UK school leavers perform badly against their European peers when it comes to basic literary and numeracy skills, according to a survey of 1,700 finance professionals across the UK.

The research, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) with its members, showed that more than 90 per cent of respondents agreed that their workload had increased as a result of skills shortages. And 46 per cent said this dearth of basic skills ‘had caused a fall in departmental performance’.

The problem was more prevalent in the UK where 40 per cent of UK firms felt candidates lacked basic capabilities, compared with less than a fifth (18 per cent) of those on the continent.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of firms said it takes more than two months to fill junior roles, and once appointed 75 per cent of UK school leavers need significant training to get them up to speed.

Noel Tagoe, executive director of CIMA Education, said: “That so many are leaving the school gates so ill-equipped for the world of work fails British business and more importantly it fails the candidates. If the UK is going to continue to prosper as a service economy we must maintain our skills base. As a nation our physical assets are limited, but our intangible assets embodied in the skills and creativity of our workforce are limitless.”

However, the survey, which also examined business attitudes to graduates and apprentices, revealed a more positive story for the UK’s higher education sector.

It found that UK graduates require less training than their European counterparts, with respondents reporting that 39 per cent of UK graduates needed significant training compared to 43 per cent of their European counterparts. Similarly, just 15 per cent of UK graduates were found to be lacking in functional skills compared to 19.5 per cent on the continent.

But the picture was not quite so positive for apprentices. Survey respondents reported that the gap in technical skills between UK and European apprentices was significant. Two thirds (63 per cent) of UK apprentices were under-prepared in technical skills compared to just a 37 per cent in Europe.

“The divide between employers and educators remains vast, raising the cost burden on British firms and holding back the productivity of the workforce,” Tagoe said. “The realities of the workplace must be better reflected in the classroom through discussion and practical experience.”

PM Editorial 29th June 2015