From education to employment

Colleges Body Welcome Positive Steps, but Call for More to Meet Skills Challenge

The Association of Colleges (AoC) have responded to the publication of the FE White Paper by calling for much more radical measures to meet the skills challenges in the 21st Century.

The White Paper is to announce that failing colleges will be put up for private tender in management should Ofsted inspections prove it to be necessary and is intended to demonstrate the commitment of the Government to driving forward the skills agenda. This is in keeping with the budget announcement from Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who took the now ““ famous slogan “education, education, education” and made it his own clarion call through commitment to budget increases.

Suggestions that the new measures will meet the demands from employers and industry for a higher skilled workforce in areas that there exist gaps in skills, rather than a plethora of so ““ called “mickey mouse” degrees, have been met with scepticism by the AoC, who feel that even more radical measures will be needed to ensure good progress in tackling skills shortages.

AoC Respond

The AoC call the steps outlined in the FE White Paper “valuable steps” which would seem to indicate that they demonstrate at the least a commitment to continued improvement. However, they feel that much more will need to be undertaken to make the “quantum leap” to tackle 21st century skills requirements. They also feel that the paper does too little to tackle the issues of over ““ regulation and bureaucratic oversight that they claim are holding colleges back.

The AoC is calling for a growth in employer investment in the training process. They have set a target of employers investing a minimum of £500 per annum per individual in their workforce. The current level cited is a meagre £205 per annum per individual. They are also calling for efforts to support workforce training measures through policy amendments to improve standards in areas such as fees, tax incentives and so on.

They also see an urgent need to re ““ address the issues of skills for the workforce and call for this to be addressed on need not on age. In this area, they call for a rethink of the current trend to cut back training opportunities for older workers. Finally, they remain unconvinced by the commitment to reduce bureaucratic oversight and have called for a halving of the costs of bureaucracy on the college system, placed at about £500 million.

AoC Chief Executive on White Paper

The AoC’s Chief Executive, Dr John Brennan, said: “The White Paper takes a number of valuable new steps ““ such as the creation of the new 19-25 entitlement, and the emphasis on expanding specialist training facilities. We support the increased emphasis on the college role in leading the skills revolution, but what the nation needs is an urgent transformation of the existing skills stock, and this package of measures will not achieve that.

“Government should be much bolder in requiring employers to take their responsibilities seriously, and much more helpful to individuals,” he continued. “The total investment in training undertaken off employer premises is a miserly £205 per employee per year, a national total of £2.9 billion ““ only a faction of what the taxpayer spends on skills development. And most of that is spend is to meet statutory requirement, for example on health and safety.

“Alongside this, Government should trust colleges, as one of the most successful and high quality parts of the public services, to respond strategically to the needs of their employers and their communities, and to deliver results without excessive ““ and potentially increasing ““ micromanagement, regulation and bureaucracy,” he said. “Rather than force colleges to cut training opportunities for adults, Government should be moving urgently to shift much of the £500m currently spent on bureaucracy onto the front line.”

Jethro Marsh

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