From education to employment

AoC Dispute Findings and Figures in FE Report from CBI

The report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that calls for increased competition for the FE sector has been criticised by the Association of Colleges (AoC) for being an example of “poor judgement based on bad evidence.”

The CBI report found a number of areas of concern from the point of view of employers when interacting with the FE sector. The report calls for more competition in funding and an end to the “ring fenced” funding picture that they believe protects providers such as colleges and builds barriers to the learning market. They also comment on the need to reform the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) at a greater rate, whilst admitting that there has already been substantial progress made.

The report also comments on the low levels of satisfaction that the CBI has found amongst its members with college interaction with employers. This includes the finding 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; and also that only 46% of employers surveyed were satisfied with the overall responsiveness of colleges, compared with a satisfaction rate of 76% with private provision.

Bad Evidence

Responding to the report, the AoC take issue with the means of gathering the information. They state that the report relies heavily on the CBI’s 2005 Employment Trends Survey, which they point out gathered only 420 responses. They point out further that the same survey from last year, which received 520 responses from employers, showed a satisfaction rating of 87% with colleges. They further state that most of the employers who responded had not made use of a college in the previous 12 months.

The AoC have also released alternative figures that paint a very different picture. For instance, whilst the CBI report comments on their belief that the Government’s “threat” of putting failing colleges out to private management tendering, the AoC draw attention to the fact that whilst 24% of work based learning providers (including private companies, employers, and employer organisations) were deemed to be inadequate on inspection in 2004 / 2005, only 2.9% of colleges are currently judged to be inadequate by Ofsted.

The Alternative

Further, according to the National Employer Skills Survey (NESS), a more impressive 95% of employers were found to approve of the training from colleges. The AoC also point out that more than half of the larger (deemed to be of 500 employees or more) employers have funded or arranged training via the FE college route. According to figures from the awarding bodies, more than 550,000 vocational qualifications ““ more than half the annual total ““ are awarded in colleges.

They also go on to compare the record of employers using alternative evidence. Whilst the CBI report states that employers spend approximately £33.3 billion per year on “employee development”, the AoC points to the figures from NESS and the National Audit Office (NAO) that state that the current average training investment per employee rests at only 5.9 days per year. This includes internal induction and Health and Safety training. The expenditure on training averages out to £205 per year per employee, as opposed to £1098 on “perks” like refreshments and office parties.

They also highlight figures from the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which point to the fact that UK companies spend an average amount of 1.5% of their total payroll on training, which is less than the 2.4% in the USA. According to the AoC, the TUC figures also show that spending on corporate entertainment has risen far faster than employer investment in education and training; a rise from £0.7 billion in 2000 to £2.5 billion in 2005.

Recognise Achievement and Quality, says AoC

Dr. John Brennan, the Chief Executive of the AoC, said: “Compare this report ““ poor judgement based on bad evidence ““ with the government’s own National Employer Skills Survey (NESS), which asked 27,000 employers what they thought. 95% of these employers were satisfied with college training. We do need to scotch once and for all the myth that college quality is anything but exemplary and that colleges do not successfully engage with employers.

“Just 2.9% of colleges are currently judged as inadequate by Ofsted ““ higher than schools and almost ten times better than work based learning providers,” he continued. “The real challenge is not so much improving what colleges do as helping them do more of it. This means expanding capacity and persuading government, more employers and more individuals to invest in their training and development.”

Jethro Marsh

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