Employer pilot should have a better structure

The days of a job-for-life are no more and workplace training initiatives need to be suited to today’s more fluid employment trends, says City and Guilds chief executive and director general Chris Jones.

I watched with interest last month as the first successful employer bids were announced as part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ employer ownership pilot.

This sentiment was echoed at the Labour Party conference, where a commitment to empowering employers to deliver more training was announced.

While I wholeheartedly support government efforts to hand control back to employers to develop training appropriate to them, it strikes me as alarmingly shortsighted — for both businesses and learners — that there is no stipulation this funding be used for training.

Such training should provide learners with formal recognition of achieving set outcomes, providing a viable means of progression.

Workplace training is by its very nature specific to individual businesses and is essential for workers to progress within their chosen career, so employers should be given more say in how it is designed and delivered.

However, gone are the days when an employee stays with one company for the course of their career so it is wrong that such a high level of investment — £250 million over the next two years — will go towards giving employees a learning experience with just one company.

Instead, vocational training needs to provide recognition of competence for the individual and help them move up or progress through to higher education in the longer term.

In an increasingly fluid job market with high levels of youth unemployment, the value of providing workers with externally-recognised and portable skills should not be underestimated.

The employer ownership pilot leans too far towards supporting a limited number of businesses

This system provides the flexibility for employers, working with others, to accredit bite-sized learning and well-designed programmes that validate individual learning and furnishes transferable skills.

If the employer ownership pilot is to provide real, tangible benefits to the economy, businesses, and learners, then it must prioritise this type of accredited learning.

I welcome news that the pilot will create 11,000 apprenticeships and the commitment from Labour to deliver more apprenticeships, should they come to power.

As the UK’s leading apprenticeship provider, City and Guilds is hugely supportive of this means of training, which is of great value to the learner, businesses and the wider economy.

Our February research paper, The Economic Value of Apprenticeships, highlights how essential apprenticeships are to the UK economy, with businesses set to benefit from a £4.37bn boost by 2020 if one million extra apprenticeships are created by 2013.

As part of this, apprenticeships help to tackle youth unemployment levels and ensure that businesses have the skills they need for increased productivity and growth.

However, again, if learners and the wider economy are to feel the true benefits of these, apprenticeships must be formally accredited and provide learners with skills which are transferable — benefiting themselves alongside current and future employers.

I agree with the core aims of the employer ownership pilot — employers and workers know what training is best for them and employers should be given the space to step up and own the skills agenda. However, my principal concern is that these aims are not being underscored by the right structure.

As it stands, the employer ownership pilot leans too far towards supporting the needs of a limited number of businesses rather than
helping to develop a suitably skilled workforce with the transferable skills that will help to drive the UK economy forwards.

Whether this is achieved through gaining qualifications or by some other means of evidencing competence, my message remains clear — the engagement of employers is important, as is on-the-job learning for employees, but we must ensure we are simultaneously providing the kind of structured and externally-recognised vocational learning that equally benefits all parties in the longer term.

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  1. The programme that the bid we put in is planned to deliver encompasses a wide variety of training, ALL of which leads to accredited qualifications. I shouldn’t be too quick to judge the programmes before you have seen their content.

    Companies, sometimes in partnership with professional training providers, are prefectly capable of delivering structured training. The principles underpinning the EO Skills Fund include increasing the employability of candidates and that, presumably, is one of the facets the bids were judged against.

    If companies/employers choose not to engage with Awarding Bodies and their qualifications it would logically suggest that those qualifications are not for for their purposes. Everyone accepts the value of recognised and credible qualifications, not least the candidates/employees themselves. For employers to withold that opportunity to their staff, whilst investing huge amounts of time and money in their skills for no sound reason is just counter intuitive.