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Business told to step up or shut up

Employers should be given cash incentives and tax breaks to encourage them to help design vocational training for young people, the man who advised the Government on reforming qualifications for teenagers said this week.

Sir Mike Tomlinson, who led a two-year inquiry into the 14 to 19 curriculum, said that businesses had a responsibility to support the vocational diplomas to be launched by 2008.

Businesses have attacked vocational training in the past for being irrelevant to their needs, he said. It was therefore vital that they get involved in its design.

The Confederation of British Industry was the most prominent supporter of the Government's response to the Tomlinson inquiry, which proposed the diplomas in a move to transform skills-based learning.

Sir Mike said: "This is the opportunity for employers to get involved. They have asked for this chance. My challenge to them is: step up, get involved, or forever shut up."

At a London conference, he suggested that ministers needed to make the process easier for them. He said: "What I have argued for... is some way of increasing employers' involvement. That may be a financial incentive, or a tax incentive. It (greater employer involvement) will not happen unless we give some form of financial support."

The former chief inspector did not, however, put figures on the level of support needed.

He also told the conference, organised by the ASDAN exam board, that ministers would have to find extra cash if they wanted greater collaboration between schools, colleges and workplaces.

The Government, which set out its response to Tomlinson in a White Paper in February, wants to see schools and colleges working together to provide a greater range of course options for youngsters.

But it is not putting extra cash into the move. Sir Mike said: "If collaboration is going to work... it's going to cost above what's in the budget at the moment."

Sir Mike said much of the White Paper supported his proposals. But he had been disappointed that the Government had not devoted more attention to the issue of qualifications for youngsters who failed to gain at least five good GCSEs.

Neil Bentley, head of skills at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Employers want to get involved, and already are involved in offering work experience for young people.

"There is sometimes a disjunction between what is being offered through vocational education and what is required by workplaces. What employers are looking for is a positive attitude from young people. But this certainly is an idea which we would be interested in exploring. We have not seen anything in detail about it."

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