Education secretary Alan Johnson says employers should not be allowed to award self-accredited qualifications to employees


Education secretary Alan Johnson has delivered an unequivocal “no” to the question of whether companies should be allowed to award their own qualifications to employees, amid the ongoing skills crisis.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Johnson said he was unable to see how employers accrediting their own qualifications would help provide the required transferable skills highlighted by the Leitch Review.

Johnson said that although training in the workplace should be accredited, it was not up to employers to do so.

“Lots of [workplace] training could be accredited and that’s what [the government] has to work at. We need to ensure that the skills people are getting are transferable this is what the skills pledge is all about,” he said.

This puts him in direct conflict with the CBI, which believes companies should be able to award their own qualifications. Employers spend £33bn every year on training, but only one pound in three is spent on training towards a recognised qualification, according to the business group.

Writing in this week’s Personnel Today, Susan Anderson, CBI director of HR policy, said: “Such a system [companies awarding their own qualifications] would tackle the current mismatch between the competencies employers need, and what the qualifications system provides. It would enable employers to award qualifications that reflect ‘best in class’ training, not just the industry average.”

Anderson said the CBI wanted the government to set up pilot schemes to discover how the self-accreditation idea, which would cost £470m to administer, could be best implemented.

“If employers were able to take a leisurely approach to achieving the demanding qualification targets, all would be well,” she said. “But the Leitch Review has raised the threat of compulsory measures in 2010 if adequate progress is not made.”

More than 150 firms, employing 1.7 million staff, signed the skills pledge at a ceremony in London earlier this month.

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How many employers is ‘enough’?

Alan Johnson admitted the government had yet to decide how many organisations would need to sign up to the Leitch Review skills pledge to make it a success.

Leitch recommended that if insufficient numbers of employers had committed to training their workforce to Level 2 by 2010, then mandatory workplace training should be introduced across all sectors.

But Johnson said the government “hadn’t set that kind of benchmark” to measure satisfactory progress. He told Personnel Today: “We wouldn’t have a benchmark to say that if you reach ‘X’ level, voluntarism has worked, and if you don’t reach ‘X’ level, it means we need to introduce compulsion. We might develop [a ball park figure] the closer we get to 2010.”

Johnson also hit back at the British Chambers of Commerce’s refusal to sign the skills pledge. He called the group’s attitude “sadly out of tune with the approach from other employer groups right across the country”.

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