Survey: U.K.'s tech-savvy young lack basic literacy skills

Secondary-school grads tend to be competent in IT, but their English and math skills are inadequate, employers warn.

Secondary-school graduates might be tech-savvy but they are increasingly entering the workplace without basic numerical and literacy skills, employers have warned.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pertemps Employment Trends Survey found 92 percent of employers are happy with the IT skills of students taking General Certificate of Secondary Education qualification exams, which typically are administered to students aged 14 to 16.

The CBI chalks this up to the familiarity of "generation text" with Web and mobile-based technologies and a 47 percent increase in the number of pupils taking the information and communications technology GCSE exam over the last decade. About 110,000 students took the exam last year.

"Their fluency with iPods, mobiles and MySpace has translated well into the workplace, and often gives them an edge over their bosses. The greater focus on IT in schools and investment in computers is also helping," Richard Lambert, CBI's director general, said in the report.

But the report found that those leaving secondary-school programs increasingly lack basic abilities in English and math. More than half (52 percent) of the employers questioned in the survey said they are dissatisfied with the basic literacy of those who have completed secondary school, and half said the same about numerical skills.

Just 47 percent of pupils sitting GCSE English and math last year achieved a grade C or above, and employers warn this often leaves teenagers unable to function in the workplace because they can't do simple calculations in their heads or speak in an articulate manner.

"Math and English skills are a vital bedrock for further learning and are essential both in the workplace and in life," Lambert said. "We simply cannot match the labor costs of India, China and other emerging economies, and only a higher-skilled workforce will keep the U.K. competitive."

Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of employers also said secondary students lack basic business awareness.

The survey, which will be published fully in September, questioned 507 employers across all industry sectors.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

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