Employers’ groups have given the thumbs up to the Government’s new national skills strategy, which intends to boost the number of adult apprenticeships and fund basic skills courses for those who have left school without basic reading, writing and maths abilities.
The Skills for Sustainable Growth strategy, unveiled by business secretary Vince Cable, outlines plan to invest £605 million in adult apprenticeships next year and create an extra 75,000 apprenticeship places by 2014-15.
It also pledges to improve the apprenticeships package so that level 3 (A-level) becomes the target level, while a £210 million investment in adult and community learning to support personal development will also be protected.
Other targets include replacing Train to Gain with an SME-focused programme to encourage small employers to train low-skilled staff and help people who are receiving job-seeking benefits to secure work through labour-market-relevant training.
Lee Hopley, chief economist at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, described the goals of improving workforce skills and emphasising apprenticeships as “ticking all the right boxes” but said that the approach required a “root and branch reform of the entire skills training system”.
“We’ve had a consensus for some time that the skills system was crying out for radical reform,” she said. “The White Paper must equate that to a new system that is driven by the needs and demands of employers and individuals rather than central government targets.”
Susan Anderson, CBI director for education and skills, said: “It is right that those who have left school without basic literacy and numeracy will continue to have access to state funded training. There is still an issue around basic skills.
“About half of companies are concerned about the literacy and numeracy of the current workforce, with one-fifth of employers already providing remedial training for school leavers.”
Cable said that the strategy was designed to promote economic growth by addressing the “current failings in skills training”, but he acknowledged that funding was tight – following last month’s spending review the further education budget will be cut by 25% by 2014-15.
He added: “We are not in a position to throw money at the problem, but even against the backdrop of reductions, resources will be found to expand the apprenticeship programme for adults and support more people undertaking an increasingly respected form of vocational training.”
Ben Willmott, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “With the economic challenges faced by this country over the next few years, boosting employment and productivity will be crucial – something that will only be achieved if the UK’s people management skills deficit is tackled.”