Goodbye and good riddance?

Elaine Essery talks to training and development professionals to find out
their feelings about the curtain call for the NTOs and their hopes for the new

As NTOs cease to be recognised at the end of March and the new Sector Skills
Development Agency comes into being, employer-led groups are preparing bids to
become Sector Skills Councils.

Most stakeholders welcome the principle set out by the Government of a
stronger, higher-profile, better-funded and better-resourced network to
represent sector skills interests, but concerns and criticisms exist.

It is unclear what the outcome will be and much depends on the
implementation. Training Magazine took soundings from a range of interested
parties to get their reactions to the proposed sector skills shake-up.

Hugh Try
Deputy chairman, Galliford Try Chairman, Construction Industry Training

I think change is painful, but necessary. As a practical issue, I can’t see
how 47 local LSCs and however many RDAs could effectively engage with over 70
NTOs. Each has a legitimate interest to represent, but we’ve got to be cleverer
about co-ordinating those interests a bit more and presenting a smaller number
of messages. It’s an inevitable change in the right direction.

Andy Powell
Chief executive, NTO National Council

If employers and other employment interests want to have a big impact on the
whole education, learning and skills system – and most say it’s a little out of
kilter at the moment and not what employers need – that’s not going to happen
unless there’s a stronger, better co-ordinated, more influential voice.

If employers can come together in units which are far better resourced and
higher profile, I think this is an opening for them to have an influence.

Elisa Pruvost
Senior policy advisor, CBI

It’s difficult to say it’s a good thing because a lot will depend on the
implementation, but the vision is right.

The sectoral dimension is an essential element of the UK’s skills strategy
and it’s welcome that the Government wants to revise that.

We think it’s a great opportunity to get sector organisations right and have
employer-led bodies which can potentially fulfil useful roles as authoritative
centres of expertise for their sector.

Peter Meier
Head of HR, Channel 4

There are some good points in the Government’s proposals, but there’s going
to be great difficulty in getting employers on board.

Our outgoing NTO, Skillset, has already achieved in many areas and has large
support from the industry. It has gained employer support over a number of
years, but there are still some parts of our sector which don’t contribute. For
other bodies to start afresh without that background, I think it’s going to be
exceptionally difficult.

John Bambery
Managing director, Lancastrian Labels and Print

I’d like to think that this new approach will work, but I’m cynical and very
critical of the way the Government does things.

On the one hand, the Government says it wants to be involved in training and
is going to throw some money at it, but the money always seems to end up being
spent on bureaucracy and never gets through to where it’s needed. It comes up
with initiatives without following them through and when they don’t work it
changes things.

The reason skills development is so successful in most of mainland Europe is
because they’ve had stability for a long time. We’ve had no stability, just
chopping and changing.

Dr Ellie Johnson-Searle
Director of training, Construction Federation

In the construction industry, I think we’re in a more fortunate position
because the CITB has always done things over and above its NTO status
requirements so the transition for them, and the consequences for us, will be
less painful than for some of the others.

As a confederation, we want people to act in a unified manner and if you’re
working across a number of NTOs getting employers to sing from the same hymn sheet
has certainly been a problem. I think any form of rationalisation will put us
in a stronger position and hopefully there will be more joined-up thinking.

Graham Wescott
Chairman, GJ Haulage and Distribution Training Council

If at the end of the day the network becomes better resourced then it’s no
bad thing. What worries me is the suggestion made by the Chancellor at the
Labour Party conference that voluntarism will be replaced. If that means he’s
going to bring back a levy in some shape or form we, and lots of other
industries, will be very unhappy. We don’t want that.

Karen Price
Chief executive, e-skills NTO

It will be interesting to see how it pans out and what the role of the SSDA
will be at the end of the day. Our managing board have been delighted with the
announcement. One of their frustrations has been that it’s been difficult to
move the agenda along, as NTOs’ relationships with Government have been patchy
because there are so many of them. For them this is clarity. They’ll have a
clear identity, a clear message and it will be listened to.

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