Taking skills to the next level

The government has placed skills high on its agenda for 2005. In February, we welcomed the launch of the 14-19 White Paper and the central role it gives the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in helping the country’s young people access learning opportunities.

The chancellor also announced the launch of the National Employer Training Programme to raise the nation’s basic skills levels in his pre-budget report, while last month’s Skills White Paper previewed ‘sector skills agreements’, which will transform how the skills needs of individual sectors are met.

The Skills White Paper also called for an expansion of the network of centres of vocational excellence and launched national skills academies.

Both of these set a great example of how the LSC can work with business to establish specialist expertise and training within the further education sector in a way that is recognised by industry. At the LSC, we are looking forward to working with employers to tackle these challenges.

Alongside the Skills White Paper, the LSC published its Skills in England report. This reveals that while the number of workers in England holding high-level qualifications is on the increase, those qualified to Level 2 – equivalent to five GCSEs at grade A-C – has fallen.

Basic skills deficiency
Government figures suggest that 15 million adults lack basic skills in numeracy and five million lack literacy skills. We are already addressing this through initiatives such as the successful ’employer training pilot’ scheme.

So far, 130,000 employees and 18,000 employers have taken part and benefited from Level 2 and basic skills training. From 2006 onwards the pilot schemes will be incorporated into a National Employer Training Programme, which will offer free training to all adults who don’t currently have a Level 2 qualification.

The LSC will continue to work closely with the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) to develop the sector skills agreements, helping to provide the information required to gain an accurate picture of the level of skills in each sector.

The agreements will provide a means of identifying sector-specific skills and productivity needs and sets out how best to address these requirements. They are unique, as they put employers in the driving seat and their success is dependent on employer co-operation and engagement.

The first four agreements will be signed later this month in the IT, engineering and manufacturing, construction, and audio-visual industries, to be followed in the next few years by a further 21 agreements in the remaining sectors covered by SSCs.

The LSC has worked closely with the SSCs to develop these pathfinder agreements and we will be integrating the skills needs highlighted into our planning processes to ensure that employer views are well represented in the provision we fund.

We are also working hard to address employers’ lack of confidence in the Further Education (FE) sector, through initiatives such as our agenda for change programme. This should improve FE by creating real working relationships between colleges and employers.

Workforce development
Both groups are working positively with us on the programme and significant steps have already been taken towards achieving the change from supply-led to demand-led workforce development programmes.

This is well evidenced by work such as that undertaken by Leicester College, which has recently set up S4B – a training arm dedicated to providing employers with a one-stop shop for customised, business-specific training and development.

We also need to think carefully about our workforce of the future to ensure that young people are leaving school with the qualifications and skills that employers are looking for.

We are working with schools, colleges and employers to develop a young apprenticeship programme for 14- to 16-year-olds, the first two phases of which have already been over-subscribed, and we will continue to work with the Government to set up their proposed specialist diploma.

These are opportunities for young people to gain real hands-on experience of the workplace and give them an opportunity to learn skills that are difficult to pick up just at school.

However, despite the significant strides that have been made to address the country’s skills gap, the fact remains that a significant productivity gap still separates us from our closest competitors. As a nation, we can no longer afford to ignore this.

To find out more about the initiatives outlined above, call the LSC’s national helpline on 0870 900 6800, or go to the learning and Skills Council website at www.lsc.gov.uk

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