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Government details skills strategy

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The government has published its plans for boosting skills levels in the workplace.

The measures were set out by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable in a speech to a conference of further education colleges held in Birmingham.

The government said it intends to increase the numbers of adult apprenticeships, so that by 2014-15 there will be 75,000 more adults starting than under the previous government’s plans.

Some £605 million is to be invested in adult apprenticeships in the 2011-12.

There will be fully funded training for young adults aged from 19 up to 24 undertaking their first full level 2 (GCSE equivalent) or first level 3 (A level equivalent) qualification, and full funding for skills courses for individuals who left school without basic reading, writing and mathematics.

As from 2013, people aged 24 and over undertaking level 3 or level 4 qualifications will need to take out a government loan if they are unable to afford the upfront costs. But they will not have to make a contribution to the costs of the course until they are earning a decent enough wage.

SMEs will only have to pay half the cost of level 2 courses for employees aged 24 or over; the government will pick up the rest of the tab. Large companies, however, will be required to foot the whole bill.

Apprenticeships for those aged 24 or over will continue to be co-funded by the government.

An innovation fund of up to £50 million of government money is to be made available to lend support to employer-led initiatives, such as new professional standards, and to promote leadership and management in SMEs.

The Train to Gain programme is to be replaced by a SME-focused scheme to help small employers train low-skilled staff. Most of the money saved will be channeled towards funding the extra apprenticeship places.

The government also pledged itself to freeing colleges and training providers from red tape so they can respond better and more flexibly to the needs of employers and learners.

Dr Cable said: “If we are to achieve sustainable growth, nothing is more important than addressing current failings in skills training, and this strategy reflects this government’s determination to do both.

“We are not in a position to throw money at the problem, but even against the backdrop of reductions, resource will be found to expand the apprenticeship programme for adults and support more people undertaking an increasingly respected form of vocational training.”

John Hayes, the Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister, added: “The government’s skills strategy is one of the most important documents yet published by the coalition government. Helping business and individuals gain the skills they need is vital to helping the country gain economic strength and build sustainable growth in the long term.

“Despite a reduction in the FE and Skills budget, we are continuing to protect and invest in programmes that provide the highest quality and greatest benefit to the maximum number of people.

“Replacing Train to Gain with funding for work place training prioritised on SMEs will to help employers with a small workforce train low-skilled staff.

“The acquisition of skills enables people to progress in learning and work and delivers social benefits too. I want to see the development of a culture of learning with individuals and employers driving forward the skills system and contributing to the learning they receive.”


Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director for education and skills, said:?“We welcome the ambitious targets that the Government has set for expanding the number of apprenticeships and its acknowledgement that co-funding will be necessary for SMEs that provide on-the-job training.

“It is right that those who have left school without basic literacy or numeracy will continue to have access to state-funded training. There is still an issue around basic skills. About half of companies are concerned about the literacy and numeracy of the current workforce, with a fifth of employers already providing remedial training for school leavers.”

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, added: “We are pleased that the government’s new approach to skills has business growth at its heart.

“The government has taken up a number of our long-standing recommendations – including the need to focus limited resources on technical skills, on apprenticeships, and on helping small-and medium-sized businesses get access to the right workforce.

“Business has been crying out for more responsiveness – and for the government to help fund leadership and management skills for small company owners, who often need this help in order to grow.

“The real test will be whether these proposals help local businesses in towns and cities across the UK. Employers, training providers and the public sector will have to work together to ensure that qualifications really match up with business needs.

“Skills cannot be considered in isolation from changes to benefits or immigration policies. Raising skill levels takes time. The government cannot shut off business’ access to skilled migrants, who are filling existing workforce gaps.”