Can we close the qualifications gap?

There can be few employers who are unaware that the lack of basic qualifications is proving a hindrance to productivity. Just 28 per cent of UK workers possess level 3 skills, compared with 51 per cent in France and 65 per cent in Germany. And an alarming 6.4 million adults in the UK lack Level 2 qualifications such as GCSEs or NVQs.

Funding shortfalls aren’t totally to blame. UK employers are still spending on training in general, with an estimated investment of 23bn last year. The problem seems to be that from the employers’ perspective, there is little incentive to foot the training bill for basic qualifications because the return on investment is regarded as limited.

If we want to stop being Europe’s poor relation, two things need to happen: employers need to think more long-term about what constitutes a training investment, and they and their staff need to tune in to the new culture of learning which could emerge with the launch of National Employer Training Programmes (NETP) next year.

You can read all about NETP on page 10 of this issue. David Greer, director of skills for employers at the Learning and Skills Council, explains how the programmes will work, and how they will build on the employer training pilots that have so far reached 16,000 employers and 110,000 staff.

The next stage is raising the number of staff with level 3 and above, which creates a real opportunity to make a difference to skills, and apprenticeships have a major part to play. Read our interview with David Carrier of Network Rail on page 16 to find out about the benefits that home-grown talent and a lively apprenticeship scheme can bring to an organisation.

By Stephanie Sparrow, editor

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