Employers are placing much more emphasis on school leavers' communication skills and work ethic than on literacy and numeracy, according to new research.
The latest CIPD/KPMG quarterly Labour Market Outlook, a survey of more than 1,400 UK employers, shows that while a quarter list literacy as one of the key things they are looking for when recruiting from the current crop of school leavers, and over a fifth cite numeracy, the top attributes are communication skills, work ethic - the basic desire to do a good job - and personality.
The report also reveals that when asked to assess the performance of school leavers at work, a third of employers believe that girls outperform boys, which compares with just three per cent who find that the reverse is true - although, 52 per cent of employers report no difference in the quality of male and female school leavers.
Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "It has become almost an annual ritual to focus on the literacy and numeracy of school leavers - but our research shows employers want more focus on communication, interpersonal skills and developing a work ethic.
"These findings suggest that the education system might help close the 'employability gap' by seeking to introduce more oral-based tests and more work experience schemes.
"Such changes may benefit boys in particular who are seen as having weaker communication skills - which may explain why employers are more likely to rate girls more highly than boys at work after leaving school.
"School leavers themselves also need to take note that they are entering a competitive labour market.
"With a ready supply of willing and able workers throughout the EU, more people continuing beyond the traditional retirement age, and government efforts to encourage long-term incapacity benefit claimants to return, school leavers who don't demonstrate a desire to work and the basic communication skills to thrive in the modern workplace, risk finding it hard."
Sara Barraclough, assistant director for education advisory at KPMG, said: "Overall, this survey re-emphasises the need for employers to work closely together with schools, local and central Government to develop the soft skills, as well as the hard skills, school leavers need for the world of work.
"We, like many businesses, are involved in supporting numeracy and literacy in local schools but all employers need to think on how they can promote greater experience and knowledge of the workplace and how we can help develop a real sense of responsibility, integrity, teamwork and pride essential for a motivated and effective workforce."
Bill Rammell, Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education Minister, said: "This year's exam results have shown that today's students are reaping the rewards from hard work at school.
"But those now entering the labour market need to recognise that this is not the end.
"Today's employers need a wide range of skills.
"Students, schools and employers need to work together to ensure that school leavers are ready for work.
"And the students themselves need to be prepared to keep engaging in lifelong learning to keep their skills up to date and attractive to employers.