Train to Gain initiative has much to offer employers

What can the Train to Gain initiative offer employers? For starters, advice and money.

Since its launch last year, the Learning and Skills Council-backed (LSC) Train to Gain initiative has attracted many participating companies from across the UK. The latest figures available, from this August, show that more than 52,000 employers have signed up and nearly 230,000 employees have begun learning through the scheme.

Sounds a lot, doesn’t it? But Train to Gain’s target is to reach 2.5 million learners by 2011 and to accredit 1.25 million Level 2 qualifications by the same year.

Free diagnostic

Under Train to Gain, every employer is entitled to a free training diagnostic, where independent consultants, usually from the local Business Link, go into a company, discuss skills needs and work with the business to draw up an action plan. But ultimately, says Train to Gain’s development director Glen Robinson, it is “the employer that drives the breadth and depth of the training commitment. They can choose to take up all recommendations at once or to take it a bit at a time.”

He says the outcome of each diagnostic is as varied as the range of companies. One business may decide to send a few employees on day release to college to study for a degree, while another may be in need in of some leadership development intervention. In each case, the skills broker will source and approach suitable further education colleges or training providers on the client’s behalf.

“It may be no training is required at all and that the company needs advice about marketing or export sales. In these cases, they can be put in touch with experts at Business Link,” says Robinson.

Funding available

If the NVQ route is chosen, Train to Gain will finance any individual working towards a Level 2 qualification (equivalent to five good GCSEs) for the first time – an option taken up by almost 96,000 workers already. Funding is also available to train people in basic literacy and numeracy skills where required.

This is where Train to Gain overlaps with recommendations made by the Leitch Review, a government-backed report published last year that said the general skills level in the UK must be raised or the country risks falling behind its major global competitors.

Pilot schemes

In some areas, such as the South West, NVQ level 3 pilot schemes have started, where funding for 62.5% of training costs is available.

According to Marion Sweet, skills development manager for Train to Gain policy in the South West, local learning and skills councils are targeting “hard to reach” employers with Train to Gain. She defines these as those employers without Investors in People recognition who have not accessed substantial vocational training leading to a qualification within the last 12 months.

According to Sweet, future developments for Train to Gain will include working closely with Sector Skills Councils to identify what skills are required in each sector. Funding to train volunteers who form part of the workforce is also being looked at.

Also expect to see further promotion of the Skills Pledge. This is a voluntary, public commitment by a company or organisation to help employees develop their basic skills and work towards relevant qualifications at NVQ Level 2. Since June, when the Skills Pledge was introduced, 946 employers nationally have signed up.

Funding is available for these projects. According to Robinson, increased budgets have recently been agreed, which will see spending double over the next three years so that £900m is spent during the year 2010-2011.

Case study: QGS Synergy

While Train to Gain will provide funding for Level 2 NVQ training, Tony Roxburgh, a director at business improvement training company QGS Synergy, warns: “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

He says for companies to get the most from the training, they must be willing to allow their staff the time to “properly embrace the learning.”

In August, QGS started working with 15 employees of Freudenberg Seals and Vibration Control Technology, a sealing supplier with a plant in North Shields, to take them through an NVQ Level 2 qualification in Business Improvement Training (BIT) funded by Train to Gain.

Lasting 16 weeks, the training helps to improve workflow and minimise production errors through a combination of workshops and work-based projects.

“We were on-site an average of three days a week,” says Roxburgh, who calculates Freudenberg benefited from training costing £1,800 per employee

Peter Johnson, plant manager at Freudenberg, certainly rates the venture and has committed another 10 staff to the training. “We have seen significant improvements,” he said.

“I would recommend the training to any companies working within the manufacturing sector, especially as it was subsidised through a government initiative.”

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