Are skills initiatives missing the mark?On 1 Mar 2004 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. A disparity between training spend and results has come to light with thepublication of the National Employers Skills Survey (NESS) 2003. The findings of the survey – commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council(LSC) – paint a gloomy picture of the state of skills and training in England.Despite employers spending more than £4.5 billion on training and an estimatedextra £10 billion in terms of staff time, only around half of employees arebenefiting. More than a fifth of employers reported skills gaps in their workforce,which were adversely affecting their business. Yet only 39 per cent had atraining plan and less than a third (31 per cent) even had a budget in placefor training. The subject of training levies has once again raised its head in the wake ofthe findings. “If the current voluntary approach doesn’t produce the necessarytraining, and if the Government doesn’t have enough money to fund it, we needto examine whether Sector Skills Councils should collect money fromemployers,” said Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development atthe Association of Colleges. Others take a wait-and-see approach. Paul Wilkinson, chairman of Improve,the developing food and drink Sector Skills Council said that he is againstcoercion to achieve business objectives and that a levy would be a last resort.”I would prefer our SSC to engage with employers on the basis thatwe’re providing value-for-money products and services that they want tobuy,” he said. “If we can’t persuade them and the skills gaps and skills shortagesstill exist, then maybe that’s the last resort.” However, Wilkinson agrees there’s a need for dramatic improvements in skillsby whatever means. “Let’s see how this system gets on at the moment but ifit doesn’t work then we have to move on and look at other options,” hesaid. A massive 72,000 interviews were carried out between April and June lastyear for the survey – the largest of its kind. It included the smallest firms(employing up to five staff) right up to major organisations, in 27 sectorsacross England. “The biggest surprise was finding that 2.4 million employees wereconsidered by their employers not to be fully proficient in their jobs”said Stephen Gardner, director of skills and workforce development at LSC. “Skills gaps between applicants and job vacancies are consistent withwhat we’ve seen in the past and the sectors where the shortages were identifiedwere as expected, but there are huge variations across the sectors,” hesaid. While 43 per cent of employees lacked practical and technical skills, thehigh instance of ‘soft skills’ deficiencies was unexpected. Where employeeswere judged by their employer not to be up to the job, 61 per cent were seen tolack communication skills, 55 per cent customer handling skills and 52 per centwere short on teamworking skills. Training plans “One good thing is that the number of employers who don’t have a trainingplan has gone down by 15 per cent in two years (from 76 per cent revealed in asimilar survey in 2001 to 61 per cent). We’re pleased to be making some impact,but there’s still a long way to go,” said Gardner. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) sees the survey – conductedbefore the launch of the Skills Strategy last year – as supporting thedirection of the Government and the LSC. “The report certainly doesn’t shock us. It’s in line with previoussurveys,” said DfES spokesman, Philip Treloar. “It reinforces the need in the Skills Strategy for putting employers’needs first and we’re starting to make progress – not just through the NationalSkills Alliance, but also the Skills for Business network.” Treloar cautions against alarmist interpretations of the findings:”Skills gaps are a serious issue, but to label people who some employerssee as having shortcomings as incompetent isn’t correct,” he warned. So what happens now? The information will feed into the Government’s SkillsStrategy and shape the work of the Skills Alliance. “It’s possible to cutthe data both geographically, so we can use it within regional skillspartnerships, and sectorally, so it can be used by Sector Skills Councils toinform their Sector Skills Agreements,” Gardner explained. “We havethe funds to make training available to the workforce and the more employers wecan get involved in funded learning the better.” But some people question the adequacy of funding. Colleges are the biggestprovider of adult learning, yet their LSC budget allocations for 2003-2006 are£40 million short of what is needed to meet the Skills Strategy priority areas.Gravatt, of the Association of Colleges added: “Colleges are being told toreorientate their publicly-funded provision towards the priority areas, withthe expectation that Level 3 learning and everything else will be fundedthrough employers and individuals.” Yet many areas which the LSC does notconsider priorities are employers’ priorities, he contends. By Elaine Essery Related posts:No related photos.