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Government launches drive to raise skill levels

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The government has set out details of a new drive to improve skills in the UK workforce.

Under the plans, the government is aiming to create a modern class of technicians through an expansion of the number of advanced apprenticeships.

This should mean a further 35,000 new places over the next two years.

Every adult worker will be given a personal skills account, allowing them to shop around for training.

The government said it also intends to focus funding on those sectors of the economy that can do most to boost growth and jobs. This will mean investing £100 million in 160,000 training places in areas such as life sciences, digital media and technology, advanced manufacturing, engineering, construction and low carbon energy.

There are plans, too, to simplify the way in which skills policy is delivered, cutting the number of public bodies by more than 30.

Announcing the strategy, Lord Mandelson, the Business Minister, said: “Higher level skills have never been more important to our growth. The strategy marks a radical shift in our skills priorities. It shows how we can make sure we’ve got the skills to power the new industries and jobs of the future.

“We need engineers to lay the cables to expand access to high-speed internet, skilled people to build the electric vehicles of the future, and technicians to develop the medicines that will save lives.

“The goal of this strategy is a skills system defined not simply by targets based on achieved qualifications, but by ‘real world’ outcomes. Relevant, quality skills, with real market value.”

Business groups welcomed the strategy.

Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director of education and skills, said: “Improving the skills of the workforce will be critical to the UK’s economic recovery and future growth. There are tough decisions ahead for the government, but it is right to focus on delivering valuable skills such as science, technology and engineering, and high-skilled apprenticeships.

“Business will welcome the attempts to simplify the overly-complex system of organisations delivering skills training and support. The real test for any new system will be whether it delivers the high-quality training and skills that firms and the economy need.”

Steve Radley, director of policy at the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “This strategy comes at a crucial time. Given the urgency brought on by the recession it is more important than ever we have a skills system that helps UK businesses to succeed in highly competitive world markets.

“Employers have been crying out for simplification of the current confused and cluttered system. This strategy has to be the definitive move to a more demand-led system, driven by the needs of employers and learners.”

However, the government’s decision to make Regional Development Agencies central to the skills system attracted criticism from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Tom Richmond, the CIPD’s skills adviser, commented: “For all the talk of having a ‘demand-led’ skills system, the government is clearly more interested in giving extra powers to quangos, government departments and local authorities than it is in giving individuals and employers control of how and where funding is spent.†

“Until the Government realises that meddling quangos and ministers are the problem, not the solution, the wastage and inefficiency within our skills system will continue unabated.”