No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The Skills Pledge: Can it Work? By Annie Hayes


The Government’s ‘Skills Pledge’ was in danger of spiralling out of favour recently with latest findings suggesting that just half of firms will sign up; Annie Hayes reports on whether this latest initiative will survive.

The Voluntary Approach
The government’s ‘Skills Pledge’ was launched on the back of a belief that the UK needs a skilled workforce to compete successfully in the global world. Speaking at the time of the initiative’s launch, earlier this year, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown said: “In the future skills will be the only route to prosperity and jobs. Of 3.4 million unskilled jobs today, by 2020 we will need only 600,000. So if the UK is to continue to succeed in the new global economy we will need to be more ambitious with more people training and employers, employees and government each meeting their responsibilities.”

The move comes in the wake of the Leitch Review of skills, which called for at least 90 percent of working age adults to be qualified to Level two – the vocational equivalent to five good GCSEs by 2020.

An employer making the Skills Pledge will commit to raising the skill levels of all employees, giving staff certified competence in the workplace, along with literacy, numeracy and employability skills. Well that’s the idea anyhow.

Money Talks
Businesses, however, have been less gleeful at the prospect of yet another initiative to help boost their employees’ skills levels and waltzing towards that skills nirvana has been less straight forward then the Government would like to suggest. Furthermore is their one-size fits all approach right? Is it perhaps just a little short-sighted to expect all the industry sectors to fall into line – when some are clearly more highly skilled then others? Take retailing and the banking sector for example.

Further investigation by professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and audit, tax, financial and risk advisory giant, KPMG says that the concerns are more immediate then that. At the basic level the support just isn’t there. Whilst two thirds of UK employers believe that the Government is right to prioritise basic skills training, just 54 percent of those surveyed say that they are either very likely (27 percent) or fairly likely (27 percent) to actually do it. A reaction that the report authors describe as being at best ‘lukewarm’.

Commenting, Sara Caplan of KPMG said: “Our survey shows that we still have a long way to go in the UK in persuading employers that upskilling their workforce to at least level two is vital for our economy. The new Skills Envoy, Sir Digby Jones, has his work cut out in gaining more employer support, to avoid the possibility of the legislation being introduced to force the issue.”

And many businesses are yet to be convinced at the quality of the Train to Gain brokerage. A lack of understanding, accounted for at least some of this concern. Only a minority, 15 percent of employers surveyed, according to the report, have had direct experience of Train to Gain whilst just a third with experience of the organisation were satisfied with it, compared with 23 percent who say that it doesn’t. Yet when the benefits of Train to Gain are explained to employers, the number of employers that express an interest in taking advantage of it almost doubles to 29 percent.

Another stumbling point for this initiative is the understandable concern over money. Almost half of those unwilling to make the pledge cited the cost of resources as the key obstacle.

TrainingZONE member, Rus Slater of P3I-People and Process Performance Improvement says that businesses need more tangible motivators then are currently being offered: “It is a voluntary code but where is the incentive? Yes, I know that learning is its own reward but wouldn’t a tax break help? Then there would be an utterly obvious business benefit in supporting it.”

Unsurprisingly 58 percent of employers surveyed said that help with funding would increase their level of contact with public training agencies.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress believes that for many businesses committing to the Pledge will indeed save organisations money in the longer term. Quoted in the FT, Barber cites two cases as glowing examples of how the Pledge can work for the greater good:

“First Bus UK has saved nearly £3m in recruitment costs alone, by reducing staff turnover since it began its workplace learning project with the unions. And VT Shipbuilding has declared a return on investment from its training activities of no less than 140 percent.

“Employers are also wrong to say that the Pledge will probably entail a significant cost. In reality the government will be paying for most of the training costs.”

But money is not the only issue.

Paul Allman, Head of Learning Services at Edgeworks points to retention worries as yet another thorn in the back of the Pledge: “As far as the principle goes I don’t see it working. The employee says, “What’s in it for me?” – better employability, better pay comes the reply, “Cool, I’ll have some of that” says the employee – the employer on the other hand is faced with the problem of then paying more or losing the staff.”

One-size fits all?
Even where savings can be made, is this a solution that will work across the board? Wayne Mullen, Head of L&D at Standard Bank doubts it. “In industries such as ours where there are a plethora of qualifications already, this would be an additional and probably unnecessary cost. As an investment bank, we probably have a relatively qualified workforce already.”

And in sectors where there is a clear need to up the game in skills, the statistics look a little ropey. Allman points to the care industry where there is a mandatory requirement for half the staff working on any shift to have a relevant level two qualification. He believes this seemingly achievable target wasn’t achieved.

Speaking to TrainingZONE last week regarding latest calls from the CBI to accredit work-placed training Martyn Sloman, Adviser, Training, Learning and Development of the CIPD said he doubted even if the Government is going down the right route when it comes to skills qualification. “Everybody recognises and wants to see the UK economy prosper but it’s unproven that accrediting more qualifications will get that result.”

Businesses are yet to be convinced by the benefits of the Skills Pledge and even in industries where a basic qualifications standard is being strived for it is clear to see that UK Plc is struggling to get there. Furthermore, if there is a u-turn on commitment it remains in doubt whether this Pledge is what the UK needs in order to secure its place as a serious player in the global marketplace of the future.

For now the ‘Skills Pledge’ is looking in need of some serious support, slapping the get-out clause ‘voluntary’ on the scheme is also proving to be of concern, promises after all are made to be broken.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!