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The Leitch Review has increased pressure on further education colleges and other training providers to help improve the skills of the UK workforce.

In his speech at Lifelong Learning UK’s annual conference, held just 48 hours after the review was published, Education and Skills Secretary Alan Johnson said teachers and other staff must be “firing on all cylinders” if the country is to achieve its goal of a world-class workforce by 2020.

Lord Leitch’s report, of course, was eagerly anticipated and lived up to expectations. Not only will employers have more say over the training that is offered to their workers, but the lifelong learning sector will act as a linchpin for the rest of the economy.

His realistic assessment of the stark challenges facing the UK was long overdue and LLUK is strongly in favour of moving towards a more demand-led system for adult skills.

By 2020, 95% of adults will be expected to have functional literacy and numeracy. More than 90% of the working population should be qualified to level 2 (compared with 70% at present), and there should be increases in the number of people with level 3 and 4 qualifications.

While the extra demands on colleges and other providers should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat, it may be necessary for some institutions to radically refocus the way they offer learning and become more responsive to employers, as well as to individuals seeking vocational skills.

At the same time, the importance of building the capacity of the supply side – the teachers and trainers that deliver courses in classrooms and the workplace – must not be overlooked.

From next September, new staff in the FE system will be required to gain Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status. Within three years, all post-16 teachers will be expected to either hold QTLS, or be working towards it.

Nobody doubts that staff have a thirst for learning, either through initial training or continuing professional development. They are, after all, used to delivering learning and recognise its importance to a successful career.

But if the lifelong learning sector is to flourish and act as a catalyst for the rest of the UK, there must be a concerted effort to replace parts of what is essentially an ageing workforce, as well as to make it better qualified.

As the Secretary of State acknowledges, the FE system is blessed with many talented and committed teachers. But we need more – not only in colleges but also among providers of work-based and adult and community learning.

LLUK estimates that an extra 400,000 staff will be needed during the next decade. Next year, LLUK will lead innovative new schemes that encourage high-flying graduates and specialists from industry to join the sector.

Meanwhile, teachers and other staff will have opportunities to gain vital experience in other sectors. It is imperative that the drive for world-class skills demanded by Lord Leitch starts with the teachers and trainers that are responsible for upskilling everyone else.

The review also proposes a new Commission for Employment and Skills, allowing employers to scrutinise training more effectively. Sector skills councils, including LLUK, face reform and could become responsible for approving vocational courses.

In the words of Alan Johnson, LLUK represents a “powerful force for change” that will play an essential role in unleashing the talents of all learners, but that will only happen if we have the teachers and trainers in place to motivate them and nurture their skills, wherever and whenever they are learning.

Just as the voice of employers is finally being heard loud and clear throughout the economy, so lifelong learning employers are no different in demanding the highest quality professional development for their staff.

David Hunter, Chief Executive, Lifelong Learning UK.

Related FE News articles:

FE Stats Published ““ 13/12/06

Adult Learning Inspectorate Publishes Final Report ““ 12/12/06

“It Is An Enormous Opportunity ““ 06/12/06

“It Is A Radical View” ““ 06/12/06

Breaking News ““ Lord Leitch’s Final Report Published ““ 05/12/06

Tomorrow: David Sherlock, Chief Inspector with the Adult Learning Inspectorate, continues the debate, exclusively to FE News.

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