Work-based training: He who pays the piper may well call the training tune

In recent months we’ve seen the government interfering more and more in work-based training and learning. Does it mean that it thinks employers can’t be trusted to deliver?

Are we seeing the creeping nationalisation of employee training and learning and development?

Certainly there is evidence that the government feels that training is too important to leave to the tender mercies of employers and that it has become an important instrument of policy in these increasingly dismal times.

Consider that in recent weeks we’ve seen the government pledge £350m to pay towards the cost of training employees of companies employing up to 250 staff, that Train to Gain expenditure is rising remorselessly and will reach more than £1bn in the financial year 2010-11, and that more and more workplace training will qualify for external accreditation – and much of that by publicly funded organisations.

I guess this is a natural outcome of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling reading John Maynard Keynes’ hitherto unknown classic, Interventionist Economics for Dummies, recently published by Ladybird, which seems to be providing the faux-intellectual foundation for the current give-away today and hang tomorrow approach to pulling the western world out of the economic mire.

Of course, Keynesian thinking was based on circumstances in the 1920s and 1930s that were fundamentally different to those of today.


For example, the UK economy between the wars was far more self-sufficient than today’s version, based as it is on credit, and shopping for overseas goods. Pumping public money into the economy 70 years ago did drive up output and jobs at home – as also demonstrated by one A Hitler – but such an approach would have to be far more sophisticated today if it is to have a worthwhile outcome. Otherwise, we’ll just see shopaholics squander tax giveaways and rate cut windfalls on imported tat.

At least public money spent on training and development will remain mostly in the UK. It will benefit providers and – probably – learners. As Karen Woodward, director of business support at the Learning & Skills Council, says, the emphasis will be on learning skills that bring benefits to business. “It’s where they can look to reduce their costs and improve their quality. A previous concern for smaller organisations has been that full qualifications are not necessarily suitable for their business.”

This is partly being addressed by other government initiatives which add to the sense that training and learning is being part-nationalised.

Overriding aim

For example, the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) has been finalised. Details have been released of the 1,000 or so qualifications on the framework, with many more to come. The overriding aim will be to ally workplace learning to external accreditation. No doubt ministers hope that this will make skills development far more appealing to employers and employees.

But there are some major issues lurking in this Train to Gain and QCF dreamland: for example, the government needs to ensure as best it can that public money for training is spent in such a way that it adds to the nation’s useful and viable skills bank rather than being used by employers as a means of cutting their staff development budgets.

It is noteworthy that the Federation of Small Businesses says it is a fitting moment for companies to focus on training in areas such as sales, budgeting, gaining contracts, and enhancing business reputation. No mention there of the craft- like skills that are so hard to find internally and are often met by skilled immigrant labour.

Perhaps while it’s going about its nationalisation of training and learning, the government could also turn its attention to top-end leadership skills. It’s the clear lack of them in key sectors that has helped cause the fine mess the UK is in.

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