The Leitch Review of Skills published last year set out a vision for making UK skills levels world class. It is an agenda that business fully endorses. The question now is how best to achieve it.
The skills pledge has now been launched, with CBI and TUC support. But we still await the government’s full response to Leitch. In the meantime, the CBI has been lobbying hard to ensure that the vital ingredients are in place to deliver on the report and to ensure that we are not forced down the blind alley of compulsion.
A key component of Leitch was that qualifications should provide “economically valuable” skills. If we are to achieve these targets, qualifications must be reformed to reflect the skills employers need.
Employers require a workforce that is skilled and competent in performing their jobs, and employers train staff to the levels of competence they require. Of course, there are employers and employees who need to invest more in skills to raise productivity levels, but it is not right to suggest that employers do not invest in training – business spends £33bn every year. But only one pound in three is spent on training towards a recognised qualification.
Put simply, many of the qualifications currently on offer do not cover the economically valuable skills employers want. This is a point Leitch acknowledged.
If UK employers are to see the value in training staff towards qualifications, we need urgent action to address current inadequacies.
Leitch sets much store by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), which will be tasked with developing qualifications for their sectors. This approach has real merit, and will be particularly relevant for small firms that have to rely on ‘off-the-shelf’ qualifications. But it is not sufficient.
If employers were able to take a leisurely approach to achieving the demanding qualifications targets, all would be well. But Leitch and the government have raised the threat of compulsory measures if adequate progress has not been made by 2010. To ensure we move ahead quickly enough, the CBI has called for a twin-track approach.
In addition to the work of the SSCs, we should develop a system whereby the high-quality training that is provided by firms can be easily translated into new qualifications. This was a key recommendation of the recent CBI report Shaping Up for the Future: the business vision for education & skills.
Leitch recognised the need to accredit employer training, but the CBI believes this should be taken a step further – with employers also able to award qualifications. Such a system would tackle the current mismatch between the competencies employers need, and those the qualifications system provides. It would enable employers to provide qualifications that employees would value, and that would enable them to be more mobile in the labour market. It would help tackle the fallacy that British workers who lack formal qualifications are poorly skilled, and attract inward investment to the UK as the country rises up the league table of skilled workers.
As a first step, the CBI wants the government to set up pilot schemes to road-test the best training methods and discover how the self-accreditation idea could best be implemented. Of course, there would need to be checks to ensure the qualifications pass the quality threshold, so that employers and employees can have confidence in them. Encouragingly, the government has been supportive of accrediting employer training – but we must now drive this agenda forward so we can meet the timeframe of 2010 when compulsion will be considered.
Accrediting employer-provided training is a win-win situation. It will give employees recognition for the skills they have developed, and give employers the tools they need to help deliver a better-skilled and better-qualified workforce.
By Susan Anderson, director of HR policy, CBI