From education to employment

Part One: Report Finds Competition Delivers for Learners and Business in UK

A report released by the Confederation of British Industry has found that the learning and skills sector should be a competitive market to deliver the best skills package for learners and businesses.

The release follows the comments, first from Sir Andrew Foster in his speech in November at the publication of his Review on FE, and then from various Ministers since then, to the effect that “failing” provision should be put out for competitive tendering from the private sector. This raises the possibility that a private training provider will gain managing control of the provision within certain colleges. The CBI’s release seems certain to be challenged by many within the FE college sector.

For the 21st Century

In their briefing document on FE, the CBI make it plain that they consider the sector a work in progress. Whilst praising the work and accomplishments thus far, the report says that “there is much still to do.” Briefly, the report summarises the current funding situation and its recent growth, with the attendant increases in investment in schools (to tackle literacy and numeracy issues) as well as in FE. Numeracy and literacy skills deficits are often cited as a key “drag factor” in terms of the skills of the current adult population of Britain, and the CBI welcomes the increased investment in this area.

However, the CBI believes that there is the opportunity to vastly improve provision in FE still further. The report states: “Business needs a well-educated workforce if the UK is to remain competitive,” referring to the ever ““ popular challenge of globalisation. Reiterating the demand for skills in competition and the impact that a successful learning and skills sector would have on the economy, the report goes on to say: “A highly skilled and innovative workforce is vital in order to prosper.”

The CBI welcome the recent FE White Paper that was announced and discussed earlier this year as a vital next step in the delivery of a skills agenda to meet employer demand. “In particular,” it states, “the recognition of the role [that] Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) providers can play, is encouraging.” This refers to the statement that the Government may put failing provision up for tender after a far swifter inspection and re-inspection procedure.

“I Can”t Get No”¦.”

The rate of satisfaction from employers towards FE training providers, be they private or colleges, is an important consideration with what the CBI say will be a tighter public budget fiscal outlay from 2008. It is widely accepted and understood that the level of Government funding is unlikely to continue to increase at previous rates. The CBI calls for a greater focus on workforce skills and welcomes the Government’s statements in this area; they argue that whilst the Government spends £9 billion on FE in Britain each year, employers contribute some £33.3 billion to what they describe as “employee development.”

Rates of satisfaction amongst employers within the FE sector, according to figures contained within the CBI report, tend to be higher when facing private providers. For instance, the table shows that 73% were happy with the quality of the training and assessment with private providers, as opposed to a satisfaction rate of 52% with college provision. 75% were satisfied with the time the training took in the private provider sector, as opposed to a satisfaction rate of 50% with colleges.

Two of the most crucial measures do appear to paint a mixed picture, however. Whilst employers appear to have favoured the cost of training in colleges to that of training in the private sector ““ 61% were satisfied with the cost of college provision, compared with 45% satisfied with private training provision costs, the flexibility and responsiveness makes more sobering reading for the colleges. Only 46% of employers surveyed were satisfied with the overall responsiveness of the colleges” provision, compared with a satisfaction rate of 76% with private provision.

Jethro Marsh

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