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Invest in skills and prosper

Flexible training provision is the key to the British economy maintaining its competitive dege, writes Digby Jones

When I travel up and down the country, listening to businesses of all sectors and sizes they tell me just how important flexible training provision is in their drive to improve the skills of their employees.

The twin challenges of global competition and technology-based structural change mean that a company's success depends more than ever on having employees with the right skills. The abilities to communicate, solve problems and work in teams are becoming ever more important.

UK employers are committed to training and development, investing pound;23.5bn of their own money in one year. Almost all employers provide their staff with job-related training. But there are still too many adults with low skills, particularly poor literacy and numeracy. One in five does not have the reading skills expected of an 11-year-old.

While many employers have to remedy low basic skills in their employees (suffering hits to productivity on the way), the problem has yet to be solved in our education system. It's great that people who haven't been involved in learning since school have now started to develop their skills.

Learndirect has been particularly good in attracting these traditional "non-learners" to e-learning courses. People can learn in their own time in the privacy of their home and not have to admit to their colleagues that they're doing basic skills training.

UfI\learndirect has made encouraging progress - almost 500,000 learners are involved, more than half new to learning. Learndirect has already become a well-recognised brand. The next challenge is to become a provider of flexible training for business.

One example of a firm that is already involved is Weetabix. The basic skills courses on offer persuaded Weetabix to use learndirect in their new resource centre, but the company extended this to include IT and management courses as well. Weetabix and its employees value on-site learning. Morale has improved among shopfloor workers and some have taken supervisory courses to help them progress to management positions.

I hope this flexible learning approach will flourish and become the norm.

UfI's new premier business centres have the potential to develop quality tailored learning programmes to enable employers to get the best out of their employees. The future of the UK economy depends on employers and employees working together to raise skills and the UfI is well placed to help make that happen.

Digby Jones is director-general of the Confederation of British Industry

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