Business Council boss Tim Reed on impact of falling education standards on Australian businesses

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Industry boss complains Australian companies are having to pick up the slack for an education system turning out kids who can’t spell or do sums

  • Undereducated Aussie kids placing a strain on businesses
  • Businesses are having to teach kids math, reading on the job 
  • Numerous students below standard for writing, maths and reading

An industry leader claims businesses around Australia are under constant pressure to bring kids up to speed after they leave school because of unacceptable levels of literacy and numeracy.

President of the Business Council of Australia, Tim Reed, told a conference students are posing a challenge to business owners entering the workforce because their levels of reading, writing and mathematics are poor.

Data from 2019’s National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) showed that year nine students – students that would now be entering the workforce – were more capable at reading and mathematics than those assessed in 2022.

‘It is a real challenge for businesses that an increasing part of the community don’t have basic skills in numeracy, literacy and digital skills,’ Mr Reed told the Universities Australia conference in Canberra.

‘The role that business plays is to try and not exclude people from careers because of that fact,’ he continued.

‘That becomes very challenging for individual businesses. But it is a reality for the community and so industry has to be a part of seeking and driving solutions.’

The falling standard of education is also playing a role in industries outside of tertiary or office occupations.

‘From what we expected 20 years ago, there are significant literacy, numeracy and digital literacy problems coming into some of those [trade apprenticeship] courses that are so critical for our economy,’ chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, Jenny Todd, told the conference.

‘A good example is Certificate III in electrotechnology. That turns out our electricians. The people entering that now do not necessarily have the mathematical skills that you need for success.’ 

President of the Business Council of Australia, Tim Reed (pictured), claims that the trend of declining educational standards is placing stress on Australian businesses who have had to teach new recruits on the go

President of the Business Council of Australia, Tim Reed (pictured), claims that the trend of declining educational standards is placing stress on Australian businesses who have had to teach new recruits on the go

NAPLAN results show an increase of students under the national minimum standard in reading and mathematics tests after Covid lockdowns forced students into online learning.

The percentage of students below the minimum standard in reading jumped from 8.2 per cent in 2019 to 10.3 per cent in 2021, and now stands at 10.4 percent, meaning that more than one in 10 students are functionally illiterate.

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While at a high 15.9 per cent in 2022, the number of students below the minimum writing standard was not affected by the Covid pandemic, and has instead continuously dropped from 20.5 per cent in 2018.

‘Business has to stare into the problems of numeracy, literacy, a lack of digital skills, social exclusion,’ Mr Reed told the Australian Financial Review.

‘Those who are excluded from the learning system then face the potential of being excluded from the workforce. 

‘It takes longer to train people just in the very basics because they don’t have those foundational skills.’

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