In 2003, the Learning Skills Council (LSC) undertook a National Employers Skills Survey (NESS) – questioning 72,000 employers in England about their skills needs. It found that more than one fifth of employers were experiencing skills gaps and that this shortfall was leading to increased operating costs, lost orders and failure to meet quality objectives.
The Government’s Skills Strategy -’21st Century Skills: Realising Our Potential’ – was launched in July 2003. Its aim was to address some of these important findings.
The LSC has largely focused on creating a favourable skills marketplace, tackling key issues such as the availability of the right skills, the skills and qualifications of existing staff, and the training infrastructure to support skills development.
The LSC has forged strong partnerships with other members of the Skills Alliance to co-ordinate skills programmes and provision. Members include the DfES, the Treasury and the DTI, together with the CBI, TUC and the Small Business Council. It is also working with the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) to identify and tackle existing and future skills gaps and shortages across regions and sectors.
The LSC is ensuring that the further education sector can provide programmes and products that business needs; delivered in a way that businesses can access. Equipped with the findings of the survey, it has been able to better identify those specific areas most in need of investment, and work with employers to develop solutions that address these needs.
Feedback from employers involved in the highly successful employer training pilots has been overwhelmingly positive. More than 10,000 employers and 60,000 employees are currently enjoying the rewards from this method of training. The pilots will soon cover 18 areas, representing more than a third of the country.
The warm welcome given to the recent reform of apprenticeships by employers and providers alike is encouraging. The reforms will build on the success of Modern Apprenticeships (MAs), which have seen trainee numbers grow to 255,500 – the highest-ever level. There are now more than 160 MAs available in more than 80 industry sectors.
SSCs are now leading the drive to identify the skills that employers need to raise productivity in specific sectors, and the LSC has invested more than 20m working with sectors to meet their skills gaps. Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) are proving popular with employers and individuals, and there are many more to come.
The LSC has also been working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and sector bodies on reforming qualifications to improve their match with employer needs.
A good illustration of this is the development of the Information Technology Qualification (ITQ). covered in the last issue of Training Magazine (July 2004). Its employer-led design and innovative modular structure have impressed both businesses and learners.
The LSC has made real progress over the past 12 months and has set the foundations for future activity. It is aiming to put more employers in the driving seat in designing the right training and skills development plans to suit their specific needs, which will become evident in future months and years.
This is an exciting challenge to all training professionals as we leave ‘off the shelf’ solutions behind and look for increasing creativity that leaves employers getting the sense of continuing investment and coming back for more.