Can learning change lives?

Many major developments projects are under way to receive a major push.  But are we expecting too much?  Elaine Essery gathers the opinions of major

This year sees a number of further developments in the learning and skills
arena: the creation of Sector Skills Councils, the national roll-out of
JobCentre Plus, the advancement of the Government’s Workforce Development
project and the introduction of the Entry to Employment initiative.

Last December learning providers and policy makers attended Changing Lives
Through Learning, a conference organised by the Centre for Economic and Social
Inclusion, to survey recent and forthcoming reforms and discuss their
implications. Training Magazine contacted some of the speakers to ask them: In
what ways can learning change lives? And should the impetus come from
Government, the employer or the individual?

Peter Little OBE
Chief executive, Birmingham Rathbone

Learning absolutely can and should change lives and I’m very enthusiastic
about the potential of current reforms to learning and skills. Entry to
Employment could make a tremendous difference to people who have learning
difficulties, but it’s all down to the implementation. It’s essential we get
the right structures, funding and support mechanisms in place. It needs to be
flexible enough to meet individual needs and, in order for the learning to work
so that people can get employment skills, the period of entitlement must be
long enough. I’d be concerned if the idea was to get a quick throughput of
people and we must make sure it doesn’t happen that way.

Ian Palmer
JobCentre Plus, secretariat

JobCentre Plus will be bringing into the system a much wider range of
clients and we’re hoping to create many more opportunities for individuals to
improve their skills. Our advisers will assess the prospect each person has of
getting back into work and identify what barriers exist. Our relationship with
providers will be about reviewing the training that is available to make sure
the needs of this new group of people are being met. The key is to be able to
develop individuals so that they have the skill sets that employers are looking
for, to bridge the gap between the vast pool of labour we have access to and
the skills shortages that exist.

Andy Westwood
Senior policy advisor, The Industrial Society

If we really want to change lives through learning, we’ve also got to change
the way jobs are constructed. We have got to raise the skills people have at
intermediate level and to raise the number of jobs where people can use those
skills. Raising one without the other would create as many problems as we have
anyway – if you raise the quality of jobs on offer then we’ll have a problem
with skills shortages; if you raise skills, you’ll have people’s expectations
dashed as they go into jobs that don’t need them. Employers have to get their
heads around using higher skill strategies. It’s at least as much a challenge
for employers as it is for individuals.

Sarah Fitzpatrick
Workforce Development Team, Performance and Innovation Unit

We consider it very important that those who don’t currently receive the
opportunity for work-based development do so. Our role is to look at how to
raise demand. A range of ideas and principles to get demand from individuals
and among employers is set out in our report. Placing more purchasing power in
the hands of individuals and employers can be very powerful in raising demand,
as well as changing the system so it is not supply-side driven. Government
priority for spending is on basic skills, but we want employers to take
responsibility where their responsibility lies. We need to encourage employers
to think about the skills they can develop in their workers that will help them
succeed in their business. If interventions come from that side they’re more
likely to be effective.

Joan Munro
Head of local Government NTO

Sector Skills Councils can offer a new direction for skills development by
being higher profile organisations than most NTOs have managed to be. The idea
is that they’re the voice for employers and ultimately employers need to drive
education much more than they do at the moment. But it’s easy to say education
should be employer led – you need an effective mechanism for knowing what
employers want. At present, a lot of courses are out of date or don’t lead
anywhere and people doing them are misled in thinking they’re going to lead
them to employment. Employers need to tell learning providers exactly what it
is they need. That’s the challenge for Sector Skills Councils.

Paul Convery
Director, Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion

There’s a fuzzy line somewhere around NVQ level 2, tending towards level 3.
Those below that level earn less and have a worse work-life balance. The issue
is how to help people climb a number of steps from the bottom of a deep pool so
that they can come up and breathe air. The Government has to be the agent that
does most, but employers have to see skills as an investment and something good
for business. It’s a fallacy that you have to take people a long, long way – for
example, those with poor literacy and numeracy skills can have very good key
skills. We have to look at ways in which firms can raise their sights.

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