Government fails to deliver 2008 skills promises

The government’s promised skills revolution did not materialise in 2008.

Key government targets have been missed, and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) insisted the training system was “undoubtedly” as complicated as it was 12 months ago.

On 1 January this year, skills secretary John Denham promised to work with employers and training providers to bring about a “culture change” by making it easier for firms to access skills funding.

But so far, just 291,000 staff have achieved a Level 2 qualification through Train to Gain, falling short of the 350,000 target for 2008.

Earlier this year, the government conceded that the flagship skills brokerage service had under-spent by £200m.

About 6,000 employers have signed the skills pledge to give staff Level 2 training, but this is a fraction of the 2.2 million in the UK.

BCC skills policy adviser John Lucas said the funding system still baffled employers. Confirmation in the Queen’s Speech that the Learning and Skills Council would be replaced by a new Skills Funding Agency showed the confusion that remained, he said.

Lucas told Personnel Today: “The constant moving of the deckchairs is not constructive. The government should work with the existing skills system – there have been up to five reincarnations of the system over the past 11 years. Undoubtedly, the number of agencies involved is confusing still.”

He stressed that most employers were committed to training staff, but said many were put off using the state system and opted to work with private sector providers instead.

Frances O’Grady, deputy general secretary at the TUC, agreed that progress had been patchy. “We need to do away with every excuse that has been used [by employers] not to sign [the pledge],” she said.

Train to Gain is crucial to the government’s bid to meet its Leitch Review target of increasing the proportion of adults holding Level 2 qualifications to 90% by 2020.

The 2006 Leitch Review warned that the UK faced a bleak future unless it ramped up skill levels.

A Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills spokesman said: “Since its launch in 2006, Train to Gain has helped more than 570,000 employees in England get training.”

The skills system: an employer’s view

Catering giant Aramark has not yet signed the skills pledge, although it is considering it.

Despite improvements in Train to Gain over the past few months, with more learners eligible for funding, the process is still burdensome, according to its UK HR director Robbie Wheeler.

“It requires determination and a considerable amount of time to find out how you access [Train to Gain] funding, and training providers don’t give consistent information about which learners are eligible for funding,” he said.

“It is very difficult to ascertain the different areas of expertise of the various government bodies and agencies.”

Aramark will help People 1st, the hospitality industry’s sector skills council, develop demand-led qualifications in the New Year. Wheeler added: “We see our continued investment in training employees as the key to our business success.”

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