The rationalising of vocational qualifications and courses is a step closer following last month’s launch of the formal agreements between employers, suppliers and government by the four ‘pathfinder’ sector skills councils (SSCs).
CITB ConstructionSkills, e-skills UK, Semta and Skillset were licensed early last year, and the sector skills agreements (SSA) are the culmination of their work so far in taking an employer-led approach to addressing skills issues in their respective sectors. The launch of the SSAs coincided with the publication of the government’s White Paper on skills, which emphasises the role of SSCs.
“The government promised the SSCs would be truly strategic, influential bodies,” said Belinda Lee, principal policy adviser for the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA), which oversees the network of councils.
“The sector skills agreement was the next stage in the development of the councils. It provides a concrete mechanism for councils to act and have influence over the supply side.”
Employers and providers worked together on designing the SSAs, which include the mapping out of current qualifications and models of delivery on offer, and an assessment of gaps in the system, said Lee. The vast number of vocational qualifications currently on offer – and the lack of clarity regarding their relevance – has long been a concern of employers, government and individual learners. It is too soon to say which courses will have their funding stopped, said Lee. But over the coming year, detailed discussions will take place regarding the rationalising of learning aims and the agreement of “coherent vocational pathways” for each sector that meet employer need.
Rebecca Rhodes, a skills director for the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which funds vocational training in England, said the SSAs make employers “explicitly” part of the planning of provision. “If employers don’t do their bit, this will not work,” she said.
She is emphatic that the SSAs are not mere ‘wishlists’, but strategic plans that will enable specific targets on skills to be set for each sector. For example, Semta has identified a level 2 and 3 NVQ in business improvement techniques – based on lean manufacturing concepts – as a qualification of high relevance to employers, said Rhodes. “We want to work with Semta to make funding that a priority,” she said.
For construction, the SSA addresses the barrier faced by an industry in which nine in 10 firms employ less than 10 people. Such small enterprises simply aren’t geared towards investing time and resources in training apprentices or even taking on newly qualified entrants who lack on-the-job experience, said Chris Jones, head of training for construction services group HBG UK. One possible action now being discussed as a result of the SSA, is for large companies such as HBG, which often contracts work out to local suppliers, to take a more active role in finding placements for young people.
“We’d act as brokers in effect, identifying where these people are, taking them on and placing them with our suppliers,” said Jones. “Another example is the possible sponsorship of undergraduates to do construction-related degrees.”
Alec McPhedran, training and talent development manager for Channel 4, said the SSA for Skillset will involve employers more directly with training providers to ensure course content reflects the up-to-date skills required by today’s broadcast, film and multimedia industry. It will also give employers a greater understanding of how to support individuals once they’ve had the training.
“It’s not just about supporting them through funding,” said McPhedran. “It’s physical resource and time as well.”