Lack of incentive 'causes skill trap'

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The Independent Online
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BRITAIN is locked in a low skills trap because too many young people have no real incentive to continue training and educating themselves after the age of 16, according to the National Commission on Education.

David Finegold, the commission's researcher, argues in a report today that the fault lies more with employers than schools and colleges. Too many UK companies focus on work and services which add only a limited value to the product. They therefore require only low skills from their employees, so young people see little advantage in improving their qualifications.

The commission is an independent body set up by Sir Claus Moser, warden of Wadham College, Oxford, after the Government's refusal to appoint a Royal Commission on education last year.

Mr Finegold dismisses the 'myth' that a distinctively British faith in the 'self-made man' is largely to blame for education and training failure. 'In reality there is plentiful evidence that seemingly irrational attitudes, such as the decision of many young people to leave education at 16, or managers' reluctance to train the majority of their workforce, are rational responses to the situations in which they are placed.'

People see no advantage in acquiring high skills 'if companies are not prepared to invest in the research and development, new technologies and training required to make a high-skill strategy work'. Similarly, 'managers will be reluctant to re-organise the work process and make these new investments if they do not have access to a supply of well-educated workers and new recruits'.

Short-term thinking by companies and banks, and employers' willingness to pay relatively high wages to unskilled school leavers, are partly to blame. Also, British companies fail to develop strong enough links to enable mutually beneficial investment in training.

Mr Finegold argues for legislation to remove everyone under the age of 18 from the labour market, obliging them to continue in full-time education or to undertake on-the-job training at a third the adult wage. He further recommends abandoning examinations at 16, so that all young people aim for higher qualifications at 18.

Breaking out of the low-skill equilibrium; NCE Briefing 5; National Commission on Education, Suite 24, 10-18 Manor Gardens, London N7 6JY.

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