From education to employment

Delegates at ALP annual conference hear call for demand-led open market

Britain’s vocational learning providers have urged the government not to back-pedal from the Leitch blueprint of a demand-led open market for skills.

Martin Dunford, chairman of the Association of Learning Providers, told delegates at the Association’s annual conference that a skills market where employers and individual learners are able to freely choose their vocational learning provider was vital for learners, the economy and the taxpayer. Noting that there had been some vocal opposition to Lord Leitch’s recommendations since their publication last December, Mr Dunford said that increased competition among providers would help continue to drive up the quality of provision in the Further Education system.

“Find them a job” strategy out of date

The ALP chairman argued that the government’s goal of more sustainable employment required more than just “closer working relationships” between Jobcentre Plus (JCP) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), adding that the JCP’s traditional “find them a job” strategy was out of date.

With Leitch predicting that the economy will only be supporting 600,000 low-skilled jobs when over a million unemployed people with few or no skills were being encouraged to find work, the answer had to be more training for these people before they could start a job. In ALP’s view, this meant nothing short of the transfer of all employability training budgets from DWP to the DfES.

Commenting on closing the gap between ministers” aspirations and Leitch’s forecasts, Martin Dunford said: “The bridge is training. The responsible department must be the DfES. Make them as responsible for training up the non-employed as they are for retraining the existing workforce and preparing the future workforce.”

Educational Maintenance Allowance scheme “a disaster” for the most vulnerable

Delegates at the conference were updated on ALP’s efforts to protect and develop the Entry to Employment programme for young people. However the government still needed to be persuaded that the introduction of EMAs in April 2006 was, and still is, “a disaster”.

Martin Dunford pointed out that while EMAs had brought benefit to a large proportion of 16 to 19 year olds looking for work and training, they had seriously disadvantaged the most vulnerable groups. He called for a vibrant E2E programme properly funded and safely positioned within the long awaited Foundation Learning Tier.

Self-regulation for FE sector presents opportunities

Speaking in advance of a keynote address by Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley College and government adviser on the subject, ALP chief executive Graham Hoyle said that the prospect of self-regulation for the further education and training system offered the opportunity for providers to take full ownership of driving up quality across all provision for the benefit of employers and individuals, as well as the economy and society as a whole.

Conference to address Train to Gain concerns

Bill Rammell, the DfES minister of state for lifelong learning, was expected to hear concerns voiced by training leaders at the conference over the way the government’s flagship Train to Gain programme was being managed, although ALP remains firmly in support of the programme’s aims.

Independent learning providers have been reporting persistent problems in recent months relating to issues such as the brokerage system for engaging employers and the tendering process to win contracts for delivering the programme.

Graham Hoyle said: “We”re pleased that Train to Gain will form a bedrock of the new skills strategy that should emerge from the Leitch consultation. However, there are plenty of wrinkles to be ironed out if it is to be at the forefront of a truly demand-led open market.”

FE News will be bringing all the latest news and developments from the ALP Conference 2007:

ALP Conference: Is Train to Gain brokerage service delivering?

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