In the past nine months the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has been dogged by criticism for failing to engage employers and failing to affect levels of employer delivered training. Despite facing industrial action over plans to reduce staff by almost a third, David Greer, director of skills for employers at the LSC remains confident that the Train to Gain initiative, phase one of which launched on 3 April, will satisfy employers.
“Train to Gain is a new way of connecting with employers,” says Greer, “We’ve invested considerable resources in the programme to ensure it delivers value by sourcing high quality flexible training provision for employers.”
That investment includes four years of pilot schemes around the UK where independent skills brokers have been introduced to employers charged with identifying skill requirements within those organisations and finding training provision to maximise benefits while minimising business disruption.
“Employers and employees have told us in no uncertain terms what a Train to Gain service has to do to get the levels of satisfaction we want,” says Greer. From the responses of the 30,000 employers involved in the pilot schemes, Train to Gain now comes with what Greer describes as “a full evaluation and management framework”, measuring the effectiveness of the skills brokerage service and training provision, the levels of satisfaction among employers involved and the levels of training investment consequently made by employers.
“The CBI has found the original pilots to be very successful for the free and flexible broker service they provide,” says Marion Seguret, senior policy adviser at the CBI. “One of the key things is the role of the brokers in helping an employer with their skills requirements and helping them navigate the infrastructure to meet that need. The scheme is definitely worthwhile and particularly valuable for small firms.”
But while Seguret and the CBI welcome the expansion of the scheme, it would be wrong to think Train to Gain has hit its stride and is now set in stone. In August the scheme breaks loose of its regional focus to reach all areas of England. As it does, feedback gathered from employers and employees alike will be used to continually improve the service.
In addition to this, the LSC has been involved in creating a new national competency standard for skills brokers which all Train to Gain brokers will be expected to meet within 12 months of joining the scheme. “The higher standard does not need to be there on day one, but it is absolutely our aim to have it,” says Greer. “If the staff of one brokerage organisation do not meet that standard we will work with an organisation whose staff do.”
Greer describes the LSC as “guardians of a high quality service”, but believes to do this the organisation needs to take a more strategic leadership role, rather than micromanaging the initiative. For this reason, the restructuring and head count reduction is not expected to affect the roll out of Train to Gain – indeed, it should result in an organisation that can swiftly influence independent skills brokers to adapt to employer’s demands. “There will be a lighter touch,” says Greer, “But one which rewards good practice and seeks to improve mediocre performance.”
Only one aspect of Train to Gain’s future requires immediate attention: Between now and the end of July the LSC needs to ensure it has what Greer terms “the capacity and the competence” to deliver the initiative across the country. Whether existing and future brokerage services will stretch that far remains to be seen.