Bonanza as job training cuts out the middlemen

A funding bonanza could be on the way for colleges as ministers are urged to relax the rules on college contracts with employers.

Steve Hook

The Train to Gain programme, which provides firms with cash to help them up-skill their staff, has been criticised by principals for forcing them to win business through a network of brokers.

Colleges have been approached directly by employers seeking training packages, but have been forced to send companies away to go through the brokerage procedure as a formality.

In the worst cases, this formality proves to be an administrative procedure too far for the employers and the business is lost.

The new system, which is expected to be adopted, will see colleges talking directly to companies, offering a list of training services that meets the firms' needs.

The support package may include training outside the college's specialism, which could be met by other providers working in partnership. The right to take advantage of the new streamlined system would involve colleges earning the Training Quality Standard, which many have already gained.

The proposal comes in a report - Simplification of Skills in England - from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, whose chief executive is Chris Humphries, former secretary general of the awarding body City and Guilds.

Mr Humphries says the idea of combining the existing network of independent Train to Gain brokers with the colleges acting as their own brokers follows the model of the financial services industry, where there are independent financial advisers as well as advisers tied to promoting a particular product.

The principle behind the commission's recommendation is that high quality colleges and private training providers should be trusted to sell themselves more directly without the need for referral from independent brokers.

Mr Humphries said: "The key is the Training Quality Standard, which is a must-have. I spoke to someone recently who had just been through it and been awarded the standard. They said it was pretty tough. "I thought, `good, that's what I like to hear'."

The loosening of the rules comes after the commission advertised last week, calling on employers not to abandon training as the country heads towards recession.

A new web-based tool will help employers find training provision that meets their needs, clearing away some of the confusion faced by smaller businesses as they try to make sense of the range of public and private sector training organisations.

Companies will be able to develop a bespoke training plan and then see what's available - including public-funded provision - to meet their needs.

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said: "This initiative sends out a strong message to British companies about surviving the economic downturn.

"We know companies that carry on investing in training their staff do better when the economy starts to pick up again. That's why I announced government support of Pounds 350 million for SMEs wanting to train their staff."

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