National blueprint for basic skills is launched

Employers are to be alerted to the bottom-line benefits of improving basic
skills at work with the launch of a pilot partnership scheme to promote better
literacy, numeracy and language levels.

Designed to initially tackle the problems faced by employers in the South
East, the Lancaster University’s Workplace Basic Skills Network and the South
East of England Development Agency (Seeda) – with the local Learning and Skills
Councils (LSCs) – are co-ordinating the £1m project.

Known as the South East Workplace Basic Skills Strategy, the scheme aims to
become the model for regional workplace basic skills provision throughout the
UK. While much has been done to improve skills levels during the 10-year
existence of Lancaster University’s Workplace Basic Skills Network, efforts
have been disparate.

Sue Batt, a director of the network, said: "It has often been a case of
different organisations acting independently. We have long known that the best
results are achieved through partnership, and now we’re very pleased this
approach is being formalised. With our pooled resources, we will be able to
target a far greater number of companies and workers in the South East."

The project comes in response to Seeda’s workforce development strategy. The
region has the highest employment rate in the country and the greatest
proportion of people in employment with basic skills needs – an estimated

"One of the key drivers from our perspective is the need to tackle
skills shortages and gaps in the South East. We recognise the need to upgrade
people’s basic skills in an effort to enable them to develop within their own
workforce," said Barbara Bicknell, skills development manager at Seeda.

"Our experience of what can be achieved through workplace basic skills
programmes tells us we’re on the right track – it makes a difference to the
bottom line and that’s why Seeda is so committed. We hope that by involving the
Network we’re going to make a step-change difference in how we tackle the
problem, enabling more employers to take part and do more," she said.

Initial emphasis will be on the supply side. "We’ll be running
professional development courses and seminars for basic skills practitioners,
introducing them to working in companies and supporting them," Batt
explained. "Our staff team will also be providing mentoring and one-to-one
consultancy for provider organisations. Enabling and upskilling providers will
make them better placed to stimulate and respond to demand."

Next year, the partnership hopes to secure mainstream funding to establish
itself as the blueprint for regionally-based workplace basic skills provision.
It will present a cohesive model for co-ordinating the activities of
stakeholders in tackling the issue. "Seeda is the only RDA to go about it
in this way but we hope others, and the key funding agencies, will learn from
our experiences," said Bicknell.

"We need to grow people’s awareness of basic skills needs and what can
be done to help by working together. The union movement has been working
tirelessly to meet demands and we would hope that employers’ internal training
departments could be another area to do so," she added.

By Elaine Essery

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