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The banks are after you

Until six months ago, most employers found out about learndirect via employees who had enrolled for courses as individuals. But that is about to change as learndirect goes all out in the employer market to reach more learners.

As well as launching about 80 premier business centres (see main story), learndirect will get involved in employer training pilots run by the Learning and Skills Council. The pilots, which offer free training and other support to smaller firms, aim to help workers achieve national vocational qualifications at level 2 (GCSE equivalent).

"So far our involvement has been at a tactical level," says Pablo Lloyd, chief executive of learndirect. "But the new employer training pilots are more likely to suit our type of delivery because they focus on skill development as well as qualifications."

Talks are taking place between learndirect and the local learning and skills councils about running pilots across England. One option being considered is the inclusion of learndirect materials in business and management NVQs.

David Greer, national project director for employment training pilots, says learndirect will help deliver basic skills training and IT modules.

"We are keen to develop basic skills that are integrated into vocational training because that is what suits the learners best," he says.

Mr Greer stresses that the training pilots are employer-driven, so learning and skills councils cannot push firms towards particular providers. But he adds: "Companies are keen to use flexible and online approaches, particularly if the technology is available in the workplace. This makes learndirect ideally suited to meet the needs of employers and staff."

Jay Hurley, employer training pilots project manager in Derbyshire, says one of the spin-offs from the pilots is that employers develop a taste for learning and so are more likely to consider using learndirect in the future. Some may even wish to open a learning centre on their premises.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce and a member of the learndirect board, says learndirect is helping to fill a void that had developed in the training world, where smaller firms find it difficult to develop their employees.

"New and innovative ways of getting companies involved have got to be welcomed," he says. "There is a demand for short, intensive skilling in certain sectors and for longer-term development. Qualifications have a role but they are not the main driver for small to medium enterprises."

Learndirect is also part of a steering group set up by the Department of Trade and Industry's Small Business Service to investigate the launch of a new online brokerage service.

The service, announced in this year's Budget, will use high street banks as a way of reaching smaller firms and helping them to identify their training needs.

Richard Wilson, business policy executive at the Institute of Directors, says the organisation has argued for years that the best way of reaching smaller firms is through banks and accountants. But he warns against too many initiatives.

"A lot of organisations are aiming to provide advice and information to small firms," he says. "There is always a danger of overload."

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