IS Skills strategy slow off the starting blocks

Employers are expressing frustration at the Government’s slow but steady
progress towards implementing its skills strategy.

"I’ve not seen much evidence of things actually happening and don’t get
the feeling there’s a huge amount being driven forward," says Janet
Berkman head of Education and Skills at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

Berkman was speaking to Training Magazine in response to the first progress
report since publication of the White Paper in July last year. The update was
given in December at the second meeting of the Skills Alliance which pulls
together employer bodies and delivery partners and which has been formed to
drive progress.

Employers have generally welcomed proposals as a move in the right
direction, but are frustrated by the speed of the implementation. For Berkman
the priority is making qualifications more flexible.

Berkman is disappointed that the age cap for Modern Apprentice funding has
only been lifted for those starting before their 25th birthday and not beyond.

Microsoft, as a training provider and an employer, also wants to see the
qualifications framework simplified. David Burrows, director of Education and
Skills Development, said: "The complexity of the vocational qualifications
framework is perhaps the major barrier to reform. If we struggle to understand
the web of courses and qualifications we’re never going to get started."

Burrows believes there is a need for a balance between credibility and
simplicity in the system which means either thinning out the number of
qualifications to a smaller core or making them more transferable.
"Although there’s a lot of work going on, little has really happened to
reduce duplication. The Government has to take the lead and we need to do it
now."

Anne Lindsay, Senior Policy Adviser – Education and Skills at the CBI,
agrees, She told Training Magazine: "Our members support a more unit-based
approach, but we’re concerned that it’s going to be a very long time before
employers see changes. It’s an area where we think there is potential for
interim measures which could make a difference now."

In its response to the White Paper, the CBI called for a reform of funding
for publicly provided training towards a more customer-focused system.

"The Government has gone some way, but we don’t think it has not gone
far enough. We won’t see real change in terms of provision unless we take a
more radical approach to the way public training is funded. We think the
Government could do more to open up competition," said Lindsay.

Employer Training Pilots have been welcomed. The scheme delivers free,
tailor-made training, accredited to level 2 and compensates employers for time
employees are away from their job. It has been hailed as a means of stimulating
SMEs to train.

The Skills Alliance was formed to drive forward the Skills Strategy
delivery. A social partnership made up of Government departments, the CBI, TUC
and the SBC will agree broad direction and take a strategic perspective.

www.dfes.gov.uk/skillsstrategy

By Elaine Essery

Skills progress

– Additional £30m for Skills for Business network

– Expansion of Employer Training Pilots and an extra £190m

– New Business Link website

– Adult learning grants introduced in 10 LSC areas

– Full funding for Modern Apprentices starting before 25

– LSC discussion document on reform of FE funding and fees

– 250 Centres of Vocational Excellence

– First Regional Skills Partnerships to be in place from April
2004

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