The Association of Learning Providers has urged ministers to consider a significant re-design of the Government's Train to Gain skills programme to increase the number of employers signing up for the package.
Although more than 50,000 employers have signed up to the training service, exceeding the LSC's original targets, the ALP believe employers response could be greater if changes were made to the programme.
ALP has floated a number of proposals for discussion that could turn Train to Gain into a programme that measures up as a key component of the truly demand-led skills strategy envisaged under the Leitch recommendations. These include:
i. Promoting a clearer message on how government funding can support employers" business strategies: This includes sorting out policy inconsistencies whereby firms are told that they must contribute financially to the costs of a full Apprenticeship but not to other free NVQ level 2/3 offerings within the Train to Gain programme.
ii. Relaxing the over-restrictive focus on workers achieving a first level 2 qualification: The programme's re-design should better accommodate increasing demand for equipping employees with basic skills under the Skills for Life banner and accommodating pre-level 2 qualifications for other unqualified workers.
iii. Recognising that employees" previous qualifications may not suit the modern workplace: The current inability to offer financial support to any individual who already has a level 2 qualification, especially if it is obsolete, is not working and is adversely affecting the potential of Train to Gain to make a real difference to skills in the economy.
iv. Introducing part or top-up funding to turn part-qualifications into full ones: Train to Gain's inability to fund part qualifications (often separate units that have been available for many years) or parts of a full framework is leaving large sections of the population part-qualified and affecting their employability.
v. Allowing training providers to be more responsive to real-time market demand: Within a financially capped plan for each provider, providers should be able to mix up their delivery of elements within the programme according to the current demand that they are getting from local employers. The system should also allow every four or six months funding to be moved rapidly between providers to meet more effectively demand that has been clearly identified.
vi. Abandoning "crude" numerical qualification targets: By evaluating performance against a list of desired outcomes such as increased productivity and profitability, regular surveys of employers and individual learners would provide a more effective tracking of the impact that Train to Gain has made on customers.
vii. Forging closer links between Train to Gain and programmes for the non-employed: Consistent with the Leitch recommendations, ways should be found of using "training/work preparation/work trialling" budgets from the Department for Work and Pensions within the Train to Gain umbrella to help more people to find sustainable employment.
Graham Hoyle, ALP's chief executive, said: "The concept of Train to Gain is sound, but its design is clearly flawed which means that the programme is some way off working to its optimum potential. Our discussion paper is aimed at stimulating a high-level debate which will hopefully lead to significant improvements to this increasingly important programme."
The ALP discussion paper has already been placed on the agendas of meetings with the DIUS and LSC over the coming weeks. It will also be debated at the Association's autumn conference on 30/31 October at Newbury racecourse, where new skills minister David Lammy will be the keynote speaker."