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GCSE results highlight skills crisis

Last month's GCSE exam results have once again highlighted the problem building services engineering has with attracting young entrants, according to employers. There was a 4.5 per cent drop in the numbers of students taking Design & Technology at GCSE compared with a dramatic rise in so-called 'soft' subjects like media and business studies. However, there was a slight rise in the numbers taking sciences as separate subjects, although from a very low base. One building services employer told H&V News that today's 'celebrity culture' was turning young people away from education and the Confederation of British Industry described the lack of 'basic skills' displayed by school leavers as a 'nightmare for employers'. Over 300,000 pupils left school without a Grade C or above in Maths and English adding to disquiet about levels of literacy and numeracy in the working population. This was actually a slight improvement on last year, but could not disguise the 'disturbing fact that half of this year's students have not made the grade in reading, writing and arithmetic' said Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy. 'These young people risk being sidelined as the UK sheds many of its lower-skilled jobs and creates jobs with more demanding skills,' she added. 'We have to focus on getting these basics right, and avoid the perils to the UK of an under skilled workforce.' The latest CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey showed that 52 per cent of employers are dissatisfied with the basic literacy of school leavers, and 50 per cent with their basic numeracy, but that an overwhelming 92 per cent are satisfied with their IT skills. 'This 'Generation Text' has grown up with computers and the Internet, and often has the edge over the boss when it comes to IT,' said Ms Anderson. 'But weaknesses in the three Rs mean too many are unable to properly understand written instructions, or complete simple mental arithmetic. It creates real problems for firms, many of whom have to run their own remedial training.' Roger Carlin, chairman of the Commissioning Specialists Association, said that employers right across building services were struggling to attract the right calibre of new entrant. 'Every one of my son's friends want to be a computer programmer, lawyer, accountant or doctor Ð none of them want to be an engineer,' he told H&V News. 'Why has our profession become so devalued?' He added that work was booming, but increased demand from 'mega projects' like the Channel Tunnel rail link and Terminal 5 created shortages all over the country. This leads to contractors having to turn down work even from regular clients. A number of employers called for a campaign targeted at primary schools because pupils needed to be influenced long before they chose their GCSE subjects. 'We need to play the 'green card' much harder,' said James Palmer of controls integrator North Building Technologies. 'School kids are completely unaware that there is an industry out there that offers a decent wage and the opportunity to do something to save the planet. 'In France and Germany, engineers have the same status as doctors and lawyers, but here the profession has been devalued,' he added. 'It is not fashionable enough and is seen as something for geeks.'