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Business skills needed in the curriculum, says ICAEW

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 07 Jun 2024

ICAEW is calling for changes to the education system that integrate essential soft skills into the curriculum and better provide students with the skills they need to succeed in business.

A new national standard for financial and tech literacy in schools and an automated national skills map to allow jobseekers to link competencies to career opportunities are also among the skills recommendations being made by ICAEW in its wish list of priorities for the next government.

The ICAEW Manifesto 2024, which sets out ICAEW’s vision for the future of the UK, also calls on the next government in power to publish a skills strategy including a plan to promote digital skills competencies and the skills required by the transition to net zero. 

Access to the right skills remains a big challenge for businesses and the public sector across the country, ICAEW warns, a situation further aggravated by the pandemic following two years of remote learning. Research also suggests that the skills gap could also be worse depending on where you grew up or what your parents did for a living. 

The Essential Skills Trackers 2024 illustrates the importance of effectively integrating necessary skills into the curriculum. According to the report, 98% of teaching professionals see essential skills as important for employment opportunities. Meanwhile, 92% of teachers think such skills are important for success in education. However, the report highlights a mismatch between what the education system prioritises and what leads to success in employment.

What seems clear is the importance of programmes that help to build a flexible workforce that can adapt to an ever-changing environment, including a focus on bolstering candidates’ soft skills. “Schools and businesses have a role to play in working together to shape the curriculum, along with skills acquisition routes, so that young people are more aware of possible career pathways and opportunities,” ICAEW’s Manifesto urges.

It’s a view reiterated in a report published in February by think tank Labour Together, which highlights skills that can be developed to better align the worlds of education and work. They include skills that are relevant across subjects such as speaking or digital skills and skills that are directly related to specific pathways or jobs. The latter are best developed through high-quality technical subjects and meaningful engagement between employers, young people and their teachers, it says. 

Against a backdrop of a deepening skills crisis, the ICAEW-backed Rise initiative, launched in 2021, offers students aged 14 to 16 from low socio-economic backgrounds an opportunity to develop essential skills relevant for work and life. Having already reached an estimated 35,000 young people, Rise has set its sights on further expansion, with plans to help around 80,000 young people through its workshops and resources over the academic year 2024/25.

Rise helps demonstrate the relevance of skills by using real-life examples that make the link between curriculum subjects and the world of work. Skills workshops are delivered by The Talent Foundry for schools in areas of low social mobility and supported by volunteers from more than 30 different local and national employers. 

Will Holt, Managing Director for Education and Training at ICAEW, says: “Too many young people leave formal education without the essential skills needed for life and the workplace. These core competencies are fundamental to the role of a modern chartered accountant and are demanded by employers across the UK.

“Essential skills such as creativity, problem-solving and communication should be embedded within core subject curricula. This will create resilient and adaptable young people, ready for a fast-changing world of work.”

ICAEW says ongoing development of skills throughout adult life is needed to promote resilience and renewal in the economy, to boost productivity and embrace opportunities presented by AI, and to support the green transition.

However, the Skills for the Future Financial Services report found that only 50% of its members had turned to reskilling in 2023 despite the cost benefits of doing so. According to the report, reskilling a financial services employee costs on average £31,800 compared with the £80,900 average cost of a redundancy and rehire approach.

The issue of labour market shortages has been a recurring theme during the post-pandemic recovery, as highlighted by ICAEW’s quarterly Business Confidence Monitor (BCM). In particular, concerns are rife around the availability of both managerial and non-managerial skills and historically high levels of staff turnover.

UK talent shortages

In its Manifesto, ICAEW sets out its vision for a renewed and resilient UK, including the need for an overarching skills strategy to promote green transition.

Manifesto 2024: ICAEW's vision for a renewed and resilient UK

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