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Leitch: The aftermath


WestminsterIt has been slated by MPs who claim its targets are outdated, while employers have referred to it as "A dog's breakfast" but the After Leitch Report, published last Friday, has certainly highlighted one thing: the need for an army of training professionals prepared to tackle the nation's skills gap.

The wrong focus

When the first Leitch review was commissioned by the government back in 2004, there was an air of optimism that finally the government was addressing the skills gap. Employers breathed a sigh of relief knowing their issues were being addressed while unskilled young people and those stuck in the long-term benefit cycle could look forward to some sort of future. Things looked promising: new skills meant a boost to the nation's productivity which in turn meant that Britain would be fit to compete with emerging economies like China and India. However, two years on, not only has the economic landscape changed inconceivably, but the government's skills bubble has well and truly burst.

The first criticisms of the Leitch Review have been the unrealistic and unachievable targets for 2020. Not only has the alarm sounded over the possible distortion of the skills policy in order to meet the targets, but seemingly, employers' needs have been completely misinterpreted.

Photo of John McGurk"Training professionals have the opportunity to become approved government qualified training providers. Not only will they have access to the support and funding but it puts training at the centre and allows the industry to put their ideas in as to how they would like to see training provision developed."

John McGurk, CIPD

"It isn't so much about broadening the skills pipeline but making sure that skills that had been acquired are being utilised properly and actually adding to the productivity bottom line but that just doesn't seem to have been happening," reflects learning, training and development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) John McGurk. He agrees that the basic and intermediate skills acquisition that Leitch focused on in the original report has been the resounding failure in the skills race.

McGurk points out that the government's overwhelming focus on the numbers, such as the target of getting five million people with numeracy and literacy difficulties up to a level three by 2020, has clouded the real issues: the system is not serving business requirements, it is too complicated and lacks flexibility.

The After Leitch committee has now called on the government to broaden the targets to include re-skilling rather than the current focus of upskilling, which should ensure that those who need to brush up on their skills, either because they have been out of the labour market for some time or because their job no longer exists, receive the support they require.

Train to Gain: Complex and outmoded

One of the key criticisms levelled at the government in the review has been the complexity of the Train to Gain initiative with the committee announcing that: "Much of [training] is impenetrable to everyone apart from possibly a few civil servants and a handful of academics." These comments were echoed in a report published in the Guardian which claimed that MPs have been urging ministers to simplify the publicly-funded training system as soon as possible, with one quoted as saying: "There is not an employer in the land who understands what the elements of the new system are."

"Much of [training] is impenetrable to everyone apart from possibly a few civil servants and a handful of academics."

The After Leitch Review

"Train to Gain hasn't delivered what it promised to," says McGurk. "Employers aren't that engaged with it, they see it as addressing basic numeracy and literacy problems and want a much more variegated skills funding package that allows them to tackle their specific skills areas." However, skills secretary, John Denham has been quick to respond to the criticisms saying that sweeping changes to the Train to Gain programme aimed at encouraging employers to improve the skills of their workers will soon be set in motion. These moves mean that in future, employees would be able to retrain, and small- and medium-sized businesses would be able to access short training programmes. In addition, new funding to the tune of £158m to help retrain people who have lost their jobs coupled with a major expansion of apprenticeships to over 250,000 are another two initiatives the government hopes will redress the balance.

Golden age of training

While the government is often its own worst enemy when it comes to being seen to be innovating, the one positive that has come from the review is the realisation that the skills gap presents an opportunity for training professionals to take up the slack. "Through the LSC, as it still exists, training professionals have the opportunity to become approved government qualified training providers," says McGurk. "Not only will they have access to the support and funding but it puts training at the centre and allows the industry to put forward their ideas as to how they would like to see training provision developed."

As we enter a new age of skills development, it's comforting to know that the government remains committed to the skills agenda. Despite the fact that the Leitch Report was produced in a time of economic certainty, there is now an acknowledgement that upskilling the nation is not a panacea, as previously thought. While the original report may have been optimistically naïve, and the targets unachievable, one thing is certain: for now, for the training industry, it is good news.

Time line of government's skills policy papers

November 2007
• 'Adult Learning and Skills' — investing in the first steps, published alongside the LSC's Statement of Priorities and Grant Letter
• 'Opportunity, Employment and Progression: Making skills work (Cm 7288)', put forward further detailed plans to support the integration of employment and skills services
• 'Train to Gain: A Plan for Growth' set out how government would build on the experience of Train to Gain's first full year of national operation, to continue to expand and improve the service to help employers identify and address their skills needs
• 'Raising Expectations: Staying in education and training post-16 — from policy to legislation', published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families announced detailed proposals for raising the participation age to 18, following a consultation, and identified which aspects would require legislation, ahead of the introduction of the Education and Skills Bill to Parliament

January 2008
• 'Informal Adult Learning — Shaping the Way Ahead'
• 'World-Class Apprenticeships, unlocking talent, building skills for all: The government's strategy for the future of Apprenticeships in England' set out the Government's plans for reforming and expanding the Apprenticeships service
• 'Focusing English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) on Community Cohesion'
• 'Ready to Work, Skilled For Work: Unlocking Britain's Talent' described how the government wants to work with employers to support them in tackling their recruitment and skills challenges

March 2008
• 'Life Chances: Supporting people to get on in the labour market'
• 'Raising Expectations, enabling the system to deliver (Cm7348)', initiated a consultation on the transfer of planning and funding responsibilities for 16–19 year olds from the Learning and Skills Council to Local Authorities, and proposals for reforming the post-19 skills landscape

April 2008
• 'Higher Education at Work: High Skills—High Value', initiated a consultation that sought views from employers, students, colleges and universities on how to raise the skills of those already in work and also ensure graduates are equipped with the knowledge and abilities that businesses need to compete globally

June 2008
• 'Work Skills (Cm 7415)' took forward the integration of welfare services and skills to unlock talent and built on Opportunity, Employment and Progression and Ready for Work, Skilled for Work
• 'Time to Train: Consulting on a new right to request time to train for employees in England' initiated a consultation from June to September 2008 on proposals to give employees in England a right to "a serious conversation with their employer about their skills development"

July 2008
• 'Raising Expectations: Enabling the system to deliver — update and next steps' lays out the next steps following the consultation on the machinery of government changes
• 'Draft Apprenticeships Bill' joint consultation with DCSF from July to sought views on the Bill's provision to establish a statutory basis for the Apprenticeships programme

September 2008
• 'The Manufacturing Strategy New Challenges, New Opportunities' was published jointly with BERR. It brings forward a 'refreshed' manufacturing strategy and sets out support for Innovation, Research and Development and access to skills support in manufacturing firms, particularly in Apprenticeships

Source: 'Re-skilling for recovery: After Leitch, implementing skills and training policies' (January, 2008)


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