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White Paper Pledges to Close Skills Gap

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The government has set out the proposals it believes will help England become "a high skills, high value-added economy" in the face of competition from China, India and other emerging economies.

The Skills White Paper - the government's second in two years - promises new mechanisms to get employers involved in designing training courses, free training to GCSE level for all adults in England and a one-stop shop for people who want to take a training course.

Main proposals in the document, published yesterday, include:

· A new National Employer Training Programme to provide a network of brokers to work with employers to identify their business training needs and source that training.

· Free training in the workplace in basic skills and Level 2 (five GCSEs equivalent).

· Sector skills agreements to bring together employers and training provision to set strategies.

·12 new Skills Academies by 2008 - the first, the Fashion Retail Academy, to open in 2005 – with a long-term ambition to have on academy for each sector of the economy.

· From 2006/7 there will be a national entitlement to free tuition for a first full Level 2 (equivalent of five good GCSEs) qualification and new extensive support for learning at Level 3 (equivalent of A-levels).

· A new training and careers one-stop telephone and on-line advice service.

Launching the White Paper, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Ruth Kelly said her ambition was to see an end to "dead-end jobs".

“Our goal is of a dynamic economy where our productivity is enhanced through high skilled, well rewarded employees working in companies committed to long term investment, improving the nation’s economic productivity so we are fit to compete with China, India and other emerging economies," she said.

Responding to the White Paper, Chris Banks, Chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, said that the paper set a huge challenge for the LSC and employers.

"(The) Skills White Paper responds to many of the concerns of business and sets a challenge for employers to work more closely with colleges and training providers in new ways," he said. "It introduces for the first time nationwide a simple route for employers to access hassle-free, high-value training."

Christopher Duff, chief executive of the Sector Skills Development Agency, said that Sector Skills Agreements were helping to ensure that education bodies were listening more closely to employers.

"Employers too need to step up to the mark," he added. "If we trained 350,000 more people, we would create an extra £10bn for the economy. This is enough to increase spending on schools, colleges and universities by a fifth or to cut income tax by a tenth."

Business leaders also welcomed the new White Paper. Sir Digby Jones director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said: "The time is right to kick-start a UK skills revolution and this is an opportunity that the country cannot afford to miss. Better skills go hand-in-hand with better business performance. If training is tailored truly to the needs of business then we can make UK staff more dynamic and the UK economy more competitive.

"To compete for the value-added work that sets us apart from India and China we must tackle skills shortages in this country."

* Copies of the White Paper ‘Skills: Getting on in Business, Getting on at Work’ are available at www.dfes.gov.uk/publications.

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