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Employers need to come aboard

Smaller companies must be encouraged to play a more active role in targeting low skills in the workplace, writes Ivan Lewis.

We are tackling are the problem of low skills in the workplace and want learndirect to play a bigger part in helping us. The ability to offer tailor-made courses for individuals is its great strength. We have got to move the image of learndirect on so that more employers see it as being for them.

The service we want to see more of is the new learndirect centres such as those established in the North-west, set-up specifically to focus on business and small to medium enterprises. The changes we have agreed in funding and the new strategy will give the service a freer hand with local learning and skills councils to develop such initiatives.

There have been concerns over learndirect. In early inspections there were real quality concerns, with some learning hubs put on recovery plans. But subsequently, they really raised their quality.

Not all the criticisms were justified. Whenever you set up something new, you have teething problems, particularly when it is part of a radical agenda of change. The question is: do you have the capacity to turn things round? In this country, we often condemn and rush to label things a failure within weeks of their creation.

What the learndirect leadership has done well is to offer early intervention, increase the demand for courses and improve the quality - raising standards in a very short period. There is still a lot to do and no room for complacency.

Central challenges remain: how do they market themselves more aggressively and successfully than they have done? How do they demonstrate to more employers that they can go in and set up a learning centre in the workplace?

They must also do it through more and more partnerships, an issue the skills strategy White Paper will address next month. My message to all agencies is: look to partnerships and collaboration with others. Otherwise, in the end, it is the customer who suffers.

I recently visited a learndirect centre in my constituency. What I saw was excellent. It brought to life the benefits of training for learners who basically had no ICT skills. They were confident, secure and felt comfortable in an environment which did not feel like yet another learning institution. Many were over 50 and were proud to receive their first certificates for donkeys' years.

It reinforces my belief in what we are trying to do. It is a powerful way of bringing people into learning who, in their adult lives, thought it was for someone else.

Ivan Lewis, the minister who has been responsible for developing adult skills, was talking to Ian Nash

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