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Train to Gain: What’s the real story?


Just as the scheme’s value is becoming widely accepted, could funding shortages and mismanagement sink its credibility? Guy Sheppard gets behind the headlines.

The mantra that training is vital during a recession is often repeated by government ministers, and if Train to Gain is anything to go by, employers seem to be taking heed.
In the first six months of the current academic year, 386,000 adults started a qualification through the scheme which provides employers with training advice and support. This was up more than 50% on the same period in the previous year.

Back to the beginning

Train to Gain was launched in 2006 in response to the Leitch Review which warned of long-term economic decline unless skills levels were upgraded. The initial focus was on raising the bottom tier of the workforce to a level 2 qualification but that remit has since widened significantly and now includes leadership and management.

Employers are also being given more say about the running of the scheme through 'sector skills compacts' so that key economic sectors such as construction can tailor the offer to meet its specific needs. “The fact that take-up has increased a fair bit this year confirms that that was the way to go,” explains Lee Hopley, head of economic policy at the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF.

In addition, access to Train to Gain - long criticised for its complexity - seems to have been addressed as well following integration with Business Link, the umbrella organisation for a portfolio of government support products for business. “We think that’s been a success,” says Matthew Jaffa, deputy head of policy for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). “They are getting more hits and greater awareness and satisfaction levels are increasing.”


2008-09: £797m
2009-10: £925m
2010-11: £1bn plus

Qualifications gained (since its launch in April, 2006 to January, 2009)
Total: 461,120 of which 359,500 were at level 2 and 34,000 were at level 3 and above. Since August, 2008, when level 4 qualifications were allowed, 1,800 have been achieved.

What’s more, in March, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which administers Train to Gain, published research showing that 92% of employers were satisfied with its training and delivery. Skills minister Lord Young said then that the government was “giving real help now to individuals, employers and businesses so they can emerge stronger from the downturn”.

Funding in crisis?

While on the surface this all bodes well for the once ill-fated scheme, not everyone is convinced. Fiona Hudson-Kelly, director of Funded Training Made Easy, which handles Train to Gain paperwork for training providers thinks that the funding commitment is looking increasingly shaky. In fact, Hudson believes that because funding ran out in March, any learner who had just enrolled has now been left high and dry. And despite the LSC’s pledge of an increased budget from £28m to £925m for next year and to more than £1bn in 2010-11, she argues the crisis is still unresolved: “Eligibility has been relaxed so much that they ran out of money. Train to Gain has moved considerably from its original purpose. I think it needs to become more specific about what it is trying to achieve. It seems to have become an all embracing jack-of-all-trades,” she says.

And she is not alone in her concern: John Lucas, skills policy advisor at the British Chambers of Commerce, describes the situation as perilous. “The LSC has mismanaged funds for Train to Gain,” he explains. “The government put out a disingenuous message that ‘now is the time to train’ but the funds are not available to do that.” As a result, he warns that the message about the need to continue investing in training has been discredited. “If you look at things going on at the LSC, they’ve not been as good as they can be at accounting,” adds Lucas.

This month MPs on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee condemned the quango for 'catastrophic mismanagement' of the further education college building programme. As a result, it concluded that Train to Gain would need to be monitored closely because of potential overspending there as well.
However Lucas disputes the suggestion that Train to Gain’s remit has become too wide-ranging, saying employers want courses that add value to the bottom line of their business. “We do have a problem with lower skill levels in this country but we also have that at intermediate and higher levels as well,” he says.

But it’s not just the end-user who is left reeling from the funding shortages - Train to Gain has come under fire from the employers themselves.  According to a survey of 300 FSB members published in May, 78% felt Train to Gain actually needs more flexibility, particularly in allowing leadership, IT, sales and marketing training for small businesses.

"Most training is done by employers independently and with their own resources. Any diminution of funds is likely to have a detrimental effect but it will probably be marginal."

John Philpott, CIPD

“The problem you have got is that Train to Gain is providing funds to medium-sized and larger companies which can invest in training themselves,” says the FSB’s Matthew Jaffa, yet businesses with fewer than 50 employees amount to 58% of the total UK workforce. “It’s the micro-businesses that need these funds; they are the wealth creators,” he adds. This argument resonates with John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He suspects that the drive to promote Train to Gain may have prompted many employers to simply re-jig their internally funded training schemes in order to access its funding.
The future’s bright, the future’s SFA

Funding and prioritisation of training schemes are not the only problems facing Train to Gain. Next year, the LSC will be replaced by the Skills Funding Agency with its youth services being transferred to local authorities. This will be the latest in a succession of institutional changes for LSC-run services over the last 20 years. The EEF’s Hopley is concerned that it will happen just when Train to Gain has “started to bed down” while another potential source of disruption is the outcome of the next general election, due to take place by next June.

Already the opposition are poised and ready for a skills revolution with the promise of 100,000 extra apprenticeships a year through a £775m cash injection however they have added that although Train to Gain has consistently failed to deliver skills that employers need despite enormous investment, it would retain the best parts.

Despite widespread acceptance of the scheme’s value, Philpott says this needs to be kept in perspective. “Its overall contribution to the amount of training done in the economy is probably small. Most training is done by employers independently and with their own resources. Any diminution of funds is likely to have a detrimental effect but it will probably be marginal.” However he says the aim of Train to Gain is to direct resources to employers and employees who would not otherwise receive training. “The initial target was the very low skilled. It’s that sort of training that those sorts of people will lose out on.”

How to access the service

Employers can access Train to Gain through its website:

A standard set of forms and supporting manual that are used by training providers can be found at:

(Source: LSC)

Hear what the LSC's chief executive, Geoff Russell had to say about Train to Gain in Verity Gough's 'Five minute interview' and read the latest news on Train to Gain here.

 Guy Sheppard is a freelance business and education journalist. Visit his website here.

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