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Employee training system needs ‘reform’

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There needs to be a redirection of government-funded training programmes, the CBI has argued, if the UK economy is both to recover and thrive.

The CBI has published its own proposals for the future of skills funding ahead of the government’s White Paper on the same issue.

Central to the CBI document is a recommendation that some funds be shifted away from basic skills training which, the employers’ group said, could be better invested in developing higher-level skills in such areas as science, technology and engineering.

While the CBI conceded that the larger proportion of public money should still be devoted to improving fundamental skills – literacy and numeracy – more needs to be pumped into programmes that will deliver greater, measurable economic returns.

Launching its paper, entitled Reforming Skills Funding, the CBI pointed out that the Train to Gain and Skills for Life schemes have already hit their 2010 targets of helping 2.25 million adults achieve a qualification in basic language and maths skills.

What is now required, the CBI continued, is a partial switch in emphasis to the sort of intermediate and higher skill sets that employers will increasingly need if UK business is to remain competitive in the years to come.

It is thought that by 2020 two thirds of all jobs will demand qualifications and skills at these levels.

Specifically, the CBI said it wants more support for apprenticeships so that businesses can draw on a workforce with the necessary technical and work-orientated backgrounds.

Priority needs to be given to spending on training in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

With a quarter of firms cutting back on their involvement in the apprenticeship programme, extra government funding is vital in order to help tackle youth unemployment, the CBI said.

Some £125 million, therefore, should be invested in creating 50,000 new apprenticeships, while a further £25 million should be earmarked for a special fund that would allow firms to train more apprentices than they can actually employ.

Another sum from the government’s £4 billion training pot should be assigned to help older workers raise their skill levels in the technology and engineering sectors.

In place of the current system of qualification targets, the CBI argued it would make more sense to map the effectiveness of training programmes according to their ability to improve competitiveness and productivity.

A portion of the extra funding could be financed by removing those programmes that, though ‘nice to have’, do not produce a direct economic benefit or lead to any advance in education or employment.

Overall, the government’s training system also needs to be clearer and simpler, the employers’ organisation concluded.

Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director of education and skills policy, said: “The government must put the £4 billion of public money it spends on adult skills to more effective use, especially when there is pressure on the public finances and on business competitiveness.

“Tough choices need to be made. Public spending must be focused on the valuable skills that will drive growth and employment prospects. Businesses themselves spend a massive £39 billion a year on training and know the value of developing staff, even when times are tough.”

Ms Anderson added: “Raising workforce skills relies on a partnership between the government, employers and employees. But firms need a much simpler, more flexible system of public funding to help develop higher level skills. The challenge is to make businesses in Britain more competitive, and to give individuals the productive skills required to sustain employment.”