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Clarke vows to engage employers on skills issues


Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke today praised business for the efforts it has made to boost skills and promised to provide Government backing through more funding and less red tape to help train staff. He made it clear that the Government has taken up the challenge to engage with employers on skills issues.

Speaking at the CBI conference, he said: "Employers contribute the lion’s share of resources being devoted to skills development. For too long we have ignored the voice of business and failed to look at the skills problem through their eyes. So we have been listening to employers on a nationwide tour to find out their needs and how we can bridge the skills gap together. Next year we will be announcing a skills strategy which will ensure that Government investment delivers improved skills to meet business needs and improve productivity. We are determined to establish a truly demand-led learning system designed to give industry what it needs. There is a great deal of good work already being done.

"Employers know that education no longer stops when people leave school or university, but continues through training in the workplace. Every year over £23 billion is spent by Government and business on developing the workforce. This investment is vital if we are to maintain our status as a highly flexible and skilled economy, but there are still too many people who lack the skills to make a full contribution to the economy. We are entering a new era for Government and business – one where we all recognize that if education does not prepare people for work it has failed. Four out of five jobs created now will require skill levels above ‘A’ level, only one-third of Britons have these compared to three-quarters of Germans. In addition to continuing to raise academic standards we have to enhance the status of vocational education and training as a high quality route to progression and achievement for young people.

"There are an estimated 7 million adults in this country who lack the reading and maths skills that we expect of schoolchildren. Half of them are in employment and as Digby Jones pointed out this year, ‘Every day we pay 3 million people to go to work in Britain who can't read like an 11 year old: and what does that do to our productivity? Getting our people to read, write and count is enormously important to British business.’

"For that reason we will be investing £1.6 billion over the next three years to tackle the problem of poor basic skills. We will make sure that all staff who need it in any business can get free training to improve their literacy and numeracy. By 2007 we want 1.5 million adults to have improved their basic skills and we have already made good progress with nearly a quarter of a million people achieving a national award since April 2001.

"Today I can also announce that I have invited proposals for pilots from four partnerships between Regional Development Agencies and local Learning and Skills Councils to increase employer demand for skills and responsiveness from providers on the supply side. To ensure that demand for skills training is met, the pilots will help employers decide what skills they need to move their business forward. Government can help make sure the money the RDAs and LSCs are spending is being targeted to benefit employers. Pilots will operate in the East, North east, South east and North west of England and in the latter will work jointly with a pilot looking at links between RDAs and the Small Business Service.

"The Department for Education and Skills needs to convince employers that it is working coherently and strategically. We will lock our working with employers into our strategic objectives and always consider employability first when developing skills policy. That policy will be developed in partnership to enable industry to tell Government what it wants."

Charles Clarke went on to highlight examples of partnership working between Government and business:

• Modern Apprenticeships where the Government is seeking employers’ support to learn where and why the scheme is working well, how to improve retention and achievement and how to increase take up across all sectors of industry.

• Sector Skills Councils where the Government is implementing a joined up approach to working with business by recently establishing five trailblazer Sector Skills Councils with five more under development. They are designed to be the primary means by which employers in each sector can come together to identify their skill needs and be a voice that Government will listen to.

• Investors in People continues to be at the heart of driving forward good skills in business and the Government’s investment will help thousands more firms, particularly small and medium sized enterprises to get involved. It is a major success story helping organisations harness training and development opportunities to meet their goals.


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