IT skills are as important as numeracy and literacy and need to be centre-stage in education, according to the chief executive of the Work Foundation.
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Will Hutton, who heads the research-based consultancy, said IT is equally important for individuals and and the economy. He said, "IT is one of the most important things you can have, along with numeracy, literacy and perhaps soft skills. What can you do if you have not got at least basic IT skills? At the moment, IT does not really sit at the centre enough in terms of importance."
Other speakers at the Conservative party conference fringe meeting, held on Monday, said the importance of employer-led demand for skills is growing.
Chris Humphries, former director general of the British Chamber of Commerce who also chaired the Skills Task Force, said he hoped sector skills councils will help channel employers' voices in the skills debate.
"We have to get more engagement with the employers, because they are the lifeblood of economic competitiveness and generation of revenues. I hope sector skills councils will be the basis for this."
But Will Hutton said he was unconvinced that employer-led skills schemes were the best option.
"I am only half persuaded that it has got to be employer led and demand led - you could then be trapping people into where they live because their skills will only be useful for businesses nearby," he said. "Employers saying what they want might not be in the best interests of the individual."
Chris Skidmore, from Conservative think-tank the Bow Group, advocated tax breaks for employers willing to train their staff and added extra help should be given to smaller businesses.
He said, "Employers themselves are training people increasingly. £33bn a year is now being spent on training. But it is small businesses that suffer most.
"We should provide tax breaks to companies if they are willing to run training schemes. Companies want more support from government and better dialouge."
In addition, Skidmore said exam board QCA should receive advice and input from employers and universities, "so we have an accurate reflection of those who need qualifications. Otherwise we will not have the culture shift we need."