Skills strategy one year on

In
July 2003, the Government launched its national skills strategy in a bid to
drive up the UK’s competitiveness and productivity. Twelve months on, Daniel
Thomas investigates what it is has achieved

To
mark the anniversary of the national skills strategy launch on 7 July, the
Government released a series of figures highlighting the improvements made in
overall skills levels.

There
are now 260,000 more adults in the workforce who are qualified to at least
Level 2 – equivalent to five GCSEs grades A-C – bringing the total level of
similarly qualified employee up to 71 per cent, education secretary Charles
Clarke announced.

Other
figures showed that 200,000 learners have achieved at least one Skills For Life
qualification in basic literacy and numeracy, and that 255,000 people are now
on apprenticeships.

Clarke
said: “We have the building blocks, frameworks and infrastructure all in place
to begin to close skills gaps and increase our competitiveness.”

The
Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which organises the planning and funding of
post-16 education and training in the UK, is the lead partner in the delivery
of the national skills strategy.

It
heralded the successes of the of the first 12 months, but admitted that there
was still a long way to go before the skills improvements make a difference to
UK productivity, which still lags behind the likes of France and Germany.

David
Way, director of skills at the LSC, told PersonnelToday.com: “Skills is a
business issue and we have to keep emphasising the link to productivity – but
there is still a long way to go.”

“The
biggest thing for us is to try and change the relationship between those who
provide training and those that need the skills – the employers.”

The
key initiative to help ensure training is relevant to organisations is the
Employer Training Pilot (ETP) scheme, which offers tailored programmes for
different industries.

The
ETP, which has so far been used by 60,000 employees, can often prove more
expensive than traditional training programmes, admitted Way, but he said the
courses are more beneficial.

“A
lot of training at the moment is not giving employers what they want, so
tailored programmes shake out the waste,” he said. “If employers can see they
are getting a return, they will invest the extra money.”

The
government is considering rolling out the ETP scheme out on a national basis
from 2006.

As
well as attempting to improve the skills base of employees in general, the LSC
has also focused on senior staff, with its leadership and management programme.

“We
have been working with managing directors of small and medium sized companies
on their own development, which is equally important,” said Way. “This will be
rolled out nationally from September.”

To
ensure the skills strategy is producing results, the LSC has reached an
agreement with the CBI, TUC and the Small Business Council on the “indicators”
for measuring success, Way said.

In
addition, he said, the national employer skills survey, which took place for
the first time last year, will be repeated this autumn, covering more than
40,000 organisations.

Although
the Government has ploughed considerable resources into improving the skills
base, Way urged employers to play their part.

“What
we are saying to employers is that we are making it easier for you to invest in
skills, but you must also invest in improving your current workforce,” he said.

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