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The Great Training Skills Swindle


Last week saw the Pre Budget Report (PBR) and while it was quite a shock (who knew Darling was going to crank up National Insurance contributions??) the smattering of skills training served up certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

It seems that, again, skills - while supposedly taking a front-seat - have been conveniently sidelined again, ambushed by corportate tax and that nasty NI sting. In fact, analysts have critisised Darling's PBR for being a thinly-veiled attempt at electioneering rather than offering anything concrete for businesses to get their teeth stuck into.

And even a cursory glance at the actual report on the Treasury website (chapter 4) throws up little more than a bit of extra funding for uni students with cash-strapped parents and yet more rhetoric on 'jobs for all' (so where are they then?)

The fact remains that the nation is still in need of skills training (see the numerous news reports of 11-year-old school children leaving primary education unable to read and rumours of cuts in Apprenticeship funding and it all becomes worringly obvious).

When writing a feature on this very topic earlier this year, we were inundated with promises of pockets of cash for practical training, seduced by suggestions of up-skilling the nation but talk is cheap, and the government has yet to come good on its training promises. Now I'm not suggesting that the government isn't bothered by this, but I am concerned that little is being done to constructively right the problem.

So forgive me for my cynicism - the idea of tax breaks for trainers seems almost laughable in the grand scheme of things looking at how the proverbial financial land lies at the moment - so the industry must tuck in its chin and brave another harsh economic winter, because the government is certainly not providing any fiscal shelter.

One Response

  1. The great training skills swindle

    It is little help bemoaning the lack of funding for “skills training”, especially at this time of ballooning deficits in the public finances, without being clear what it is you want the funding for. The problem with a lot of government spending, and spending on skills especially, is that there has been far too little thought about what this spending is designed to achieve.

    If we agree that the nation needs to be more skilled in order to compete in the global economy  then clearly there are two main learner cohorts – those in work and those not. 

    Spending on this latter group (young people yet to start work and older people who find themselves unemployed) would seem justified and recent announcements  on apprenticeships and support in getting the unemployed back to work suggest the government thinks so too. But developing the skills of people in work has to be primarily the responsibility of the employer. And if this isn’t happening on anything like the scale the economy needs we need to ask the question “why not”, before chucking money at the problem.


    There are clearly problems with the supply side – if the product is poor, why should the employers buy it. And there are obviously some issues around the learners – if they do not have the basic skills that enable them to learn, then spending money on developing higher level skills is likely to be wasted.
    But the biggest barrier to learning in the workplace is the inability of employers to see training as an investment rather than a cost. Expenditure on buildings, equipment and IT is seen as spending that needs to yield a return and the costs and benefits of these investments are an integral part of mainstream business planning. So to improve employers’ propensity to train, the way organisations themselves are led and managed needs to improve – this improvement will require varied and different sources of support beyond merely subsidising training.

    The irony is that doling out training grants actually decreases employer’s propensity to train as it removes the demand led element from the procurement – “it’s free so I might as well have it; I don’t really know why I’m doing it and I won’t mind too much about the quality”. It is in the interests of the training supply side to support the empowerment of employers to become better and more demanding customers. That way demand for training and development will be sustained into the medium and long term, and not dependent on the fickleness of funding availability.

    Further thoughts here,
     Michael Woodgate.
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