Pisa rankings: Business in Wales fears skills gap

CBI Wales says some firms find employees lacking basic skills

Business leaders in Wales are warning of a skills shortage in the wake of school tests showing the nation falling behind its industrial rivals.

The Pisa international study of 15-year-olds showed Wales faring worse than the rest of the UK and many other nations in reading, maths and science.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said results were disappointing.

Emma Watkins, director of business group CBI Wales, said basic skills was one of the top issues firms raised.

Wales: Pisa facts

  • In Wales, there were lower results on average in the three subjects than in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • Scotland leads the way in the UK in maths and reading, while England is ahead in science.
  • In maths, Wales fell three places to 43rd of the 68 countries
  • In reading, the nation is now ranked at 41 down from 38
  • The biggest fall came in science where Wales dropped six places to joint 36th

"It's fundamental that the skills system, the education system, is meeting the needs of the economy. Are we doing that? No. Not enough yet."

She argued that businesses should be expected to pay to train people in specific skills required by the company.

But she added: "There are still too many businesses out there who are having to invest time and money and resources in teaching people to read, to write, to answer the phone, which frankly they shouldn't be doing."

CBI Wales says the Welsh government has recognised and is addressing these issues.

Ms Watkins added: "We've started the journey. We are far, far away from achieving the end goal."

Education Minister Huw Lewis told BBC Wales there were "no quick fixes" for turning the education system around in Wales and everyone involved needed to "take a good look into the mirror".

He said: "There could be questions about us taking our eye off the ball in the mid 2000s around the basics in education."

But he insisted Welsh ministers did "take heed" of previous poor Pisa results in 2009, and instituted "one of the most radical and ambitious reform programmes that Welsh education has ever seen".

The importance of education and skills for economic growth have been highlighted by the prime minister's visit to China, where £6bn of trade deals have been unveiled.

What are the Pisa tests?

  • International tests in maths, reading and science
  • Tests are taken by 500,000 15 year old pupils in 68 countries and local administrations
  • They are run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • In the UK, more than 12,000 pupils took the tests in 2012
  • Asian countries and cities such as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong have scored the highest marks

It's no coincidence that China's forging ahead economically and is also leading the way in the Pisa league tables.

Prof David Reynolds, an education advisor to the Welsh government, said: "By the 2016 PISA, unless we have moved up the league tables so business people think that it's worthwhile to come here, we will frankly cease to exist as a major industrial society. We will be a theme park."

Biocatalysts in Nantgarw near Cardiff shows the importance of a highly-skilled workforce in helping Welsh companies compete in the global market.

It manufactures enzymes to improve food shelf life and enhance flavour, which are used across the world.

Managing director Stuart West said: "For many of our positions we recruit locally, so our lab technicians and production technicians.

"When we come to scientists and our commercial people then we do actually recruit internationally.

"So we have, I think, two Spanish, three Irish, an Indian plus obviously many people from England."

Another employer is Jacqui Niven who set up Cardiff-based Fix Training in the depths of the recession in 2008 and has had recruitment problems.

"We've had lots of applicants for skilled positions from people who haven't necessarily got the skills," she said.

"But what we've wanted to recruit on has been attitude because obviously we're quite good at providing skills."

Recruitment on attitude is becoming an increasingly popular approach by businesses as it provides them with workers who are willing to learn new skills.

Fix Training goes into businesses to improve employees skills including in areas like literacy and numeracy.

Much of the funding for this comes from the European Union and the Welsh government.

  • A £3.4m two year work programme to help young offenders and young people leaving care has been launched by the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Ken Skates AM.

The Moving Forward scheme will offer paid work placements and mentoring support for 400 young people aged 16-18.

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