Training the labour force

most radical shake-up of training systems, the Learning and Skills Council and
its supporting local network, launches this week. What impact is the
Government’s vehicle for transforming skills likely to have in Britain?  Stephen Overell reports

week marks a major milestone in adult learning. Now open for public scrutiny is
the Learning and Skills Council, the Government’s main vehicle for boosting
skills in Britain, which came into being from the start of this month.

is the organisation that is going to spend £6bn a year on training and
development – a sum which seems impressive set against the £1.4bn a year spent
by the training and enterprise councils.

the esoteric world of training and development there has been talk about little
else for the past year-and-a-half. The Department for Education and Employment
has been preparing for this moment with a period of feverish activity. New
programmes, targets, initiatives, task groups and reports have tumbled out of
Whitehall at a staggering rate. Indeed, some underemployed policy specialists
have counted them and found they have totalled 1,600 since Labour came to
power. And central to them all is the Learning and Skills Council.

those who don’t already know, the LSC, with its 47 local arms, will be
responsible for planning and funding all 16- to 19-year-old and adult and
community education, replacing both the Tecs and the Further Education Funding
Council and taking over the funding of school sixth forms from local
authorities from 2003.

an institution it represents the achievement of a long-held ideal – the placing
of vocational and academic learning on an equal footing with funding for both
coming from the same body. It also represents the first time that a government
body has had a duty to promote participation in learning. It will work with
schools, colleges, employers and a multiplicity of other Labour quangos to set
about improving Britain’s skills performance.

parents speculating on the future of a child, education and training experts
have been musing on its future. There is no doubt that the advent of the LSC
has received a generally warm welcome from a wide variety of interest groups.

the Tecs tended to be appreciated by business organisations, they never enjoyed
much sympathy from the public at large. Set up by the Conservatives in 1993 to
refocus training on the needs of business – 
a widely understood reform at the time – they never quite shrugged off
accusations of chummy back-scratching and patronage among business people.

did skills development always appear to be a top priority. In one celebrated
instance from 1999, Solotec, based in Bromley, paid a £285,000 golden handshake
to its departing chief executive, John Howell – a payment that Education and
Employment Secretary David Blunkett said there was “no possible justification
for”. The public purse remains the poorer to this day.

setting up its new regime, the DfEE has been careful to avoid a whiff of any
such scandal in the future. One of its key considerations has been to establish
a structure that will be more likely to enjoy broad support, while still
prioritising the skills requirements of business. As a result it has pulled off
a very delicate balancing act, mixing people with public and private sector backgrounds,
trade unionists with small business people, councillors with members of the
Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. The term “partnership” is
awash in DfEE documents.

politics is in evidence right at the top of the LSC. Its chairman is Bryan
Sanderson, former group managing director of BP Amoco and chief executive of BP
Amoco Chemicals, who retired from the board last year and will devote about two
days a week to the LSC. The chief executive is John Harwood, former chief
executive of Oxfordshire County Council. And it is equally evident on the
body’s two main committees. John Monks, the TUC general secretary, will chair
the LSC’s adult learning committee and Chris Banks, the former managing
director of Coca-Cola Great Britain (now with packing firm Histogram after a
management buy-out) will chair the young people’s learning committee.

are to have the largest single input into the new bodies with 40 per cent
representation on LSC councils, although business organisations, such as the
CBI, have complained half-heartedly that the interpretation of “business
background” has been “a little elastic” on the national body.

about the degree to which the new organisations will be business-led has been
one of the main criticisms of the new system. Both the Conservatives and the
Liberal Democrats have had political fun pointing out that the LSC is a
bureaucratic creation of Whitehall, rather than a body that will be used to
support local businesses. But that very point also has its upside. From the
point of view of personnel professionals, at times the Tec system could be very
frustrating – one Tec might give £3,000 per modern apprenticeship; another
£10,000. A national tariff would be preferable.

most business organisations have praised the Government’s aim of raising
standards in education and training, they also have their individual quibbles.
At the Engineering Employers’ Federation, Ann Bailey, head of education and
training, says, “We are quite disappointed that a lot of the employers [on
LSCs] are not hard-nosed business industrialists – not people at the chalk
face. If you haven’t got a representative of your sector, how do you go about
expressing your views? There is a lot of uncertainty.”

is also concerned that the LSC is going to be over-focused on basic skills,
following the well publicised discovery that one in five British people is
functionally illiterate, meaning they cannot locate a plumber in the Yellow
Pages. “The focus on basic skills is vital,” she says, “but it should not be
the total agenda. There are a lot of people in work who need upskilling. That
is very costly for employers. If we could see the LSC working with employers
that would make a major difference to whether the LSC fulfils its full potential.”

John Stevens, head of policy at the CIPD, believes the aim of increasing the
number of people on modern apprenticeships might reduce the amount of learning
undertaken in the workplace – which is considerably more expensive than
classroom learning. “Expanding the numbers going through at the rate the
Government is doing does raise issues about the quality of learning that is
being delivered.” (As of June last year, 439,800 young people were doing Modern
Apprenticeships, Foundation Modern Apprenticeships or Advanced Modern

the second major criticism has been the degree of centralisation inherent in
the system. True to Labour’s reputation, there is much in the LSC regime that
marks a centralisation of training and development. David Blunkett, Education
and Employment Secretary, wields power of appointment over the LSC chairs,
executive directors and council members.

national LSC, which is in principle a non-departmental public body, is obliged
to publish an annual plan showing how “any objectives should be achieved in the
year in conformity with the directions of the Secretary of State”. Local LSCs,
meanwhile, have a duty to “prepare annual plans in conformity with guidance
from the [national] LSC”. If the Adult Learning Inspectorate, which is to
inspect places where learning is provided, comes across poor performance, the
Learning and Skills Act grants the Secretary of State direct powers of
intervention – to remove governors from a further education college, for example.

much of the LSC’s budget is already earmarked for national projects. There is
concern that there might not be enough funds to finance local needs – a key
concern for employers. An unconfirmed figure of 15 per cent of each LSC budget
is being touted as the total money available for local projects. John Hall,
head of education law at solicitors Eversheds, has argued the new system
“greatly enhances Whitehall’s powers of control”.

LSC is a quango, a Non-Departmental Public Body. But one unknown factor in the
new system is the nature of the “partnership” it will have with a large number
of other Labour-created quangos – all of which have the purpose of raising
skills levels.

example, there are to be 6,000 UK Online centres; 100 geographical hubs of
UfI/Learndirect, each looking after about 10 Learning Centres; 47 LSCs, in turn
serviced by 110 Learning Partnerships; and there are to be 47 Connexions
Partnerships, subsuming 66 careers service companies, but run locally by
150-odd local management committees based on local authority boundaries; there
is one national provider of Individual Learning Accounts and nine Regional
Development Agencies.

new system may have slightly simplified the jungle of post-16 institutions, but
even the most generous might allow that the geography of learning
infrastructure is far from ideal and could make the labour market
intelligence-gathering role of the LSC a logistical atrocity. The relationship
between all these bodies is likely to confound the keenest of learners.

who is likely to do well from the LSC? The Association of Colleges predicts
that their members are going to receive three-quarters of the LSC’s budget
because they represent 70 per cent of the state-funded training market and
deliver 54 per cent of vocational qualifications. Some college principals,
however, are concerned about smaller private providers undercutting what they
offer. Private sector training providers will employ “instructors” and aim
solely at qualifications; colleges employ lecturers and will hedge what they
offer with libraries, support services and refectories, all of which cost more

private-sector learning providers, which currently represent only 6 per cent of
the total share of the skills market, are confident, feeling that good
relations with employers will secure their future. The Government hopes those
providers who offer value for money and meet local skill needs, will survive
and flourish, while those that do not will perish.

LSC faces an uphill struggle. There is little doubt that on basic skills,
Britain lags behind its competitors. Some 23 per cent of British people have
low literacy compared with 12 per cent in Germany and 17 per cent in Canada,
according to the Basic Skills Agency.

further problem is that all too often, training goes to the people who arguably
need it least. A total of 24 per cent of graduates received training in 1998,
compared with only 4 per cent of the unqualified, according to the Workforce
Em- ployee Relations Survey. The highest-earning quartile received four times
more training than the lowest-earning quartile.

the CBI has argued that, contrary to popular belief, Britain does not train
less than comparable nations, there have been frequent glimpses of what UK
performance could look like if Britain trained more.

final report of the Skills Task Force, notes that if Britain raised the
numeracy skills of adults to the standards expected of 11-year-olds, the
country’s gross domestic product would rise by £40bn. That, as ministers keep
saying, is what it’s all about.

figures express their hopes and fears for the new LSC

Former managing director of Coca-Cola, now chief executive of Histogram, who
sits on the national Learning and Skills Council

am very optimistic about the difference the LSC is going to make. My genuine
sense is that around LSCs we have a great representation of business people – I
can already see the application of classic business skills in this area with
better anticipation of the skills needs, planning for it and delivering against

is very early days, but I am also convinced that the system will be much
simpler. The previous arrangements were terribly complicated with lots of
different ways of accessing funding.

LSC is a mandate for change. If we are going to achieve the sort of progress
the LSC has been established to achieve, we are going to have to do things
differently. Skills are an absolutely critical area for business and in many
areas, we have not got them – not just new economy skills, but craft skills in
construction and engineering. If as business people we have not got the flow of
talent, that is a real issue.

is critically important that each of the local LSCs have responsibility to feel
the local pulse of employers. I would encourage those business people who want
to have more influence to make contact with the chair or executive director of
the LSC. But it is up to local LSCs to figure out the best way of building
partnerships – LSCs are the glue that holds employers and the education system
together. It goes without saying that local LSCs need discretion about funding
local projects, but they do also have a say over how money that is
formula-driven is spent.

got involved in this originally through work I did on the London Employers’
Coalition for the New Deal. I had seen the difference it had made in achieving
employment for people who lack basic employability skills. It was a natural
progression to stay involved and to see things from the other end of the
pipeline, as it were.”

Head of learning and skills at the CBI

jury is out on whether the changes will benefit employers. Many of our members
were involved in TECs, which had established a strong network of relationships
with employers. We would have preferred a more evolutionary approach than the
one the Government has pursued, but the DfEE has been genuinely consultative
and wants to get it right. It deserves a fair wind.

is not clear, but remains critically important to businesses, is that the local
LSCs have discretion to respond to the circumstances in local labour markets.

welcome the 40 per cent business representation on local LSCs – although it
perhaps should be added that the interpretation of what is meant by “business
experience” has been a little elastic in the example of the national LSC.

a strategic level, we believe the structure offers immense potential for
diversity of choice in post-16 learning, whether academic or vocational. As far
as possible the system should respond to the informed demand of young people
and the funding should be driven by that. We want a system where young people
can choose across the system

the variations in quality of training in different regions should now be ironed
out, with large companies able to contract at a national level for training.

have a vested interest in highly skilled, highly motivated people. As regards
young people, one of the problems with the apprenticeship system and the high
attrition rates in modern apprenticeships is the attitudes of young people

Chief executive, Investors in People

should be a much clearer focus now in supporting learning than there was under
the old Tec regime. Tecs were set up as independent trading companies, which
meant they had to think of profitability, while the LSCs have the aim of
bringing the education and employer communities closer together.

schools, local authorities and the voluntary sector all have an interest in
learning. Personnel professionals may think lifelong learning is just about
social inclusion, but the truth is that it is in their interest to have people
with the right set of skills coming through the education system. It will be a
much more inclusive culture.

will be no direct impact on us from the start-up of the LSC. We get 40 per cent
of our funding direct from the DfEE (IIP’s total budget is £6.5m), but the LSC
will be crucial in getting more employers to come on board with the standard.
The LSC’s role in promoting lifelong learning as well as developing national
learning targets means there will be continual dialogue between us.

the moment, 23,000 organisations have been recognised for attaining IIP, while
a further 15,000 are in the pipeline. But there is a set of targets we are
hoping to reach by the end of 2002. By then, we hope 10,000 organisations with
less than 49 employees and half of all organisations with more than 50
employees will have achieved it.”

Education spokesman of the Conservative Party

setting up the Learning and Skills Council, what the Government has done is
lump a whole lot of things together and the result is a very bureaucratic and
centralised system. It is very much a central body with local arms. It is early
days yet, but I would not be surprised to see several years of administrative
foul-ups – it is an open secret that the national LSC’s IT systems are not in
place yet.

is a deficiency of bus-iness leaderships in the LSCs. What- ever the criticisms
of the Tecs, they were predominantly business-led organisations. The Government
has had a real problem finding business people to sit on LSCs and as a result
many people involved in them are not exactly in the front-line in business.

fear the amount of money the LSCs have to spend locally will actually go down
because only between 10 and 15 per cent of the budget will be for local
discretion. So much is taken up by central schemes. It was noticeable that the
remit letter sent out to the local LSCs had some 76 different directives to
which they had to conform – not exactly the best way of ensuring local
discretion on funding learning that will benefit local employers.

would be unlikely to scramble all the reforms the Government has put in place
if we were in power, but we would certainly be likely to freeze the transfer of
sixth form funding from 2003.”

Liberal Democrat education spokesman

the Government has done is go through a massive bureaucratic overhaul that is
not likely to have much impact on the end users of the system. My great
criticism is not that the Government lacks commitment, but that it lacks vision
and has not thought through the reforms it is putting in place.

you ask John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, where the vision is for five
years’ time, you will get blank looks. This is not the great leap forward the
Government would like to pretend. We have not really seen the ambition that was

final report of the Skills Task Force gave a damning indictment of Britain’s
skills training and talked about a national entitlement to level II skills. All
the Government does is talk about targets.

is an uneasy alliance between the Regional Development Agencies and the LSCs.
The RDAs are ideally placed to be a skills intelligence unit for the
procurement arm – the LSC.

in fact the Government has decided to give the intelligence role to the LSCs as
well. We needed to have a single body to look after education and training, but
again the universities are outside the remit of the LSC and again this is
reinforcing a mythical and highly damaging barrier between education and

LSC is certainly an improvement on the TECs. But it does seem to have inherited
one of the problems of the Tecs – you want the best business brains involved,
not just those who are available.”

Director National Institute of Adults in Continuing Education

are very sympathetic to the broad aims of the Learning and Skills Council. The
duty on the LSC to promote participation in learning is a real achievement.

would have like to see an entitlement to learning by adults. There is an
entitlement for 16- to 19-year-olds, but beyond an entitlement to basic skills
there is nothing for adults. The Skills Task Force said there should be an
entitlement for 19-to 24-year-olds to Level III, but that has not appeared.

are a little concerned that only one out of five of the targets in the draft
corporate plan for the LSC concerns adults – a general one on raising the
achievement of the adult population and focusing on the proportion reaching
Level III and lacking basic skills. But what we would really have liked to see
is a commitment to widening the participation of adults and that is not there.
If the LSC does not measure participation, it is not likely to provide enough
of a stimulus to encourage people who have never done any learning before to
start to learn. There is perhaps a little too much of a labour market focus.”

who on the LSC, and what it does

Chris Banks, former managing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain, now with
– Chris Humphries, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce
– Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of the National House-Building Council
– Dr Deanne Julius, member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of
– Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the south-west of England Regional
Development Agency
– Jane Drabble, formerly director of education at the BBC
– John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress
– Professor Robert Fryer, assistant vice-chancellor, lifelong learning,
University of Southampton
– Leisha Fullick, chief executive of Islington Council
– John Merry, local councillor and deputy leader, Salford City Council
– Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley Community College, Merseyside
– Helen Edwards, chief executive of Nacro
– Alexandra Burslem, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University
– Lynne Moris, principal of the Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College,

is the purpose of the Learning and Skills Council?

To be responsive to the skills needs of individuals and employers
– To promote employability for individuals by equipping them with skills in
demand in the labour market
– To help employers develop individual employees and their whole workforce to
achieve world-class business performance
– To ensure targeted support for the most disadvantaged
– To ensure equality of opportunity
– To secure the entitlement of all 16- to 19-year-olds to stay in learning
– To promote excellence and quality of service
– To maximise participation, retention and achievement, to make progress
towards the National Learning Targets for 2002 and beyond
– To remove unnecessary bureaucracy and secure maximum effectiveness and value
for money.

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