Blair urges business leaders to get involved in training young people


Prime minister Tony Blair has urged business leaders in the UK to get more involved in developing the skills of young people.


“For as long as anyone can recall, the complaint from industry has been that the public education system was not providing the skills it needed,” he told delegates at the CBI conference in London last week.


“My plea is simple: get involved. The exploration of knowledge is our economic future. But all of this requires your strong input,” he said.


Blair said the government was developing specialist diplomas combining vocational and academic courses to prepare young people for the labour market.


He cited the importance of the National Employer Training Programme, which is due to be launched in April 2006, in partnership with the CBI and the proposed sector skills academies.


“We have an opportunity to put the business and government relationship in this area on an entirely new footing,” Blair said.


CBI president John Sunderland said skills should be a priority, but criticised the government for its lack of interest and direction.


“Our ideal would be an authority which [also] paid special attention to training and youth development in the form of our education system. In recent years, successive governments have interfered constantly with this,” he said.


“[Education should] concentrate on producing children and young people who can read, write and count… and who have ambition, are keen to learn, take risks and succeed in life.”


Attracting the right people with the right skills was a recurring theme throughout the two-day conference.


Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, said UK businesses were too passive in recruiting.


“The business community is not aggressive enough in the UK. We need to attract more science graduates to business and the brightest and best there is,” he said.


The expert panellists from BBC reality TV show Dragons’ Den agreed that the links between education and businesses needed to be fostered.


“We have to look at how we can make business more appealing and interesting to young people,” said Theo Paphitis, chairman of lingerie company La Senza.


Peter Jones, chairman and chief executive of Phones International Group, said schools could offer business workshops. And Rachel Elnaugh, chief executive of art retailer easyart.com, said schools should offer business tuition to all students.


 


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