Last updated: 23.09.14

Continuous learning could be the answer to the looming skills gap

The UK is making steps towards becoming a graduate economy, with more people now likely to have a degree rather than school-level qualifications alone. However, according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the levels of basic skills are not improving.

OECD’s annual review - entitled ‘Education at a Glance’ - states that the balance has shifted towards a graduate workforce, based on the most common qualifications attained by Britain’s adult population.

According to the report, 41 per cent of working-age Britons have a degree or similar diploma compared to 26 per cent in 2000, while just 37 per cent have just school-level qualifications. This means the UK has the highest proportion of adults with graduate certificates in the European Union and only a few countries surpass it on a global level.

The review also highlights the discrepancy between rising graduate numbers and the gaps in core skills, including reading and writing.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director of education, commented: "On the one hand in the UK you can say qualification levels have risen enormously, lots more people are getting tertiary qualifications, university degrees, but actually not all of that is visible in better skills.”

Research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), carried out in collaboration with Pearson, indicates UK businesses are struggling to find candidates with the right skills, suggesting students are leaving the education system without the tools they need for employment.

The survey revealed that 61 per cent of companies are worried about the resilience and self-management of school leavers and recent graduates. This has led to almost half of the respondents creating their own training programmes to tackle the skills gap, especially weaknesses in basic numeracy, literacy and IT.

According to the government, more needs to be done to improve the basic skills of the next generation of workers, as these shortfalls undermine the economic performance of the UK. Continuous learning could be the key to ensuring that employers can pick from a large talent pool and young people have the skills they need to obtain long-term employment.

There needs to be a greater focus on relevant, lifelong learning rather than solely on university degrees. Online learning tools can help employers bridge the gap potential candidates have between leaving school or university and the workplace. The courses offered by Virtual College can cater well to the needs of a business and an employee alike.