Desperate employers run evening classes for children

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Employers are running evening classes in engineering for school children and offering bonuses to staff who bring in promising recruits in an attempt to find young people with the skills they need.

A Gallup poll commissioned by the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) reveals that one-third of companies have taken unusual steps in the past year to find the young people they want.

They rate practical skills such as teamwork and communication more highly than reading and writing, but find it difficult to recruit people with these qualities. While 58 per cent of firms with more than 250 employees said practical skills were either quite important or very important, only a quarter felt that academic study equipped young people with valuable work skills. However, 80 per cent of the 420 16- to 19-year-olds questioned felt that academic qualifications were likely to be helpful in their careers. Slightly fewer - 77 per cent - felt vocational qualifications would be useful in this way.

Young people and parents questioned in the poll had different values from the employers. Both parents and young people rated reading as the top skill while parents placed writing second and young people believed initiative was the next most important asset. Employers said teamwork was most important followed by communication, reading and then initiative.

Weidmuller, an electrical and electronic equipment manufacturer in Sheerness, Kent, told Gallup it offered 25-week evening courses to 15-year-olds in the hope of finding good apprentices. It found that the replacement of metalwork classes by technology meant few school-leavers had the right skills.

Caviar House, a caviar seller based in Piccadilly, London, said it offered its staff a commission to find good recruits. More common methods of finding the right school-leavers include psychometric testing and placing advertisements in every JobCentre in the country. Half the 430 firms questioned said their profitability was affected by a shortage of skilled youngsters, and more than one in four said they were prepared to look outside Britain to fill vacancies.

The 417 parents who were questioned were even less aware of vocational courses than their children, with only three-quarters having heard of the General National Vocational Qualifications which have been offered in schools since 1992. Nine out of ten young people and eight out of ten employers had heard of them. BTEC has now launched an information line in order to try and raise the profile of vocational qualifications.

Just over half the parents said they believed A-levels were very useful compared with one in five who did not.

John Tate, corporate planning and development director for BTEC, said: "A lot of young people are following courses which are academically based and which provide a very good basis for entry into higher education, but if we are to believe the survey it is not a good basis not entry into employment. Our aim is to get more people to look at vocational qualifications."

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said: "This survey confirms the need for a sensible balance between the academic and the vocational so that young people are ready for the world of work."