From education to employment

Lord Leitch speaks in a video interview at the Association of Colleges annual conference yes

The man charged with investigating the UK’s skills stock has warned that simply being “average” will not suffice in the emerging global economy.

Lord Sandy Leitch, responsible for the review of skills expected on or around the 6th December 2006, spoke to the Association of Colleges annual conference via video interview to explain the direction he had taken.

He said: “We have discovered that the UK has distinctly average levels of skills. On basic skills, we have a real problem. We are the fifth largest economy in the world ““ we have 6 million people of working age who cannot read or write to the age of an 11 year old. We have 17 million adults who cannot add up to the age of an 11 year old. I think that is a tremendous indictment of our society”.

“On intermediate skills, we have neither the quantity, nor the quality we need”, he added.

He outlined that it is not solely the reserve of one sector to combat the highly publicised skills crisis, saying: “I think there are things that need to be done at every single level. If you look at the higher levels, that is the driver of productivity, the creator of wealth. Basic levels are a social welfare issue. The intermediate levels are where the delivery happens. Intermediate skills are a much neglected part of our skills system”.

“The emphasis [in my forthcoming report] will be placed at every single level. There are actions to be taken at every single level. The more I look at this, being distinctly average is simply not good enough. We need skills levels to increase at every level in our society if we are to compete. We have to have a much more ambitious vision for what we want from skills”.

And the emerging economies of China and India were mentioned: “The UK has moved already to be a service economy. We”ve seen jobs being offshored; we”ve seen China and India producing 4 million graduates a year. Jobs can be traded and work can be done right across the world. We have got to rise to this challenge”.

“The onus for this is on government, on employers, and also on the individuals. And it is also about the provision of those skills to those communities. We need employers to be even more engaged in the skills agenda. They are already doing a tremendous amount in terms of development and training”.

Speaking briefly on the role of further education colleges in stepping up to the skills agenda, he echoed recent calls for a reduction in complexity and bureaucratic structures: “Further education colleges have an absolutely crucial role to play in the delivery of the skills that we need. I still maintain that”.

“What everybody is saying is that there is too much complexity. I think that we should build on the Foster review which I agree with, and go even further to reduce complexity and increase performance. I see some great examples of co-operation between colleges and employers. I saw one college earlier this year that was generating 60% of its income from local employers”.

“I think colleges should reduce complexity. I think economically valuable skills will be the way forward”.

And when questioned on the impartiality of the report, he replied: “This is a completely independent report”.

Vijay Pattni.

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