The true impact of the Government's latest skills strategy will come to light as the UK returns to work in earnest after the summer break. Margaret Kubicek unravels the implications for employers
The Government's drive towards a truly demand-led system of adult skills training continues, with stakeholders digesting the latest policy to emanate from Whitehall - the Skills Strategy White Paper, 21st Century skills: Realising Our Potential.
It comes more than two years after the Government introduced the learning and skills councils (LSC) network in April 2001, to involve local employers more closely in the planning and funding of post-16 education, and just over a year since national training organisations (NTOs) gave way to a larger, more influential network of sector skills councils (SSCs).
Just when we were getting used to who's who in the new set-up, yet another new policy document is published, testing our resolve to understand the dizzying array of government agencies and quangoes, alliances and partnerships. But there's good news for those employers befuddled by this apparent system of continuous change and ever more acronyms. Beyond the jargon and endless references to multiple partnerships, the strategy reveals a groundbreaking attempt to establish the most direct line yet between employers and government with regard to skills as well as a true commitment by government to listen to employers' concerns.
Total government spending on skills for 2003-04 amounts to more than £8.5bn according to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). While the White Paper announces key reforms of existing qualifications, those reforms are by no means revolutionary; and everything in the strategy is to be paid for out of existing budgets. Thus the age cap for Modern Apprenticeships has not yet been removed, merely raised, so that people starting any time up to their 25th birthday may complete it.
Noting a limited budget for Modern Apprenticeships, the White Paper offers no specifics with regard to the expansion or design of the courses for adults - nor for its pledge to increase support for skills at technician and higher craft level (level 3) in "areas of regional or sectoral skills priority".