Skills will only increase with employer support

The decision to axe the National Training Organisations and replace them
with larger Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) was taken because only a handful had
proved effective, according to the Adult Skills Minister.

John Healey told Personnel Today the system had failed in tackling the UK’s
skills shortages because only a small proportion of employers were actually
aware the 72-strong NTO network existed.

"You have to look at the skills gap then look at the performance of the
NTOs overall. Only 8 per cent of employers had even heard of them. They were
too small and didn’t have enough influence," he said.

In March the NTOs will officially make way for the first five Sector Skills
Councils, which will cover the retail, audio-visual broadcasting, land-based
industries, clothing and textiles and the petrochemical sectors.

Healey stressed that in the future all industries will have the opportunity
to benefit from a skills council.

He said: "Eventually, where there is an industry that doesn’t have a
SSC, it will be the job of the Sector Skills Development Agency to help get a
framework in place.

"The importance of sectors has changed and, increasingly in Government,
we are concerned about local labour market issues, specifically with
productivity problems.

"Sectors are more important to Government than ever and there’s a much
greater emphasis on skills. Employer surveys are telling us that skills are the
key issue."

The new streamlined system is designed to reduce the skills gap and increase
workforce development. Healey is confident the first five SSCs will set a
precedent for other industries.

"We’re looking for the first five trailblazers to set an example to
other sectors. The trailblazers were picked because they had leadership – the
sector’s employers had demonstrated their potential," he said.

"The five given the go-ahead were successful from 31 expressions of
interest. We could have appointed more but we felt only five had the kind of
support we were looking for, and could set an example.

"I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t get the trailblazers up and
running by April."

The Government is ready to pledge £1m a year to each council, but this will
only happen if there’s enough support from employers.

It is employers, stressed Healey, who will be the driving force behind the
skills councils.

"We’re not setting up some quasi-public body. Employers are the best
people to decide the needs of each sector."

Healey has high hopes that the councils will become industry voices on
training and skills.

"There is a strong realisation in Government that skills are
fundamental to solving some of the productivity problems. It works both ways:
staff want new skills in terms of job security and employers want better

"We’re looking to make much greater investment and, hopefully, a much
greater impact on skills and productivity issues in the UK. Through SSCs
companies will be able to influence Government and improve skills."

Healey said other sectors are interested in the schemes and urged employers
to look carefully at their training provision in partnership.

"We’re working closely with the five trailblazers and other sectors
interested in setting up SSCs. We’ve got business advisers helping them decide
whether they have a viable future bid or not."

By Ross Wigham

Sector Skills Councils: the goals

– Reduce skills gaps and shortages and increase the speed of
development and transition by sectors

– Develop specific actions that lead to improved productivity,
business and public services performance

– Take action leading to the development of everyone on the
sector’s workforce

– Influence action that leads to improvement in learning

How the goals will be achieved

– Identify skills and productivity priorities and the action
needed to tackle them

– Agree with employers, Government and relevant public agencies
over the way this action will be taken

– Lead action and monitor progress in meeting priorities

– Ensure the development of occupational standards,
apprenticeship frameworks and training provision

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