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Small.biz demands return to tech college system

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A report by the Small Enterprise Research Team at the Open University reveals that 50 per cent of entrepreneurs believe that schools and universities do little to instil practical skills in their students, and that two thirds of UK small business owners are calling for the return of technical colleges in order to boost entrepreneurial success. Bosses also cast doubt over work placement schemes, which they believe are not taken seriously by enough schools.

Last year saw much debate over the UK’s skills gap, with employers struggling to recruit able workers. The issue looks to remain high on the business agenda in 2005, as the report shows that employers remain concerned over what they believe to be a ‘target reaching' and 'box ticking' culture within UK universities. Alarmingly, the figures also show that 43 per cent of small business owners believe schools and universities are failing to provide the most basic education.

Although the UK does boast a selection of technology focused institutes, such as Worcester College of Technology, 53 per cent of firms employing fewer than five full-time staff believe the skills they require are not being catered for.

Stephen Pegge, head of communication for Lloyds TSB business, said: "Britain has developed technical and business skills in the past, and industry wants it to do so again. The education system has a key role to play, both in ensuring that small businesses are able to recruit staff with the right skills and the mindset to continue to learn and develop, and in fostering the spirit of enterprise amongst those with the potential to be entrepreneurs themselves."

The Lambert Report, issued by the Treasury in December 2003, presented a number of recommendations to improve collaboration between Universities and businesses, such as encouraging better networking between bosses and academic staff and a greater role for Regional Development Agencies. Programmes such as West Focus, a conglomeration of universities with the aim of improving dialogue between learning institutes and businesses, have helped to make progress in these areas.

David Stokes, director of enterprise at the University of Kingston, said: "The Lambert Report was all about the interaction between businesses and education. However, many small businesses don’t understand the benefits of recruiting graduates. I run a series of programmes and at Kingston we have a lot of very able business students coming through. What universities have to overcome is the information gap by going out and talking to small businesses. I believe West Focus is doing that."

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