Sector-based approach to skills development is best

As we await the final report of the Treasury-commissioned Leitch Review of Skills, manufacturers’ organisation the EEF’s report Learning to Change – Why the UK skills system must do better, and the TUC’s 2020 Vision for Skills, are a valuable contribution to the skills debate.

The report contains much of what I would like to see in the Leitch report. Its call for a sector-driven approach to skills is something I strongly support. Through working closely with employers in its sector to identify the skills they need to become world-class, Semta has clear evidence that a sector-based approach works in practice.

But a reduction in the number of Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) is not a proposal I support. We should be working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Skills for Business network. I am leading a project to do just that.

We at Semta recognise that there are overlaps and duplication of activities, and we are determined to work together to avoid them. Just as we encourage employers to be leaner and more productive, we are striving to add value and produce more for less through co-operation, collaboration and waste reduction.

By working together in regions, nations and across a range of functions, we can operate more effectively. Taking steps in that direction is the way forward, not forcing mergers and alliances between unwilling partners by reducing the number of SSCs. Certainly, it is hard to see how the EEF’s recommendation that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) merge could work. The SSDA is a UK-wide body, while the LSC covers England only.

I support most of the TUC’s 2020 Vision for Skills report. Few would dispute the need for employers and government to invest more in adult skills – that is embodied in our sector skills agreements. Unions certainly have a vital role to play as partners in the government’s skills strategies. Their contribution has been well demonstrated in our sector through the tremendous amount of work done – notably with Amicus – in implementing sector skills agreements.

However, I am against any form of compulsion – after all, we moved away from a statutory training levy imposed by the Industry Training Boards – and our employers would not support the TUC’s demand for statutory time off for training.

My greatest concern with the current system – and one which I would most like to see Lord Leitch address – is the lack of sector-based funding. SSCs have responsibility across a wide range of activities, but without funding they are powerless to deliver.

Our only option is to influence policy-makers to deliver what we want for our employers and it does not work. There are too many organisations involved in policy-making locally, regionally and nationally. The best way forward must be to give the network more responsibility for how funds are spent in a sector-driven approach.

We need clearer government focus on the sector-based, employer-led approach to skills development to help create a world-class infrastructure that delivers the skills employers need.

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