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Yes Please, Prime Minister


Both as Chancellor and now as Prime Minister Gordon Brown has focused on the need to up-skill the UK in order to compete in a global economy. So how does this focus, and the resulting initiatives, play with trainers, and given the choice what would be on their wish list? Dawn Smith finds out.

Money and interference were the two main themes that emerged when we asked a selection of trainers what they would like from the new Prime Minister. Better allocation of money and less interference seems to be the recipe that works for most.

Of course, we only asked a small selection of trainers for their views. This was no industry poll. So for those who have other ideas of what to include on a wish list, do share…

Please stop wasting money
Training consultant Rus Slater would like Mr Brown to “Remove large numbers of bureaucrats who clog up systems ‘allocating’ money.”

The same theme was taken up by Mike Morrison, Director of RapidBI Ltd, who suggested a possible strategy for cutting down on bureaucratic spending: “In all government funded programmes, there are so many levels of organisations with their 'finger in the pot' that by the time money is spent on the solution the majority has gone - with each level taking its 10-20% admin fee,” he says. “Gordon Brown should set an upper target of 20% of all monies spent on public training to go on admin, this would reduce the levels of bureaucracy being funded and increase the chances of better training being available for those that need it.”

Rus Slater would also like the government to “Stop all the wasteful TV advertising,” and “Avoid all the interference that simply gets in the way.”

Give up on lame duck schemes
Mike Morrison would like Mr Brown to stop the government-backed train for work and train for the future schemes. “While great in concept, most are poorly focused and the content is worse than useless,” he says. “Each individual has different needs - money would be better spent if it went to local colleges who had to have specifically trained people to identify strengths and needs, and they had a budget to 'buy' the training they need for each individual. Only 25% of the budget could be spent in their college - another 25% to a second college if required and the remainder to the private sector.  The college only got paid if the individual got a job using the skills identified…”

…Or just stop interfering altogether
Several commentators were so disillusioned by the government’s track record of funding schemes to encourage adult learning, that they would prefer Gordon Brown to keep his hands off entirely.

Clive Shepherd, responding to a questions asked on behalf of TrainingZone on the Learning Technologies blog, says: “When it comes to workplace learning, I believe that government intervention typically does more harm than good, so I’d say ‘keep away please’.”

Learning Solutions Designer Karyn Romeis, responding to the same question, makes a similar point: “I haven’t been overly impressed by what state intervention has done to the education system  and I have no desire to see trainers disempowered in the way teachers have been,” she says. “I would hate to see the introduction of hoops to jump through, red tape to negotiate, funds to be gained from boxes ticked. It has a way of reducing corporate training to something almost sordid and effectively takes learning out of the equation. So, as impolitic as it may seem, my request would probably be something along the lines of: Dear Gordon - please let us deal with this one ourselves!”

Don Taylor, Strategic Alliances Director at InfoBasis and Chairman of the Learning Technologies conference, sympathises with these views. “Government intervention in adult learning is patchy and includes ghastly failures such as the UK eUniversity (£58m wasted), and the Individual Learning Accounts (£90+m wasted, with a higher loss due to fraud),” he says. “With this record, the concern of our Learning Technologies commentators is understandable. There is a common theme here: top-down initiatives can go badly wrong.”

However, rather than steering clear of the sector altogether, Don would like Gordon Brown to listen to trainers’ ideas. “This government can do plenty for learning and development, but will never know what without our input,” he says. “So, Gordon, listen to the trainers. They'll tell you. After all, the Labour government wants to make the UK workforce capable of competing in the global knowledge economy, and who's going to make that happen? It might be worth listening to the trainers, after all.”

Refocus on the commercial sector
Adrian Snook, Deputy CEO of The Training Foundation, also wants Gordon Brown to listen, in particular to commercial trainers. He believes the government’s approach to skills and training has been distorted by its failure to consult with the commercial skills sector - that is, those commercial providers that sell their services direct to employers at full cost without the benefit of state funding and subsidies. The government tends to ignore this group of around 8,000 training organisations, he says, because “Rather than clubbing together, campaigning and providing feedback, advice and guidance to funding bodies they invest their discretionary time and resources in improving their offerings and quietly going about meeting the specific needs of employers in a timely fashion.”

The government tends to focus on the learning and skills sector, whose key players are the lobby groups The Association of Colleges and The Association of Learning Providers. Although some private sector providers see themselves as part of the learning and skills sector, these are the ones that “already receive a significant stream of revenue from the state or are seeking to develop one,” says Snook. Outside of this cosy group, “employer focused learning activities that do not produce qualifications which can be counted towards state targets and which hence receive no state funding are largely invisible to policymakers.”

Adrian Snook would like Gordon Brown to “stop ignoring the scale of the contribution that commercially funded training makes to the UK skills base and to the economy”, and “stop focussing all your effort and attention on improving the government's rankings in the international league tables for qualifications.”

He ends his plea with the comment: “If you take the trouble to work with the Commercial Skills Sector you will find that privately funded learning and development has taken up a great deal of the slack created by the inefficiencies of publicly funded provision and has actually been one key factor keeping the wheels of commerce and industry turning.”

And a couple of ideas to consider…
Instead of intervening with training schemes and initiatives, Rus Slater suggests the PM could consider a simple alternative: “I have a theory about messianic government which is that, generally speaking, it doesn't work.” he says. “Therefore, what I'd like Gordon Brown (and his army of ministers, advisors, departments, agencies and other assorted civil servants) to do, is simply make training more attractive by giving tax breaks to those who invest in it.”

If Mr Brown insists on new initiatives, one that might prove popular is suggested by Norman Lamont, Learning Technologies consultant at Lloyds TSB: “Perhaps impose a crippling tax overhead on the use of management jargon,” he says. “Encourage employees to blow the whistle on the use of verbs like ‘leverage’. Hit ’em in the pocket, it’s the only way.”


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