gap 'puts economy in jeopardy'

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The Independent Online

britain is jeopardising its economic prosperity by failing to invest sufficiently in vocational education and focusing too narrowly on academic qualifications, a report will say today.

Four in five businesses believe a failure to invest in basic skills is endangering economic growth, according to research commissioned by Pearson, which earns most of its revenues from education services.

Just 16 per cent of the organisations surveyed think Britain's education system "currently equips young people with the right mix of academic knowledge and practical skills needed for the world of work", says the research by YouGov.

Just over half of respondents – all of them senior managers from large businesses – said they rejected the idea that academic skills were more important to the economy than vocational qualifications.

The research suggests widespread opposition to the conclusions of a study on vocational education by Professor Alison Wolf quoted by the Chancellor in his Budget speech last week. Professor Wolf suggested that no more than 20 per cent of the school week should be devoted to practical learning and that vocational qualifications should not be allowed to contribute more than 25 per cent of the grades taken into account by Government league tables.

"The message from businesses is crystal clear that our economic recovery depends on practical skills," said Rod Bristow, the president of Pearson UK. "As Government focuses on private-sector growth and the Wolf report, the message from business is simple: don't undervalue vocational education, don't downgrade it, don't sideline it."

Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, added his weight to the campaign. "It's vital that employers are involved in ensuring our education system is fit for purpose. Employers can deliver new jobs and growth for the UK if their greatest asset – their people – have the right skills, whether vocational, academic or both," he said.

Katerina Rüdiger, a skills policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "Government should work with employers to introduce core skills across the curriculum."