Brown unveils skills checklist

Concern is mounting over jobless figures for unskilled people. Ian Nash and Joe Clancy report

The quango responsible for funding further education and training in England launched a new set of priorities this week in advance of the Government's new skills strategy.

Chancellor Gordon Brown was putting the finishing touches to what the Government says is the first national skills strategy of its kind - due to be announced in his pre-budget speech - as FE Focus went to press.

The Learning and Skills council has reshaped its priorities to fit the new push on skills for employment, 14-19 learning and adult basic skills.

Evidence to the Treasury shows that about half of unskilled people are unemployed, compared to around 5 per cent for skilled workers.

A strategy involving all major government departments will be launched in the New Year, giving companies incentives to train more people.

Mr Brown's concerns are mirrored in the priorities of the LSC. Top billing among six council priorities is given to making learning "truly demand-led" so that it reflects the needs of employers, young people and adults.

A new National Employer Training Programme will give employers a substantial say in shaping the learning and skills agenda. The model behind the Chancellor's skills revolution is the employer training pilots which have been exploring ways to engage companies in skills training for the past two years.

A survey for the LSC suggests that 93 per cent of participants are satisfied or very satisfied with the scheme, which recruited its 100,000th trainee this week.

The LSC wants colleges across the board to engage employers in a dialogue to ensure they offer what they need.

Government sources also suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair is so keen on the idea of a skills revolution, that he wants a White Paper after Christmas.

The LSC stressed that its six priorities are designed to improve skills and boost productivity when deciding where to allocate its pound;9.3 billion budget.

In the first of its annual statements of priorities, the council says it will "focus on encouraging those who provide training to deliver what employers need now and in the future".

Mark Haysom, its chief executive, said: "With 3.5 million people going to work every day who cannot read well and 15m with low levels of basic numeracy, giving greater prominence to the requirements of employers is essential.

"Our annual statement of priorities provides real focus for the investment of public money in delivering the skills needed by both employers and individuals.

"It sets out our commitment to this country to transform the way skills and training is delivered to businesses."

The LSC plans include extending employer training pilots, streamlining ways in which employers find relevant training, and extending the level 2 (GCSE equivalent) entitlement nationwide.

A second priority is to "ensure all 14-19 year olds have access to high-quality, relevant learning opportunities".

It plans to achieve this by guaranteeing 16 to 18-year-olds suitable learning opportunities, widening the choice of better vocational routes, increasing apprenticeships, and encouraging more collaboration between training providers and employers.

The LSC also pledges to "transform further education so that it attracts and stimulates more business investment in training and skills development".

It plans to achieve this through the "agenda for change" programme which looks at employer responsiveness, improving quality, simplifying funding, making better use of reliable data, reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency.

In addition, the priorities will focus on skills necessary for economic development, effective regional development and improving the skills of those who provide public services.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said the priorities "will allow the LSC to change attitudes about training and skills development in England".

"This change in culture is critical to transforming the whole performance of our country in so many different ways," he added. "We can then ensure that we achieve the funding and support for what is really valuable and what is really worthwhile."

The Association of Learning Providers said it "warmly welcomes the direction that the LSC is now taking".

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