Are the LSCs delivering?

As the learning and skills councils celebrate their first anniversary, how
well have they performed?  Margaret
Kubicek assesses their impact

It’s been a year since the Government launched its network of 47 learning
and skills councils as a key plank in its strategy to create a ‘learning
society’.

Replacing training and enterprise councils and the Further Education Funding
Council for England, the LSCs were designed to bring the needs of local
businesses more closely to bear on the planning of post-16 education in each
area – closing the loop between education and employment and driving up the
commitment to raising skill levels among both workers and employers.

Headed by the national Learning and Skills Council under the chairmanship of
Bryan Sanderson, the network had a budget of £5.5 million in its first year,
rising to £7.3 million for 2002-2003 as LSCs take control of funding school
sixth forms from this month.

By all accounts, the priority for LSCs in the past year has been devising
strategy and ensuring a smooth transition to the new set-up. The danger is that
employers who were disillusioned with TECs will start to become cynical about
LSCs.

Graham Moores, director of strategy for Bedfordshire and Luton LSC defends
progress to date. "We do have ideas and plans, it’s just taking some time
to develop them," he says. "I think providers and partners had
expectations with this first year that there would be major changes – changes
that we were not expecting ourselves."

Citing funding of post-16 programmes as one such expectation, he says the
system in his area is based on "historical allocations rather than local,
demand-led need. Changes now will be incremental – it will take two to three
years to get the method for funding in place."

Tony Longmire training director of LGH, which has sites all around the
country, runs a well-established apprenticeship for young recruits. Modern
apprenticeships are part of the LSC remit, but Longmire has heard nothing from
his local council in Manchester. "I would have expected to have dealings
with the LSC over apprenticeships, but they are keeping well behind the facade
of the FE colleges," he says. "It’s pretty much as I suspected.
You’ve got the same people in the same jobs doing the same thing but under a
different name. We don’t know where their money is going."

There is, however, patchy evidence of innovation taking place as some LSCs
carve out a role for themselves in relation to their local marketplace (see
boxesÉ) and many argue the LSC framework – and the money behind it – is
better-placed than its predecessors to take charge when problems arise.

Paul Holme, executive director of LSC Greater Merseyside, describes the
impact of 1,000 redundancies at Cammell Laird shipyards in May 2001 as one of
the biggest challenges his LSC faced in its first year. Some 300 of the
redundancies were modern apprentices in the middle of their training.
"There was a danger that when their employment finished their skills would
be lost, so we put money in to finance the MAs for six months until they could
be transferred elsewhere," says Holme.

Whether TECs would have handled the crisis any differently he is unsure, but
the LSC did succeed because "we work on a larger scale than the
TECs". In other words, they had the means to finance the rescue – to the
tune of nearly £750,000 – though Holme is quick to point out the importance
partnership played in the process.

Stimulating interest

Paul Lucken, executive director of Devon and Cornwall LSC, agrees. When foot
and mouth was taking firm hold last spring, his LSC put £100,000 into a
campaign to persuade young people not to give up on careers in tourism,
agriculture and other countryside industries.

"The stimulus for doing something came out of concern among providers,
but the capacity to come up with the resources was down to having an
organisation that covers both FE and work-based learning – and was local. TECs
would only have been involved in the work-based learning side of the
equation."

When it comes to making inroads with business, practice varies from region
to region, with some LSCs leaving the task of employer links to partner
organisations such as Business Links and FE colleges. At Bedfordshire and Luton
LSC, workforce development activities are contracted out to its local chamber
of commerce.

"It would be difficult to have relationships with all [19,000
individual businesses] so we need to work through intermediaries where we can.
You don’t necessarily need to bring businesses into meetings to develop
relationships. We can develop links using technology [like e-mail] rather than
having a team of staff out on the streets which is very time-consuming and
costly."

Others believe getting business on side at the individual level is
essential. David Cragg, executive director of Birmingham and Solihull LSC says
business is more likely to be persuaded by their peers than by "faceless
bureaucrats". 

Flag waving

As a key stakeholder in the LSC mission, business must be engaged directly
through focused initiatives, not just through surveys and research, according
to Christopher Duff, executive director of South Yorkshire LSC: "At the
end of the day they provide the employment and the bulk of training for South
Yorkshire. If we only focus on the learner we’d be missing one half of the
equation," he says.

National LSC chairman Bryan Sanderson admits the synergy between FE and
employer-based training has not yet shown itself . "There is more work to
be done with that but it will start to show through in the next 12
months," he says, noting strategic planning was always going to take a
year. "Local strategic plans are critical and local LSCs have done a great
deal of consultation [with employers] in preparing them."

Sanderson thinks LSCs can take some of the credit for the recent education
Green Paper and its emphasis on parity between academic and vocational
training, but he would like some more support from central government. Aware
that LSCs and the national council are far from household names, even among
employers, he hopes that a bit of flag waving will be forthcoming from the
secretary of state when the LSC launches the network of local strategic plans
this month.

Local marketing

He claims individual LSCs are doing their own local marketing, but is a bit
disappointed with the very different standard of their websites, which
"probably need a bit of kick at national level". Out of the 47
regional LSCs, only one – Berkshire – has a comprehensive website with
information relevant to all partners and stakeholders, from learners to local
employers. All other websites are accessed via the national site
(www.lsc.gov.uk) and contain little more than contact details for individual
LSCs. The majority of sites post no rolling news, although a number have posted
their draft strategic plans and other documents.

Even the sceptics agree the philosophy behind the LSC network is sound. In
theory LSCs are in a position to make FE colleges – and other suppliers –
tailor their provision to what local labour markets need. The CBI has
representatives on the national council and on several local LSCs.

"We do want them to work because we see them as vital to raising the
skill levels and competitiveness of the country,’ says Maniza Ntekim , policy
adviser in the learning and skills group at the CBI. "The emphasis during
the first year seems to have been on individuals, but now it is time to address
both their needs [ie employers too]. We are keen to work with LSCs and let them
know what the business community wants."

Ntekim is careful not to criticise LSC performance so far, insisting that it
is still early days, but she is clearly concerned that many businesses have not
heard of or from their local LSC and says the CBI will be monitoring progress.

Martin Bibey, education and training adviser for the Engineering Employers
Federation, Western, works with six LSCs in the West Country. He is pleased
with what he calls the consistency of their approach to training, but
disappointed with their slowness in getting moving. He suggests that some LSCs
have had to take on board the old TEC programmes and have found it difficult to
adapt them or introduce their own initiatives. "The government has put
vocational high on the agenda [with the recent Green/White Paper on post-14
education] but LSCs seem to be concentrating on the disaffected. We have to
help the workplace too."

After a launch year spent focusing more on individual learners and strategic
planning, employers are ready for some attention. While they play a waiting
game their message is clear – it’s time for the LSCs to start delivering.

Regional View
Bullish attitude helps Birmingham rebuild

The ambitious Bullring development
epitomises the issue of skills shortages facing Birmingham’s construction
industry, according to David Cragg, executive director of Birmingham and
Solihull LSC.

Set to transform the heart of the city by 2003, Bullring
promises a high-quality retail, food and entertainment experience.

"More than 1,500 construction jobs are being created in
that project, but there are virtually no local people working there," says
Cragg.

Construction is just one of the industries for which Birmingham
and Solihull LSC has conducted a comprehensive vocational review – encompassing
an analysis of course provision in the area as well as the specific needs of
employers who are crying out for skilled and qualified workers.

The result of the review will be "a radical overhaul of
construction training", Cragg says, with the establishment of a
state-of-the-art training centre for construction now under consideration with
learning partners.

Construction will soon join four other key sector groups in
having its own dedicated ‘skills task force’ set up by the Birmingham and
Solihull LSC. Between 12 and 15 chief executives, MDs and HR directors sit on
each task force, which is chaired by a local high flier with national
influence, including Jaguar MD Mike Beasley and Price Waterhouse Coopers
chairman Brian Woods-Scawen.

"It’s not just a talking shop, it’s about steering
strategy, advising on trends, analysing work," says Cragg. "This is
an emerging trend in LSCs. People are looking more and more at sectoral issues.
Many if not most LSCs are now looking at how to get a structured approach to
employer relations, and I believe the skills task force is very powerful."

Regional View
Overcoming barriers in south Yorkshire

A multi-million pound scheme in South
Yorkshire is helping local employers overcome the cost barrier to employee
training.

South Yorkshire was the first LSC to implement European
co-financing, committing £20 million in its first year over and above its core
budget of £140 million. The majority of European funds went into schemes aimed
at widening participation and raising basic skill levels – not surprising given
the area’s regeneration status.

But South Yorkshire is also using European funds – £12 million
over three years – to drive up employee training in local businesses. The move
follows a survey that found 80 per cent of the region’s businesses felt
workforce skills needed improving but only 44 per cent had funded employee
training in the preceding year. "We’re piloting a new approach to
workforce development training in companies – basically putting the buying
power into hands of companies," says South Yorkshire LSC executive
director Christopher Duff.

"We are now working with 50 companies in the engineering
and metals sector, going out directly to them and asking what they want. We
will find it and then help them pay for it – covering up to 40 per cent of the
cost of training. We’ve earmarked £12 million for this over two to three years
with the potential to help up to 2,000 companies. It’s early days, but we’re
confident."

The initiative comes as South Yorkshire LSC forges a lead role
for itself as the local economy redefines itself away from traditional
manufacturing industries and towards a service and knowledge-based economy.

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