Government commits to boosting UK skills

The government is to help millions to get the skills they need to get into work, get better jobs and help companies compete with China, India and other emerging economies, it has announced.

The new Skills White Paper, unveils the next phase of reforms to tackle the UK’s skills shortages. The paper includes:

  • A new National Employer Training Programme, which will deliver free, flexible training for vocational qualifications to the equivalent of five good GCSEs. The government will also fully fund adults who want to study for the same level of qualification at their local college.

  • New pilot schemes to support vocational training at technician, craft and associate professional level skills (equivalent to two A-levels). The government will provide £40m over two years to support these schemess, with funding to be matched by contributions from employers.

  • Skills Academies to focus on the needs of each major sector of the economy and help raise the status and value of vocational education and training.

Launching the White Paper, secretary of state for education and skills, Ruth Kelly said: “Our goal is of a dynamic economy where our productivity is enhanced through high skilled, well rewarded employees working in companies committed to long-term investment, improving the nation’s economic productivity so we are fit to compete with China, India and other emerging economies.

“Too many adults in the UK still lack basic skills in literacy and numeracy and employers are concerned that they cannot recruit workers with the skills they need to be competitive. We need to tackle this and go even further to support more adults in achieving the higher end technician, craft and professional qualifications our economy needs to compete with the best.

“Improving our national skills base must be a joint endeavour between the government, employers, trade unions, universities, colleges and other training providers. If we tackle the challenges that face us we have a real opportunity to make a fundamental change.”

Four agreements, setting out the actions needed to secure the specific skills in each sector, will be launched today by chancellor Gordon Brown.

Skills Academies will be national centres of excellence for the post-16 sector working closely with schools and colleges, building on models such as the Fashion Retail Academy, being established with the Arcadia Group, and the Automotive Academy based in Birmingham, which works with major motor manufacturers. These academies will cater for both young people and adult learners, focusing particularly on those who show promise in their chosen field.

CBI director general, Sir Digby Jones said: “The time is right to kick-start a UK skills revolution and this is an opportunity that the country cannot afford to miss. Better skills go hand-in-hand with better business performance.

“If training was tailored truly to the needs of business then we can make UK staff more dynamic and the UK economy more competitive. If everyone in the UK improved their skill-base by one level, the poorest person in the country would get richer.”

Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said the government’s continuing focus on qualifications and targets, rather than on skills relevant to the workplace has caused concern among employers.

“The failure of the education system to equip all young people with the basic skills needed to bridge the transition into the workforce also remains an ongoing problem,” he said.

“At a time of continuing low unemployment, the issue of basic skills is more important than ever for employers. Yet those with the lowest skills don’t often receive the support they require.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said workplace learning was the key to improving skills.

“If we are serious about raising the level of skills in this country then employers must back training in the workplace, especially the 40 per cent who currently offer no training whatsoever,” he said.

“Bosses must recognise the work of union learning representatives and allow their staff either time off to train, or some flexibility in their hours so they can take advantage of training available.”

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