Invest in skills now for future success

Successful employers see investing in the skills of their workforce as one of the most powerful things they can do to drive their business forward. We need to create a culture in which every employer takes that view.

Skilled people are more productive, more successful, and more innovative, and that leads to stronger businesses. The government’s new skills strategy, released last month, places skills at the heart of its business agenda. It sets out the actions we need to take to equip people with the skills they need for the future.

That future is a global one, where competition for each and every new opportunity will be increasingly intensive. We must, therefore, make sure we have in place the skills that underwrite the industries of the future, the industries in which British firms already have comparative advantage. Areas such as low carbon, digital technologies and the creative industries.

Raising standards

Unfortunately, despite the progress we’ve made over the past decade, our skills set still does not compare to the best countries in the world. So we must raise the standard.

Our ambition is that three-quarters of people should participate in higher education, an advanced apprenticeship or an equivalent technician-level course by the age of 30. The government will invest £1bn in apprenticeships this year, and from autumn next year a Joint Investment Fund will provide up to £100m, with £50m investment from employers, to support 75,000 training places. In return for their investment, employers themselves will identify the training bodies and higher education institutions that best meet the needs of their industry.

Employer-led bodies such as ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council for the construction sector, will be tasked with forging stronger relationships with employers. The responsibility rests with businesses to identify potential skills gaps and to address the areas where training will be most beneficial to their industry.

The government has also established the right to request time to train, which provides employees with the legal right to request time away from their core duties to undertake training. The right will apply to about 11 million employees in organisations with 250 or more employees from April 2010, before being extended to all employees from April 2011. This aims to give workers the opportunity to improve their skills, bringing significant benefit to UK businesses and most importantly putting workers on the right path to achieve their career aspirations.

It is absolutely imperative that skills are a ladder up; by that I mean they must lead to greater opportunities. This relies on a university system which meshes with vocational training, so that people can move from apprenticeships to foundation degrees and beyond.

Wider audience

It is also vital that our higher education and skills systems are open to as wide an audience as possible. We must create opportunities for hard-working people to put themselves on the path to prosperity. I want to see a society in which people from low and middle income families have the chance to fill high-skilled, well-paid jobs.

Quality and clarity

Driving demand for vocational training, both in the workplace and in educational establishments, from people from differing educational and social backgrounds will force providers to address the quality and focus of the training provided.

The strategy also lays down our commitment to reducing the number of public bodies involved in skills and training policy. I understand the current system can be confusing for employers and we will remove the number of separate public funded agencies by more than 30. This will create a clearer, more focused skills system.

Skills are a key part of this government’s strategy for economic recovery, and I would advise every business to address the development opportunities open to each of their employees. Investing in skills is money well spent; a talented, skilled workforce is the key to this country’s future success.

Kevin Brennan, further education, skills and apprenticeships minister

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