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News - 19 September 2005
They need to get closer to business

We must put employer needs at the heart of education

As the Business Forum and the Local Skills for Productivity Alliance (LSPA) embark on a project to link retailer needs with further education syllabuses the CBI calls for more work of this kind. The aim is to create a situation where our FE colleges deliver more employable people so that education will become more valued by employers.

The LSPA has asked the Business Forum to draw together focus groups of retailers across the region to discuss the current shortfalls in the education system and to make proposals for change.

At the same time CBI President John Sunderland has taken issue with education policy in England at the highest level. Addressing an audience of business leaders and academics, at the Chartered Institute of Management's Annual Sir Kenneth Cork Lecture, Mr Sunderland contended that English education policy has failed to address the big question - what do we want our children, and society as a whole, to gain from public education?

He also argued that while there has been immense change in structure, management, control, content and methods of education over many years it is not clear how these changes were intended to improve economic performance or give English society a better future.

He said, "We need to have the humility and common sense to learn from the success of others. Finland, for example, has a world-renowned education system, which has played a major part in its economic transformation. As a country, it has an almost universal belief in the value of education and clearly links personal, social and national goals.

"Selection is not necessarily the answer to driving up standards or building public confidence in the school system but motivation certainly is. Finnish children are not perfect, some do misbehave and go off-the-rails, but they have nothing like the educational underclass we see in England - children who expect nothing from education, put nothing into it, and get nothing back.

"I believe we could create the same value in our education system if employability was at the heart of it. We need a tangible link between education and economic success. Governments of all political hues have aspired towards it - but it has yet to be achieved.

"There is still too much wasted effort in education - too many outputs from a system that contributes debatable value to student development or the economy.

Let education provision in England be driven by employers' needs rather than the confused and conflicting messages of politics. If education delivers the employees business wants, business will reward them, promote them and prove to them and future generations that education matters.

"I'm not saying that business wants to write the curriculum but, at a time when globalisation provides both a challenge and an opportunity, it does want to spell out what it needs. It needs the right attitudes and basic skills, meaningful qualifications, specialized science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills and creative thinking that will help it meet the ever changing demands of the global economy.

"Education and business should form a compact with schools and employers coming together to produce highly employable young people. This could be the real magic bullet to make our education system work. If young people are convinced that education will help them get on in the world and realise their ambitions we are already half way there".

The wheels are now in motion in Sussex for better links between employers (in a number of industries) and colleges. For further information on the projects contact Jayne Jones at

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