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Employers Face Shortage of Basic Skills

Employers Face Shortage of Basic Skills

A report published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in early October 2013 has highlighted a lack of Skills, shortage, HRbasic skills among school leavers. The report compared literacy and numeracy levels across 24 countries. According to the OECD, 16 to 24 year olds in the UK rank 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy, placing the UK behind Eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Estonia.

The report also highlighted that levels of literacy and numeracy in the UK had dropped significantly over the past 40 years. As a result, the current generation of school-leavers has lower levels of literacy and numeracy than their parents or grandparents. This drop in standards makes the UK unique among the countries studied by the OECD. It is the only developed country where people aged 16 to 24 have lower levels of literacy and numeracy than those aged 55 to 65.

These statistics are bad news for employers who are looking to take on school leavers to replace workers seeking to retire. The report appears to suggest that employers cannot take basic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, for granted when they take on new recruits.

What Can Be Done?

Employers have three options to address the potential lack of basic skills among job applicants. Firstly, they can deskill entry-level jobs to the point where a lower level of literacy and numeracy is acceptable. With the rise in information technology and the need for multi-tasking to keep organizations lean, this option is generally regarded as unsustainable. A low-skilled workforce is likely to find it difficult to adapt to new work methods and an increased diversity in their duties.

Alternatively, employers can put every applicant through aptitude tests to ensure that candidates do not progress to interview unless they possess basic skills. This could help to avoid a situation where someone is recruited through a verbal interview and, after appointment, is found to lack the necessary proficiency in reading, writing and counting.

However, testing alone will not resolve the problem. Indeed, testing will reduce the pool of applicants and can leave employers struggling to fill their vacancies. The third alternative is to accept a lower standard of basic skills among the candidate pool and put in place a training program that can bring new employees up to an acceptable level of numeracy and literacy within a defined time period. This solution has the advantage of widening the potential labour pool. Employers can take on candidates who have a positive attitude to work but may lack some proficiency in reading, writing or counting. Developing a basic skills training program can be a cost-effective solution is it is delivered effectively and efficiently. Interactive e-learning platforms can deliver this type of training in an economical manner.

Employers have subject matter experts such as Essential Personnel available to them that can guide them in how to attract the widest pool of suitable candidates.

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Steven Pearson

Steven Pearson is a career consultant. He specializes in recruitment and his articles mainly appear on career blogs.

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