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first_img Comments are closed. Themost radical shake-up of training systems, the Learning and Skills Council andits supporting local network, launches this week. What impact is theGovernment’s vehicle for transforming skills likely to have in Britain?  Stephen Overell reportsThisweek marks a major milestone in adult learning. Now open for public scrutiny isthe Learning and Skills Council, the Government’s main vehicle for boostingskills in Britain, which came into being from the start of this month.Thisis the organisation that is going to spend £6bn a year on training anddevelopment – a sum which seems impressive set against the £1.4bn a year spentby the training and enterprise councils.Inthe esoteric world of training and development there has been talk about littleelse for the past year-and-a-half. The Department for Education and Employmenthas been preparing for this moment with a period of feverish activity. Newprogrammes, targets, initiatives, task groups and reports have tumbled out ofWhitehall at a staggering rate. Indeed, some underemployed policy specialistshave counted them and found they have totalled 1,600 since Labour came topower. And central to them all is the Learning and Skills Council.Forthose who don’t already know, the LSC, with its 47 local arms, will beresponsible for planning and funding all 16- to 19-year-old and adult andcommunity education, replacing both the Tecs and the Further Education FundingCouncil and taking over the funding of school sixth forms from localauthorities from 2003.Asan institution it represents the achievement of a long-held ideal – the placingof vocational and academic learning on an equal footing with funding for bothcoming from the same body. It also represents the first time that a governmentbody has had a duty to promote participation in learning. It will work withschools, colleges, employers and a multiplicity of other Labour quangos to setabout improving Britain’s skills performance.Likeparents speculating on the future of a child, education and training expertshave been musing on its future. There is no doubt that the advent of the LSChas received a generally warm welcome from a wide variety of interest groups.Whilethe Tecs tended to be appreciated by business organisations, they never enjoyedmuch sympathy from the public at large. Set up by the Conservatives in 1993 torefocus training on the needs of business – a widely understood reform at the time – they never quite shrugged offaccusations of chummy back-scratching and patronage among business people.Nordid skills development always appear to be a top priority. In one celebratedinstance from 1999, Solotec, based in Bromley, paid a £285,000 golden handshaketo its departing chief executive, John Howell – a payment that Education andEmployment Secretary David Blunkett said there was “no possible justificationfor”. The public purse remains the poorer to this day.Insetting up its new regime, the DfEE has been careful to avoid a whiff of anysuch scandal in the future. One of its key considerations has been to establisha structure that will be more likely to enjoy broad support, while stillprioritising the skills requirements of business. As a result it has pulled offa very delicate balancing act, mixing people with public and private sector backgrounds,trade unionists with small business people, councillors with members of theMonetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. The term “partnership” isawash in DfEE documents.Thepolitics is in evidence right at the top of the LSC. Its chairman is BryanSanderson, former group managing director of BP Amoco and chief executive of BPAmoco Chemicals, who retired from the board last year and will devote about twodays a week to the LSC. The chief executive is John Harwood, former chiefexecutive of Oxfordshire County Council. And it is equally evident on thebody’s two main committees. John Monks, the TUC general secretary, will chairthe LSC’s adult learning committee and Chris Banks, the former managingdirector of Coca-Cola Great Britain (now with packing firm Histogram after amanagement buy-out) will chair the young people’s learning committee.Employersare to have the largest single input into the new bodies with 40 per centrepresentation on LSC councils, although business organisations, such as theCBI, have complained half-heartedly that the interpretation of “businessbackground” has been “a little elastic” on the national body.Concernabout the degree to which the new organisations will be business-led has beenone of the main criticisms of the new system. Both the Conservatives and theLiberal Democrats have had political fun pointing out that the LSC is abureaucratic creation of Whitehall, rather than a body that will be used tosupport local businesses. But that very point also has its upside. From thepoint of view of personnel professionals, at times the Tec system could be veryfrustrating – one Tec might give £3,000 per modern apprenticeship; another£10,000. A national tariff would be preferable.Whilemost business organisations have praised the Government’s aim of raisingstandards in education and training, they also have their individual quibbles.At the Engineering Employers’ Federation, Ann Bailey, head of education andtraining, says, “We are quite disappointed that a lot of the employers [onLSCs] are not hard-nosed business industrialists – not people at the chalkface. If you haven’t got a representative of your sector, how do you go aboutexpressing your views? There is a lot of uncertainty.”Sheis also concerned that the LSC is going to be over-focused on basic skills,following the well publicised discovery that one in five British people isfunctionally illiterate, meaning they cannot locate a plumber in the YellowPages. “The focus on basic skills is vital,” she says, “but it should not bethe total agenda. There are a lot of people in work who need upskilling. Thatis very costly for employers. If we could see the LSC working with employersthat would make a major difference to whether the LSC fulfils its full potential.”Meanwhile,John Stevens, head of policy at the CIPD, believes the aim of increasing thenumber of people on modern apprenticeships might reduce the amount of learningundertaken in the workplace – which is considerably more expensive thanclassroom learning. “Expanding the numbers going through at the rate theGovernment is doing does raise issues about the quality of learning that isbeing delivered.” (As of June last year, 439,800 young people were doing ModernApprenticeships, Foundation Modern Apprenticeships or Advanced ModernApprenticeships.)Butthe second major criticism has been the degree of centralisation inherent inthe system. True to Labour’s reputation, there is much in the LSC regime thatmarks a centralisation of training and development. David Blunkett, Educationand Employment Secretary, wields power of appointment over the LSC chairs,executive directors and council members. Thenational LSC, which is in principle a non-departmental public body, is obligedto publish an annual plan showing how “any objectives should be achieved in theyear in conformity with the directions of the Secretary of State”. Local LSCs,meanwhile, have a duty to “prepare annual plans in conformity with guidancefrom the [national] LSC”. If the Adult Learning Inspectorate, which is toinspect places where learning is provided, comes across poor performance, theLearning and Skills Act grants the Secretary of State direct powers ofintervention – to remove governors from a further education college, for example.Also,much of the LSC’s budget is already earmarked for national projects. There isconcern that there might not be enough funds to finance local needs – a keyconcern for employers. An unconfirmed figure of 15 per cent of each LSC budgetis being touted as the total money available for local projects. John Hall,head of education law at solicitors Eversheds, has argued the new system“greatly enhances Whitehall’s powers of control”.TheLSC is a quango, a Non-Departmental Public Body. But one unknown factor in thenew system is the nature of the “partnership” it will have with a large numberof other Labour-created quangos – all of which have the purpose of raisingskills levels. Forexample, there are to be 6,000 UK Online centres; 100 geographical hubs ofUfI/Learndirect, each looking after about 10 Learning Centres; 47 LSCs, in turnserviced by 110 Learning Partnerships; and there are to be 47 ConnexionsPartnerships, subsuming 66 careers service companies, but run locally by150-odd local management committees based on local authority boundaries; thereis one national provider of Individual Learning Accounts and nine RegionalDevelopment Agencies. Thenew system may have slightly simplified the jungle of post-16 institutions, buteven the most generous might allow that the geography of learninginfrastructure is far from ideal and could make the labour marketintelligence-gathering role of the LSC a logistical atrocity. The relationshipbetween all these bodies is likely to confound the keenest of learners.Sowho is likely to do well from the LSC? The Association of Colleges predictsthat their members are going to receive three-quarters of the LSC’s budgetbecause they represent 70 per cent of the state-funded training market anddeliver 54 per cent of vocational qualifications. Some college principals,however, are concerned about smaller private providers undercutting what theyoffer. Private sector training providers will employ “instructors” and aimsolely at qualifications; colleges employ lecturers and will hedge what theyoffer with libraries, support services and refectories, all of which cost moremoney.Theprivate-sector learning providers, which currently represent only 6 per cent ofthe total share of the skills market, are confident, feeling that goodrelations with employers will secure their future. The Government hopes thoseproviders who offer value for money and meet local skill needs, will surviveand flourish, while those that do not will perish.TheLSC faces an uphill struggle. There is little doubt that on basic skills,Britain lags behind its competitors. Some 23 per cent of British people havelow literacy compared with 12 per cent in Germany and 17 per cent in Canada,according to the Basic Skills Agency. Afurther problem is that all too often, training goes to the people who arguablyneed it least. A total of 24 per cent of graduates received training in 1998,compared with only 4 per cent of the unqualified, according to the WorkforceEm- ployee Relations Survey. The highest-earning quartile received four timesmore training than the lowest-earning quartile.Althoughthe CBI has argued that, contrary to popular belief, Britain does not trainless than comparable nations, there have been frequent glimpses of what UKperformance could look like if Britain trained more. Thefinal report of the Skills Task Force, notes that if Britain raised thenumeracy skills of adults to the standards expected of 11-year-olds, thecountry’s gross domestic product would rise by £40bn. That, as ministers keepsaying, is what it’s all about.Leadingfigures express their hopes and fears for the new LSCChrisBanks Former managing director of Coca-Cola, now chief executive of Histogram, whosits on the national Learning and Skills Council“Iam very optimistic about the difference the LSC is going to make. My genuinesense is that around LSCs we have a great representation of business people – Ican already see the application of classic business skills in this area withbetter anticipation of the skills needs, planning for it and delivering againstit.“Itis very early days, but I am also convinced that the system will be muchsimpler. The previous arrangements were terribly complicated with lots ofdifferent ways of accessing funding.“TheLSC is a mandate for change. If we are going to achieve the sort of progressthe LSC has been established to achieve, we are going to have to do thingsdifferently. Skills are an absolutely critical area for business and in manyareas, we have not got them – not just new economy skills, but craft skills inconstruction and engineering. If as business people we have not got the flow oftalent, that is a real issue.“Itis critically important that each of the local LSCs have responsibility to feelthe local pulse of employers. I would encourage those business people who wantto have more influence to make contact with the chair or executive director ofthe LSC. But it is up to local LSCs to figure out the best way of buildingpartnerships – LSCs are the glue that holds employers and the education systemtogether. It goes without saying that local LSCs need discretion about fundinglocal projects, but they do also have a say over how money that isformula-driven is spent.“Igot involved in this originally through work I did on the London Employers’Coalition for the New Deal. I had seen the difference it had made in achievingemployment for people who lack basic employability skills. It was a naturalprogression to stay involved and to see things from the other end of thepipeline, as it were.”MargaretMurray Head of learning and skills at the CBI“Thejury is out on whether the changes will benefit employers. Many of our memberswere involved in TECs, which had established a strong network of relationshipswith employers. We would have preferred a more evolutionary approach than theone the Government has pursued, but the DfEE has been genuinely consultativeand wants to get it right. It deserves a fair wind.“Whatis not clear, but remains critically important to businesses, is that the localLSCs have discretion to respond to the circumstances in local labour markets.“Wewelcome the 40 per cent business representation on local LSCs – although itperhaps should be added that the interpretation of what is meant by “businessexperience” has been a little elastic in the example of the national LSC.“Ata strategic level, we believe the structure offers immense potential fordiversity of choice in post-16 learning, whether academic or vocational. As faras possible the system should respond to the informed demand of young peopleand the funding should be driven by that. We want a system where young peoplecan choose across the system“Equally,the variations in quality of training in different regions should now be ironedout, with large companies able to contract at a national level for training.“Employershave a vested interest in highly skilled, highly motivated people. As regardsyoung people, one of the problems with the apprenticeship system and the highattrition rates in modern apprenticeships is the attitudes of young peoplethemselves.”RuthSpellmanChief executive, Investors in People“Thereshould be a much clearer focus now in supporting learning than there was underthe old Tec regime. Tecs were set up as independent trading companies, whichmeant they had to think of profitability, while the LSCs have the aim ofbringing the education and employer communities closer together. “Employers,schools, local authorities and the voluntary sector all have an interest inlearning. Personnel professionals may think lifelong learning is just aboutsocial inclusion, but the truth is that it is in their interest to have peoplewith the right set of skills coming through the education system. It will be amuch more inclusive culture.“Therewill be no direct impact on us from the start-up of the LSC. We get 40 per centof our funding direct from the DfEE (IIP’s total budget is £6.5m), but the LSCwill be crucial in getting more employers to come on board with the standard.The LSC’s role in promoting lifelong learning as well as developing nationallearning targets means there will be continual dialogue between us.“Atthe moment, 23,000 organisations have been recognised for attaining IIP, whilea further 15,000 are in the pipeline. But there is a set of targets we arehoping to reach by the end of 2002. By then, we hope 10,000 organisations withless than 49 employees and half of all organisations with more than 50employees will have achieved it.”TimBoswellEducation spokesman of the Conservative Party“Insetting up the Learning and Skills Council, what the Government has done islump a whole lot of things together and the result is a very bureaucratic andcentralised system. It is very much a central body with local arms. It is earlydays yet, but I would not be surprised to see several years of administrativefoul-ups – it is an open secret that the national LSC’s IT systems are not inplace yet.“Thereis a deficiency of bus-iness leaderships in the LSCs. What- ever the criticismsof the Tecs, they were predominantly business-led organisations. The Governmenthas had a real problem finding business people to sit on LSCs and as a resultmany people involved in them are not exactly in the front-line in business.“Wefear the amount of money the LSCs have to spend locally will actually go downbecause only between 10 and 15 per cent of the budget will be for localdiscretion. So much is taken up by central schemes. It was noticeable that theremit letter sent out to the local LSCs had some 76 different directives towhich they had to conform – not exactly the best way of ensuring localdiscretion on funding learning that will benefit local employers.“Wewould be unlikely to scramble all the reforms the Government has put in placeif we were in power, but we would certainly be likely to freeze the transfer ofsixth form funding from 2003.”PhilWillisLiberal Democrat education spokesman“Whatthe Government has done is go through a massive bureaucratic overhaul that isnot likely to have much impact on the end users of the system. My greatcriticism is not that the Government lacks commitment, but that it lacks visionand has not thought through the reforms it is putting in place.“Ifyou ask John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, where the vision is for fiveyears’ time, you will get blank looks. This is not the great leap forward theGovernment would like to pretend. We have not really seen the ambition that waspromised.“Thefinal report of the Skills Task Force gave a damning indictment of Britain’sskills training and talked about a national entitlement to level II skills. Allthe Government does is talk about targets.“Thereis an uneasy alliance between the Regional Development Agencies and the LSCs.The RDAs are ideally placed to be a skills intelligence unit for theprocurement arm – the LSC.“Butin fact the Government has decided to give the intelligence role to the LSCs aswell. We needed to have a single body to look after education and training, butagain the universities are outside the remit of the LSC and again this isreinforcing a mythical and highly damaging barrier between education andtraining.“TheLSC is certainly an improvement on the TECs. But it does seem to have inheritedone of the problems of the Tecs – you want the best business brains involved,not just those who are available.” AlanTuckett Director National Institute of Adults in Continuing Education“Weare very sympathetic to the broad aims of the Learning and Skills Council. Theduty on the LSC to promote participation in learning is a real achievement.“Wewould have like to see an entitlement to learning by adults. There is anentitlement for 16- to 19-year-olds, but beyond an entitlement to basic skillsthere is nothing for adults. The Skills Task Force said there should be anentitlement for 19-to 24-year-olds to Level III, but that has not appeared.“Weare a little concerned that only one out of five of the targets in the draftcorporate plan for the LSC concerns adults – a general one on raising theachievement of the adult population and focusing on the proportion reachingLevel III and lacking basic skills. But what we would really have liked to seeis a commitment to widening the participation of adults and that is not there.If the LSC does not measure participation, it is not likely to provide enoughof a stimulus to encourage people who have never done any learning before tostart to learn. There is perhaps a little too much of a labour market focus.”Who’swho on the LSC, and what it does–Chris Banks, former managing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain, now withHistogram.– Chris Humphries, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce– Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of the National House-Building Council– Dr Deanne Julius, member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank ofEngland– Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the south-west of England RegionalDevelopment Agency– Jane Drabble, formerly director of education at the BBC– John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress– Professor Robert Fryer, assistant vice-chancellor, lifelong learning,University of Southampton– Leisha Fullick, chief executive of Islington Council– John Merry, local councillor and deputy leader, Salford City Council– Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley Community College, Merseyside– Helen Edwards, chief executive of Nacro– Alexandra Burslem, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University– Lynne Moris, principal of the Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College,BirminghamWhatis the purpose of the Learning and Skills Council?–To be responsive to the skills needs of individuals and employers– To promote employability for individuals by equipping them with skills indemand in the labour market– To help employers develop individual employees and their whole workforce toachieve world-class business performance– To ensure targeted support for the most disadvantaged– To ensure equality of opportunity– To secure the entitlement of all 16- to 19-year-olds to stay in learning– To promote excellence and quality of service– To maximise participation, retention and achievement, to make progresstowards the National Learning Targets for 2002 and beyond– To remove unnecessary bureaucracy and secure maximum effectiveness and valuefor money. Training the labour forceOn 3 Apr 2001 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Articlelast_img