From education to employment

Claire Donovan, Education and Skills Advisor with the EEF, continues the exclusive

EEF has recently published its submission (Learning to Change: Why the UK skills system must do better) to the Leitch Review, which will be making its recommendations before the end of the year. Given the sums of money involved in post-16 learning, it is not unreasonable to ask why skill shortages persist, and how the money should be spent to address shortcomings.

We understand that young people will take priority, and that addressing basic skills must be supported. We know that employers are not happy about having to address shortcomings in literacy and numeracy. Train to Gain, the new national employer training programme is helping companies to provide training for staff at Level 2 and below, and we welcome this. However, companies need more than just free training for unskilled employees. In the sectors that EEF represents, the skill needs are at intermediate and higher technical levels ““ the NVQs at Level 3 and above, and advanced apprenticeships. Although Train to Gain has helped some engineering employees gain qualifications at Level 2, we are hearing about a lot of assessment, and not much actual training. This means that the individual may have their competence recognised, the skills profile of the company is not actually increasing.

The continued funding of institutions rather than learning will exacerbate this mismatch between the needs of individuals and employers, and the training on offer. With the introduction of Learner Accounts, and expansion of Train to Gain activity/flexibility to higher levels of skills, we are hopeful that providers will be able to be more responsive to the “market” ““ offering bespoke and responsive services to an informed clientele. We know that employers often look to private training providers and Group Training Associations to meet their training needs, and we would like to see a more coherent funding structure which recognises the diversity of provision. If more funding “followed the learner”, less would be spent on propping up unsatisfactory institutions, and more on supporting quality provision which is valued by customers.

We also recommend a more sectoral approach to determining funding priorities. At the moment, the combination of national/regional management (through Regional Skills Partnerships and LSC structures) and sectoral influence (through the Sector Skills Councils) is adding to confusion without creating responsiveness. It is also clear from the recent LSC Progress Report that different sectors need different support. The profile of learners is each sector is illuminating ““ engineering, technology and manufacturing account for 20% of work-based learning, but only 4% of FE provision. This contrasts with visual and performing arts and media, with 7% of FE provision but less than 0.5% of work-based learning. We recommend combining the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) and the Learning and Skills Council into one body that would speak with a single voice on the development of post-16 learning. We also think that the funding for Sector Skills Councils would be more efficiently spent on fewer, more influential organisations. The different needs of each sector could then be reflected in funding priorities.

Less focus on national generic targets, and more focus on sector needs, with regional flexibility, would lay the foundations for system which is truly demand-led.

Claire Donovan, Education and Skills Advisor with the EEF.

Tomorrow: Alison West from the National Extension College (NEC) continues the debate exclusively on FE News

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Lawrence Miles, IVA – 14/11/06

Graham Hoyle, ALP – 13/11/06

Stephen Williams MP, Liberal Democrats – 13/11/06

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