Government to unveil skills pledge later today after six-months of false starts

The government today launches the long-awaited skills pledge today as part of its overall response to the Leitch Review, commissioned by the Treasury and published last December, to address the UK skills shortage.

Education secretary Alan Johnson, skills envoy Digby Jones and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber are expected to introduce the launch after a six-month delay, which will see some companies sign a pledge to commit to train their staff to the equivalent of five GCSEs by 2010 – in the hope that other employers will follow.

The pledge is just one of many recommendations made by Lord Sandy Leitch, who warned that if UK skills remain “fundamentally weak” they will “hold back productivity, growth and social justice”.

The TUC has already signed the pledge to help raise workers to Level 2, and its general secretary has asked every TUC affiliated union to sign up too.

Barber told a conference of union learning reps on Monday that employers should work with unions to make the pledge a success.

He said: “Here and now, in the world’s fifth largest economy in 2007, five million adults lack functional literacy and 17 million struggle with numbers. If we are to compete in the global economy of tomorrow, this has got to change and change fast.

“Our laissez-faire approach to workforce skills means more than one-third do not offer any training at all. This is simply not acceptable.”

Barber urged employers to use the pledge to raise their game on skills.

He said: “Don’t see it as just another initiative, or as something to be kicked into the long grass, but as a genuine opportunity to move forward.”

But Liz Smith, director of unionlearn, the TUC body set up to promote lifelong learning for union members, admitted the pledge should be made mandatory from the start to have any real impact.

She said: “We like the idea of the skills pledge but it should be a mandatory requirement. It needs to be high profile, way before 2010, as the pledge itself doesn’t mean anything.

“There should be some public funding to help employers the [skills pledge] commitment into a reality.”

If employers do not sign the skills pledge by 2010, the government will make it mandatory so that the UK has a chance of competing in the global skills market by 2020.

How unions will support the skills pledge

Unionlearn has agreed to:

  • Raise union awareness of the pledge through events, toolkits, and union learning reps training
  • Encourage union learning reps to work with skills brokers to extend the pledge above Level 2 entitlement
  • Establish an object ive that all unionised workplaces have a skills pledge in place by 2010
  • Support unions to work with sector skills councils and employers to develop a sectoral approach to the pledge

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