From education to employment

Blunkett Promotes Employer-Led Training At Londons Skills Summit

Europe will fail the skills challenge posed by India, China and Indonesia unless the debate about the future of the European Social Model recognises the need to compete in a flexible global economy, David Blunkett warned today.

The Work and Pensions Secretary argued that the skills and employment agenda holds the key to the success of the reform of Europe in a global economy.

Speaking at the Skills Summit today, Mr Blunkett said an employer-led approach giving people the opportunity to improve their skills in the workplace was necessary, not only to improve their own lives, but to ensure we face the twin challenges of demography and globalisation.

For those who have been locked in a cycle of low achievement, low aspiration and worklessness, skills can help break this cycle and encourage ambitions which can be passed down through future generations.

Mr Blunkett said: “Skills are at the heart of a thriving economy. We have already seen two million more people move into jobs since 1997, with opportunities created for many including young people who were previously written off. We cannot reach our employment aspirations of 80 per cent without the skills necessary to achieve that.

“Reform of the Social Model is essential. We need to build a consensus for how reform in Europe should move forward on this shared agenda, and I welcome the Barosso Commission putting growth and jobs at the heart of its work.

“What we need is to provide active inclusion. The Social Model, which historically was developed in a different era, requires urgent reform and modernisation, but its a matter not of asking the rest of Europe to adopt our framework, but to adapt the existing framework within Europe to face the external challenges. It is also a matter of recognising that the best security we can offer to people is to adapt to change and take on the challenge of the world of tomorrow, rather than pretend that we can remove fear by retrenching into a bygone era.

“If we are to help people overcome their fear of change, it is necessary to ensure that they are equipped to be able to deal with the rapid changes that are taking place around us, both economically and socially, and this is the role of Government in the 21st century. It is about linking social policy with economic productivity and success. If we are to have a flexible economy and to help people through the transitions (which include moving from one job to another and overcoming the fear of change within industry and commerce), then we need a welfare system that actually is itself modernised for the 21st century. In this way, re-skilling and reforming the welfare state go hand in hand.

“Economies that have a flexible workforce and the capacity to adapt will be those which succeed. Our task is to ensure that the working population has the skills and productivity needed to stay competitive. Broadening the labour market by including the currently excluded, and thereby expanding the economically active population, is crucial to increasing productivity and maintaining prosperity.

“We also need to look to older workers and other excluded groups to help them take advantage of the opportunities there for them. This will help Europe meet the challenge posed by a shrinking working age population and rising dependent population, with the increased demands that will place on our pensions and services in the future.”

Mr Blunkett told the Summit the Governments Fair Cities initiative, which works in partnership with local employers and stakeholders on city-wide strategies to tackle ethnic minority worklessness, was a model which could be broadened to include other groups.

He added: “Welfare to work is a promise not a threat – its about mutual self-respect, widening the labour market and extending the pull of those who are employable.

“We cannot reach our 80 per cent employment aim, which involves getting a further million older workers, a million incapacity benefit claimants and 300,000 lone parents back into work, without equipping people with the necessary skills for jobs. This is quite a task, but one which we will work hard with employers and other partners to achieve.”

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