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Skills & training: Coming to a street near you?


Carol Smillie launching the Skills Street campaignNot too far in the future lies a time where the vast majority of jobs in the UK will require some kind of qualification or specialist skill. But the workforce isn’t currently equipped to deal with this. TV presenter and ice-skating supermum Carol Smillie has teamed up with the Learning and Skills Council to take this message to the people. Matt Henkes reports on the Skills Street campaign.

There are a number of perceived barriers to acquiring new skills that the LSC’s new Skills Street campaign aims to dispel. In a recent study it found that over a third of adults blamed lack of time, while 29% felt that gaining new skills and qualifications was simply too expensive.

"If someone hasn’t got a qualification equivalent to five GCSEs, they really need to get started in the next five years."

Caroline O’Neill, Learning Skills Council

However, LSC partnership director Caroline O’Neill believes these excuses are no longer valid. "If someone hasn’t got a qualification equivalent to five GCSEs, they really need to get started in the next five years," she says. "People are telling us that they don’t have time to do the courses but the message we’re trying to get across is that there’s a lot of flexibility in the system now."

If you talk to colleges, local authorities and other organisations, most will now deliver learning that can work around a personal schedule. There are Saturday morning and full-day courses and, if people are looking at evening courses, it might not necessarily have to be the same evening every week.

"Everyone is going to face the challenge in five or six years where every two out of three jobs will require people who are qualified," says O’Neill. "Employers are already looking to qualifications as recognition of what it is that someone can bring to their company, so it’s something that people need to start thinking about. And if they haven’t got a qualification up to the equivalent of five GCSEs, then it’s highly likely there will be free training available."

LSC research suggests that for every level of a qualification a person moves up, they could earn an extra £2,000 a year. But even if it’s just a fraction of that, it’s going to be good for your household income, adds O’Neill, which could be crucial in these 'troubled times'.

Train to gain

It’s not just individuals facing the skills challenge. Employers need to look carefully at the skills they will require in the future. "Through the LSC train to gain programme, someone can come to an employer and help them look at the training they need for their business," advises O’Neill. "They can put together a training programme and also look at who can provide that training locally and cost affectively."

"People put excuses in the way, like they’re too old or too time poor, but that’s not the way it has to be."

Carol Smillie, Skills Street

Employers with around 40-50 employees could boost their bottom line by up to £170,000 a year, simply from the increased efficiency that comes from equipping employees with the right skills. "It’s about using the support that’s available," says O’Neill.

Launching the Skills Street campaign this month, Carol Smillie was in Skipton near Leeds, visiting families to find out how they were interested in broadening their skills. She was surprised at the ‘mixed bag’ of people who were enthusiastic about broadening their skills. "I have to admit, I assumed that an initiative like this was aimed at people who didn’t have any skills at all," she says. "But that’s not the case at all."

She says the main motivator is for them to bring in extra income. "They all had existing skills," she adds. "One was a school teacher, another was a project manager for a bank, but they wanted to gain qualifications in horticulture, IT or management."

People generally assume that once they’re on a particular career path, it’s too late to change. "If I’ve taken one thing away from Skills Street it’s that you’re never too old to learn," says Smillie. "I think people put excuses in the way, like they’re too old or too time poor, but that’s not the way it has to be.

"The government has realised that the time is coming where there aren’t going to be enough skilled people out there to cope," she adds. "And they’re making it as simple as possible for people who want to learn."

Skills and the future

"In the 21st Century, our natural resource is our people, and their potential is both untapped and vast. Skills are the key to unlocking that potential – without increased skills, we would condemn ourselves to a lingering decline in competitiveness, diminishing economic growth and a bleaker future for all."

Lord Sandy Leitch, 2007

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