Communication skills top employers’ wish lists

Employers are placing much more emphasis on the soft skills of school leavers, such as communication skills and work ethic, than on literacy and numeracy, according to new research.

The latest CIPD/KPMG quarterly Labour Market Outlook, a survey of more than 1,400 UK employers, shows that the attributes that top employers’ wish lists are communication skills, work ethic – the basic desire to do a good job – and personality.

Four out of 10 employers (40%) put communication skills in their top three required attributes of new recruits, followed by work ethic (39%) and personality (32%). These ranked higher than literacy (26%), numeracy (22%) and formal qualifications (25%).

The results conflict with research by the CBI, which firmly puts basic skills at the top of the employer agenda.

Research by the lobby group found that one in three employers has to send staff for remedial training to teach them basic English and maths skills they did not learn at school.

Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “It has become almost an annual ritual to focus on the literacy and numeracy of school leavers – but our research shows employers want more focus on communication, interpersonal skills and developing a work ethic.”

“These findings suggest that the education system might help close the ’employability gap’ by seeking to introduce more oral-based tests and more work experience schemes,” she added. “Such changes may benefit boys in particular who are seen as having weaker communication skills – which may explain why employers are more likely to rate girls more highly than boys at work after leaving school.”

Bill Rammell, secretary of state for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, said students, schools and employers needed to work together to ensure that school leavers are ready for work.

The survey also found:

  • Almost two-thirds of employers (64%) report no change in the quality of school leavers during the past five years. Only one in 10 consider quality to have improved, citing improvements in qualifications and a more mature attitude to work.
  • One in four employers (26%) said the quality of school leavers has deteriorated in the past five years, citing problems related to listening skills, numeracy, and attitudes to work.
  • Around half (52%) of employers report no difference in the quality of male and female school leavers. But the proportion rating females more highly than males (36%) greatly exceeds the proportion rating males more highly than females (3%).
  • Among those employers that hire school-leavers, the most popular initiatives taken to help them make the transition into work are on-the-job training (cited by 86% of employers) and induction courses (83%). Just under half of employers surveyed (47%) offer apprenticeships. Around four in 10 employers provide coaching and mentoring to school leavers.


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