From education to employment

Agency Report Finds Barriers to Workplace Learning for Employers and Employees

A report published by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) has highlighted the importance of learning schemes run in workplaces in developing people’s full potential.

In line with the central strategy of the Government ““ namely to drive forward workplace learning whilst addressing the alarming levels of adult skills and literacy that see the UK lowly placed in international league tables ““ the report aims to identify and elaborate upon the elements that encourage both employers and employees to become more involved in training and education.

This is a key area of the education agenda, as funding for adult education seems likely to be the most vulnerable to cut ““ backs. Employers, and the learners themselves, will be the ones expected to bridge the funding gap through employer contribution to skills development and through the employees paying at least part of the course fees themselves. Compiled by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the report aims to clarify the issues facing employers and employees, and through so doing to determine the most effective practices.


There are many barriers present that lead to many employers not engaging in training and education to the level that is demanded ““ many see themselves as purveyors of goods and services, rather than training and education. Many employers, particularly those who run Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), take refuge in citing a more informal approach to training. Often the training is only offered to those in more senior positions, leaving those in the lowest skilled positions to “learn from each other”.

The issue of the lack of progression in the career structure also hampers employers” initiative towards training provision. Providing a suitable venue for training provision is also problematic, with many workplaces deemed to be unsuitable for so ““ called “off the job” training schemes. It is important to employers, of course, that they do not lose too many employee hours to training, and fitting training schemes around shift patterns can often be one of the most challenging aspects to implementing a training scheme effectively.

The report also noted the impact of certain additional barriers such as negative views of education, lack of confidence, the fear of being stigmatised and lack of awareness of opportunities experienced by employees with poor educational attainments. The report also found many examples of good practice in overcoming these barriers, however.


One such means of enabling is marketing and promotion, highlighting the work that can be done purely through raising the awareness of the benefits to both employees and employers of training schemes. Amongst the measures that are effectively used in this area are personal contact with employers and employees, newsletters, flyers and posters. With the use of ICT increasingly vital, workplace based (and often union ““ backed and organised) schemes to run IT skills courses are also crucially important.

Apart from a strong awareness of the benefits and apparently the need for a strong union presence beyond parochial workers” rights issues, the use of “learning champions” is also deemed vital. The intermediaries, such as the union learning reps and guidance professionals, are seen as key to engaging the “hard to reach” in learning and thus improving participation.

Obviously, the cost of the course is also an issue, with many employers reluctant to commit funding to training courses and many employees uncertain whether or not they should invest their own money in their own training. New initiatives are useful tools in fighting this issue, with fee remission and grants available for some individual learners. Amongst the funding available for employers is the recently – piloted National Employer Training Programme (NETP). The LSC supports funding for many courses, with courses offered free of charge for those individuals with qualifications below Level 2 (the equivalent of 5 GCSEs).

The report also elaborates on the need to have certain incentives, or “drivers”, in place to provide extra motivation. These include quality standards such as Investors in People corporate policies, such as the development of the skills escalator in the NHS licenses to practice and legislation. The rules about minimum standards in the construction and care sectors, for instance, have had a positive effect on the demand for literacy and numeracy courses.

Jethro Marsh

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