Case for employer ownership unclear

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has confirmed its most recent report was drawn up using no new data or research.

Proposals made in the Employer Ownership of  Skills report were suggested by the 23  UKCES commissioners, of  which three represent both further and higher education, and three represent small and medium-sized employers.

The UKCES says the proposals, which include increasing the amount of  public funding given directly to employers for apprenticeships and training, address some of  the issues highlighted in The Youth Inquiry and the Employer Perspectives Survey 2010.

“The solutions we’re proposing – one of  which is to route some public funding for employer facing skills through employers in return for greater private investment – isn’t contained within these reports,” a spokesperson for UKCES said.

“That’s because they (quite genuinely) came directly from our commissioners, who are a mix of  large and small employers, representatives from FE and HE, Unions, third sector, etc.”

She also added: “The documents set out some of  the problems – the two different skills systems, the comparative lack of  employer interest and investment in the publicly-funded skills system and so on. So we know for definite that the issues are real.”

It is not clear whether all SMEs want this reform.”

The UKCES report suggests funding employers directly for apprenticeships through the tax system, as well as reviewing the effects of  current policy and infrastructure on employer ownership.

It states: “We propose that Government Invite employers to step up to the challenge of  bringing more young people (16-24) into the productive workforce by funding employers directly for apprenticeships, for example through the tax system (e.g. via National Insurance rebates) and incentivising work experience.”

The report says an increased amount of  public funding would help create “a more responsive training provider network” and encourage employers to contribute more to vocational training. Other benefits include allowing colleges and training providers to compete based on quality and innovation, rather than volumes and government priorities.

The 157 Group, however, says it is “not clear” whether all small and medium sized employers (SMEs) are supportive of  the reforms.

“Many strongly value the role of  colleges and other training providers in sorting out the administration and reporting that has to be associated with spending public money,” said Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of  the 157 Group. “It is not clear whether all SMEs want this reform.”

The Association of  Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) says the UKCES proposals will only be successful if  they manage to persuade employers to contribute more of  their own money towards training.

“The move to reposition apprenticeship and skills development as an employer responsibility is enthusiastically supported, but we must watch out for dead-weight,” said Graham Hoyle, chief executive of  the AELP.

“The aim and the ultimate success of  the new proposals must be to persuade more employers of  the economic benefit of  increasing their investment in their skills agenda, leaving the government to continue supporting the many individuals who are wanting to get onto the first step of  the ladder in order to start confidently moving upwards.”

Sean Taggart, UKCES commissioner and chief  executive of  The Albatross Group, supports the proposals and said direct funding would not simply be used as a “giveaway” for businesses.

He said: “This public investment will be used to leverage greater private investment in skills development. Colleges, schools and learners have been asking for improved access to employers and this is a real opportunity for that to happen, with benefits for all concerned. It’s important to remember that this is not a giveaway.”