Training funds wasted on irrelevant subjects to please bean-counters

Employees are being enrolled in inappropriate training courses to satisfy government “bean-counters”, an independent five-year study has found.

A study by the the University of London’s Institute of Education, Improving Working as Learning, warned that workers are too often pushed towards taking up state-funded vocational qualifications which are little to do with their jobs and therefore unlikely to help the UK emerge from the economic recession.

Professor Lorna Unwin, one of the study’s authors, told Personnel Today: “The emphasis on qualifications by the government through targets or campaigns is wrong. The workplace is a natural learning environment, and the government should encourage employers to re-organise their working practices so that staff have more opportunities to learn on the job.”

The government could help to create a better-skilled workforce if it was less fixated on the number of qualification-holders, Unwin added. The government’s strategy put too much pressure on training bodies because they too were judged by qualification-led targets, she said.

“All too often learning is regarded as something separate from work itself and is seen solely in terms of formal episodes of training that can be counted and costed – the bean-counting approach,” she said.

Many courses offered to employers were funded directly by the government or inter-linked public bodies, and private sector firms won subsidises to provide their own training.

The report also had serious reservations about England’s skills system, which employers have to understand to access funds for training.

“What was once a collection of disparate bodies jostling for the right to serve and influence employers has itself become a many-headed bureaucratic hydra, which, in turn, devours part of the funding intended for the real economy,” Unwin said.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) was established last year to reduce bureaucracy in the skills system. It has begun relicensing the 25 sector skills councils to make sure they fully serve employers’ needs.

The Financial Services Skills Council has been threatened with closure after failing to reach the required standards during a relicensing review.

Meanwhile, employers have insisted the UK’s skills agenda is on track, despite a UKCES report last week warning that the government would fail to reach a key Leitch Review target to train 90% of the adult workforce to Level 2 by 2020, if progress on skills continued at the current rate.

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