Britain must wake up to the fact that the basic skills of its employees are
simply not good enough, the annual Institute of Directors conference was told.
Jan Leschly, outgoing chief executive of pharmaceuticals giant Smithkline
Beecham, warned senior managers that poor literacy and numeracy are endemic
problems in the UK. This puts firms at a huge disadvantage in the new world
economy, where skills in customer service and in developing innovations are
crucial for competitive advantage, he said.
"People are still the most critical success factor. People are the most
important asset we have," he said.
The institute’s policy director Ruth Lea backed the call. "We talk to
the Department for Education and Employment, who tell us that one in 10 leave
school without basic numeracy and literacy. It is just hopeless," she told
Lea hit back at parents who objected to school tests highlighted recently on
Radio 4 Today programme. "I find it dismaying to hear complaints from
parents that children are over-pressured and stressed."
She praised education ministers David Blunkett and Estelle Morris for
resisting pressure to cut back on the compulsory writing and arithmetic tests
for school children. "Morris was saying what we have wanted to hear for
ages. For goodness sake, we must get standards up. Tests are part of that. If
they cause stress, well we have to start somewhere."
In the Government’s New Deal programme, which has aimed to give remedial
training to unemployed young adults to prepare them for work, employers have
still found that many are not job-ready. "From our members’ point of view
they have received candidates who, with the best will in the world, were not
employable," said Lea.