Elaine Essery looks at renewed efforts by business and education to reach a
consensus on closing the skills gap and awards low marks for effort
Industry and learning need to become partners in creating a skilled
workforce and also the right environment in which the habit of learning can
Few would disagree with this statement, which after all has been kicked
around for the past decade, but now there does seem to be a ground swell of
high-profile activity to make it a reality.
When the Learning and Skills Act received Royal Assent this summer, it
placed employment interests at the heart of the National Skills Agenda.
Employers now have a critical role in saying what skills they need and how
they can best be achieved. It makes it vital that industry and education and
training providers work together to equip individuals with the skills central
to employability in a rapidly changing workplace and business success.
And the soon-to-be more influential Further Education Development Agency is
keen to keep this subject in the spotlight as it furthers links with the new
Learning and Skills Council on this area.
Earlier this month it raised the subject with Ufi at its Learning 2010
Dr Anne Wright, chief executive of Ufi, was among those delivering papers.
She spoke at the conference on the subject of meeting the skills needs of
"People need to go on learning because of changes in the economy and
working practices. We all need to recognise that. It’s a question of making
sure we can meet the skill needs of employers throughout people’s working
lives," she says.
IT skills are becoming increasingly important, according to Wright, but, as
she points out, the knowledge economy still places a high premium on literacy,
numeracy and other key skills.
Wright believes some employers are beginning to see for the first time a
convergence between the interests of employees in developing core skills, which
they can carry with them to another job, and their own interests in training
for business needs.
"Even in what you may think of as knowledge industries, including
wholly IT-based industries, communication skills are more important than they
ever were. Because people can process so much more data, communicating and
working with one another become more important," says Wright.
"What we need to do as quickly as we can is identify those skills that
are going to be necessary for e-business – people needing to work in teams
remotely from one another, being able to manage people as well as processes
through e-business. All that takes on a new dimension in the new economy."
Wright believes it is absolutely vital that people from both industry and
education have a good understanding of employers’ needs and become partners in
the transformation of learning which she expects to see in 10 years’ time.
It is the task of teachers in schools and colleges to lay the foundation on
which employers can build to meet their specific needs. But is the education
system giving employers the people and qualities they are looking for?
"First and foremost we look for people with a good broadly-based
education that provides the best foundation for lifelong learning in
industry," says David Brown, chairman of Motorola.
"Secondly, to the extent that it’s possible to teach them in schools,
we look for key skills. And I mean the whole panoply of key skills, not just
literacy and numeracy."
Brown acknowledges that communication and teamworking skills are difficult
to teach young people, but probably the hardest of all to teach is how to
manage one’s own learning.
"In my view that’s the skill that’s in shortest supply in industrial
Britain today. People are often motivated to carry on learning – particularly
for employability – and a great many employers make learning resources
"The bit that’s often missing in the middle is how do you connect the
motivation with the resources? How do you direct people’s learning?
"The issue is giving people the skill they need properly to select the
learning that’s right for them and follow it through," says Brown.
In an age where people need to continue to learn at an ever-faster rate
throughout their working lives, figuring out what learning is required can be a
partnership between employers and employees. But lifelong learning is also
something for which young people can be better prepared by the education
State of mind
"At school it would be very helpful if more and more they created a
state of mind in people which was not just ready for learning to continue
through employment but actually eager for it," Brown believes.
And young people need to understand the many forms learning can take, since
learning in industry is far from sitting in front of a blackboard with a
teacher and being given facts.
"Learning is more about exploring as a team how to find new ways of
doing a job. In a sense, inventing things is a totally valid form of learning
and I would very much like schools to be saying that as often as they can.
"Discovering new things, generating new insights and passing on those
insights to the people you work with is learning."
Wright agrees with Brown on the importance of managing one’s own learning.
One of the challenges that Ufi has specifically addressed through learndirect
is the need for learning to be individualised and made easy.
"All our learning is self-managed in a very easy way and entirely
individual – people can do it where they want and when they want so you don’t
have to plan too far ahead.
"Every learndirect learner will have their own learning log, personal
to them, which they can use to plan and record learning.
"If they want they can present it to an employer and it can be used to
help plan learning in the context of a company programme," Wright
Ufi has also developed a diagnostic tool for learners. It asks them to look
at what their own interests and styles are, what kind of job they may be aiming
at and helps them to plan for that.
"Learndirect provides an all-round tailored solution for individuals,
but it also provides a business solution for companies large and small,"
If employers look to schools to provide key skills and a broad base for
extended learning, they look to the further education system to provide
knowledge and skills pertinent to their industry.
Garry Hawkes is chairman of the NTO National Council and the newly appointed
chairman of the Edexcel Foundation, one of the country’s leading exam bodies
for academic and vocational qualifications. His 20 years as managing director
and chairman of Gardner Merchant has given him an insight into what industry
wants from the education system.
He is concerned that the current system is driven by providers not users and
he believes employers should talk to educators more.
"I think business people have got to get out of their business
environment and participate in the world at large – that’s why I got involved
"It’s easy to criticise, but if you employ people and have a view about
education and training, you’ve got to get involved in the process and try and
influence and change things," he says.
Adopt a college
He cites as an example the "adopt a college" scheme, which he ran
and participated in at Gardner Merchant. It involved every senior executive
linking up with a college and working in various committees there. "They
learned a lot about the college and its problems, but also were able to
articulate the needs of our particular industry. It worked exceptionally
well," he says.
Hawkes’s views are echoed by key figures in government and education who
spoke at a conference organised earlier this year by school leadership
specialist, Heads, Teachers and Industry (HTI), and education strategist,
Education and Youth (E&Y). Their report, Today’s Leaders – Tomorrow’s
World, consolidates the thinking of the Feda conference on developing a
national strategy for business to work with education.
"Education needs business, but business also needs education. In
achieving long-term ambitions, business needs a close relationship with the
education sector more than has ever previously been the case," says Lord
Puttnam, chairman of the General Teaching Council and the National Endowment
for Science, Technology and the Arts.
"Only when businesses and schools recognise their fundamental need for
each other will we truly begin to get the benefits of working together."
Businesses of all sizes could play a much bigger part in influencing the
content of the National Curriculum and therefore the quality of their future
workforce by forging closer links with education, the HTI/E&Y report says.
But 93 per cent of smaller firms have no links with education. This is
something that Estelle Morris, School Standards Minister at the DfEE, wants to
"We need a cultural change in our society so that everyone accepts
their responsibility to be an educator. Whether you’re from a small business,
medium-sized business or a large business, whether you’re working on the
shopfloor, as the head of a company, or as an accountant, you’re an educator as
well," she says.
There is little doubt that industry and education need to come closer
Feda chief executive, Chris Hughes, would like to see the relationship
become seamless within the next 10 years. "Educators and employers tend to
stand off each other and a blame culture still exists," he says.
"A lot of good things go on but it doesn’t add up to continuous
engagement. It would be good if employers started regarding providers of skills
training with the same seriousness as they do other parts of the supply chain –
as less of a public service but more as a partner. I think that would be
Today’s Leaders – Tomorrow’s World is available from HTI, tel 024 7641 0104.
Learning 2010 (price £10) will be available from Feda Customer Services, tel
020-7840 5381, at the end of November.
Education and Youth 01202 244000, www.eandy.co.uk
Edexcel Foundation 0870 240 9800, www.edexcel.org.uk
Further Education Development Agency 020-7840 5400, www.feda.ac.uk
HTI Leadership Centre (Heads, Teachers and Industry) 024 7641 0104, www.hti.org.uk