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Labour goes to work on new training mantra

IF the mantra of the first Labour government was "education, education, education", the mantra of the second is "education and training". Consider the Green Paper 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards. It sets out a vision for a coherent system of 14-19 "education and training". Work-based training is just as important as general education and vocational education.

Similarly, the mantra of "education and training" is emerging in the debate on getting half of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education by 2010. The paper, Partnerships for Progression from the Higher Education Funding Council in England and the Learning and Skills Council, identifies 21 to 30-year-olds as well as 18 to 21-year-olds as potential contributors to the 50 per cent target. But it concludes that contributions from 21 to 30-year-olds will be dependent on "improving progression routes into HE through workplace learning". In short, strategies to achieve the 50 per cent HE target need to address people at work.

HE providers must go to those in work rather than expecting those in work to go to them. Providers must also work with employers to "give those in the workplace better access to HE, including accreditation of workplace learning at level 4". In addition, the LSC is funding centres of vocational excellence, HEFCE is funding new technology institutes and foundation degrees are being developed. All this suggests that the Department for Education and Skills is seeking to create a "higher education and training" system.

Adult learning outside HE is also changing. Last November, the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) set out a "vision for UK skills" and the development of a "new training policy" for adults without level 2 qualifications.

The policy package to increase demand for training is based on public funding of 100 per cent tuition and examination costs, and replacement funding to employers for employees who undertake training at work.

One of the consequences of the new emphasis on skills and training post-14 is the need to engage employers. Indeed, employer engagement is required for 14-16 work placements, expanded modern apprenticeships, part-time foundation degrees and achievement of level 2qualifications by under-qualified adults.

Every publicly sponsored education, training and business support body is developing an employer-engagement strategy. Although co-ordinated approaches to employers will be difficult, it is a "must-do" task.

Equally, the DFES needs to recognise that supplying employers with endless public subsidies - either in the form of lower training costs or replacement funding - simply misunderstands employer demand for workforce development. But even where employers are helped to improve their performance and the post-14 education and training system supplies the skills and qualifications employers need, employer engagement still might not be forthcoming.

Tucked away deep in PBR 2001 is the most significant suggestion for training policy since the abolition of the Industrial Training Boards, namely "statutory time off for training and development". The killer to small businesses is employees being away from work and trying to find suitable temporary cover.

As a stand-alone intervention, statutory time off for training and development at level 2 might be manageable for employers. But the policy would be on the back of a series of family-friendly policies such as the working time directive, increased maternity rights, unpaid parental leave, paid paternity leave and rights to part-time working.

If statutory time off for training and development is the big idea for a Labour third term, the issue will need to be handled sensitively so that it benefits both industry and workers.

Mark Corney is director of MC Consultancy

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