The long-awaited final report from Lord Leitch on our country’s skills needs for 2020 will no doubt be greeted with much relief in two days time. Hopefully that relief will also contain the satisfaction that the report will contain enough robust recommendations to create a real social partnership to solve the UK’s skills crisis.
Unionlearn and the TUC have been vigorously pushing for the Leitch report to create a more collective structure to deliver on skills needs. We need to develop genuine social partnership arrangements on skills policy and delivery at national, regional and sectoral levels in order to drive forward a genuine demand-led approach. And this approach must reflect the needs of both employers and individuals.
It’s one thing to promote an employer-led approach, but if workers are to access the training they need, we require new regulations. The Government is already quite rightly praising the early results of Train to Gain in lifting more workers up to Level 2. But if employers are to continue to benefit from significant public funding in this way then Leitch should recommend a strong means of enforcement on them. In addition we need a statutory right for workers to have time off to train.
In promoting our skills needs trade unions around the country have proved themselves to be committed partners with employers and Government. In recent months dozens of new learning agreements have been signed. And in some cases workplace learning committees have been set up. Strengthening the role of union learning reps would be in line with the commitment in the “Warwick Agreement” made with the unions just before the 2005 general election. The Agreement set out an option to enable union learning reps to establish collective arrangements with employers via the establishment of workplace learning committees.
To date union skills activity has received widespread political and industrial support. Earlier this year the Conservative DTI shadow, Alan Duncan, visited a TUC learning centre at Metroline buses. Following the visit he said: “We fully support this initiative. Many employees might be too embarrassed to admit to their employer that they need help to improve basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. The value of this scheme is that it is supported by the TUC and by the employees themselves”. Our union agenda clearly has wide appeal, and it needs to be acted upon.
However real progress will not happen unless employers and the Government invest more money. And these new resources must be properly targeted. It really is time that the CBI became a bit more specific about where the money employers spend on training is actually going. While we welcome the investment some employers do make, there are still one-in-three who spend absolutely nothing on training. And of those who do spend much goes to the already highly qualified for further training, and more goes on training that does not lead to formal qualifications anyway. Too many employers are short sighted in this area, and need to be more strategic.
A more positive CBI approach to the FE sector would also be welcome. It was disappointing to say the least that the CBI again recently attacked the FE sector calling for another round of reform, which could undermine public service training and education. Instead FE should be praised for attracting a growing number of businesses into training, and for the nine out of ten satisfaction ratings achieved.
So when Gordon Brown sits down on Wednesday after delivering his Pre Budget Report we need to see just how employers and Government will be made to live up to their training responsibilities. And the TUC, unionlearn and unions will certainly be ready to play their part.
Liz Smith, Director, unionlearn.
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