From education to employment

Skills gaps closing; but more work still needs to be done

Britain is not doing enough to promote skills development and strengthen the role that employers play in driving policy, a report has found.

The Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) has released its annual report and as part of its research and development, it made a “comparative assessment” of international skills policy in order to further develop UK skills.

Concluding its research, the report states: “The UK could go further in establishing an employer-led system of skills development and strengthen the role that employers play at the centre of skills policy”.

Funding has decreased by £2 million, down from £70.7m in the period 2004/2005, to £68.7m in 2005/2006, and this is counterbalanced with the statement that “employers are reporting fewer skill gaps amongst their existing employees than in previous years ““ especially in England where the proportion of employees with skill gaps has reduced from 11% in 2003 to 7% in 2005″.

£5.9 million of the SSDA budget has been poured into developing 138 sets of National Occupational Standards (NOS) ““ these standards “describe the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to undertake a particular task or job to a nationally-recognised level of competence”, and are taken over from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

And further to the development of standards and qualifications, the SSDA “has worked with key partners to give fresh impetus to the reform of UK vocational qualifications. New programme management arrangements are being developed in five areas of work including a “Sector Qualifications Reform Programme” in which we have taken the lead”.

The accounts for 2006 show that of the £68 million income, £54m has been spent in grants and funding; £2.6m spent on policy and research; £2.7m went on publicity and marketing [halved from 2005 expenditure which stood at £5.5m], while £6.5 has been spent on “administration expenses”.

Chair of the SSDA Margaret Salmon said: “I am delighted to be able to report that the Skills for Business network, as envisaged at the start of this decade, is now fully complete. A structure of twenty-five SSCs has been created which, with its Strategic Partners, covers the great majority ““ 85% in total ““ of the UK workforce”.

And new Chief Executive Mark Fisher noted: “The increasingly competitive economies of Brazil, India and China, together with the persistent productivity gaps within our own businesses, show just how much we need to improve. It is vital, therefore, that we remain flexible in how we respond to the changing scene”.

“It is only by delivering the skills that employers actually need and shaping the qualifications that employers value, that we will prove we are truly effective. That is the challenge that we must now face along with our partners in government and in the educational system”, he continued.

“We have created a very strong framework for driving change forward. But the challenge now is, if anything, greater ““ to deliver real change that transforms the skills system of the UK”.

To read the report, click here.

Vijay Pattni.

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