Gap between skills learned at school and skills needed for work must be closed

  • Computing and coding skills, leadership and teamwork and aiming high, (eg seeking opportunities to challenge myself and increase my achievements) top the list of skills adult school-leavers wish they had learned at school
  • 18-24-year-olds more likely to want computing, “thinking positive”, and creativity skills
  • Business in the Community launches If Only campaign to increase school and employer collaboration to bridge the gap between skills learned at school and skills needed for work

Young people in the UK want to learn more skills they will need for the world of work – and today (26 September 2018) Business in the Community -  The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, is launching the If Only campaign calling on employers to increase activities that help young people develop these skills.

This follows a survey of 2,097 adults commissioned by Business in the Community, which found that many people who have been in employment did not learn skills at school which they feel would have been useful in their working lives. Top of the wish list were computing and coding skills (30% of respondents), followed by leadership and teamwork (29%), seeking out opportunities and aiming high (28%), thinking positively (27%) and problem solving (25%).

Amongst 18-24-year-olds who have been in employment, many of these figures were even higher – 39% wanted to be taught computing skills and 31% wanted to learn more about thinking positively, whilst 22% wished they’d been taught more creativity skills (compared to 17% overall). 

To tackle this issue, Business in the Community’s latest campaign, If Only is launching today as part of the charity’s Education Symposium – an event that brings together business leaders, schools and policymakers to share ideas and debate. The campaign will highlight the opportunities missed through not enough workplace skills being taught at school and will focus on what business can do to close the gap between skills learned at school and skills needed for work. The campaign has three calls to action for UK employers:

  • Run activities that help young people develop skills through partnering with schools 
  • Use a common language on skills so that young people, teachers and employers can work together to prepare young people for the future of work
  • Share their own If Only story and their commitment to inspire others using #IfOnly on social media
Rachael Saunders, education director at Business in the Community, said: “This research suggests that while recent school leavers are more likely to have been taught skills such as computing and resilience at school, they are simply not learning enough of these skills to thrive in their future careers. In a rapidly changing global business environment, it is vital that all young people, particularly those facing social disadvantage, can reach their full potential and lead successful working lives.

“The only way to close the gap between skills learned at school and skills needed for work is by employers playing a key role to work with schools and support teachers in helping young people develop the skills they need for work. While many businesses are already doing great work in this area, there is still more to be done. That’s why our If Only campaign calls on employers across the UK to increase their activities helping young people to develop these skills and fulfil their aspirations – benefiting not only individual young people in achieving their goals, but also enabling business to adapt and be resilient in boosting local communities."

The If Only campaign will also feature business leaders discussing what they wish they’d learned at school that would have been useful in their future careers, and what their organisation is doing to help support young people to gain new skills for work. Companies featured so far include UBS, Siemens UK, Hogan Lovells, McKinsey, BP and KPMG.

David Soanes, UK Country Head, UBS and Chair of the Business in the Community education leadership team, said: “Our mission as Business in the Community’s education leadership team is for business to play its part so that every young person, particularly those facing social disadvantage, achieves in education and has a successful working life.  A key focus for us in the year ahead will be skills for thriving in business.  High quality skills, including essential skills, literacy, numeracy and STEM, are critical to social mobility. Business has a vital role in supporting teachers to make sure that young people have the skills they need to succeed in the world of work. The If Only campaign will help engage more employers to run activities helping young people gain these skills and I am delighted to be part of it.”

Other research findings revealed:
  • While 18-24-year-olds who have been in employment wanted more computing and resilience skills, they were also more likely to have learned many of these skills than older age groups – 34% of 18-24-year-olds learned computing and coding skills at school compared to 16% of overall respondents, whilst 53% learned problem solving and 29% learned to think positively (compared to 40% and 17% overall respectively)
  • 45-54-year-olds who have been in employment also wanted to learn more computing skills, with 37% saying they wished they had learned more of them at school
  • Londoners who have been in employment are the most likely region to want more computing skills, with 40% of respondents agreeing that learning these at school would have helped them in their careers
The research also shows that there is a strong appetite for employers to do more to help young people develop skills for their future careers. 62% of people thought business should offer more work experience to young people, whilst 57% wanted employers to run practical sessions in schools.
Notes to editor
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2097 adults, of which 1986 have ever worked. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 9th August 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
Media contact
Laura Cooney, PR & communications officer, Business in the Community, Tel: 020 7566 8653, Mobile: 07946 560 490, Email: