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National Retraining Scheme could result in millions missing out, warns report

The government’s approach to retraining people should be focussed on adults rather than employers, according to a former FE policy adviser

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The government’s approach to retraining people should be focussed on adults rather than employers, according to a former FE policy adviser

The government’s National Retraining Scheme needs to apply to all adults if it is to be a success, a new report out today has warned.

While it could be a “game changer in the way we think about lifelong learning” it remains unclear whether the scheme will be employer-led or adult-led, according to the report, by the Campaign for Learning and Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE).

If the scheme ends up being employer-led, “millions of adults of working age would miss out, such as those workers on zero-hour contracts, temporary and agency workers who tend to receive less employer training, as well as the self-employed and the unemployed,” says the report.

Written by Dr Sue Pember OBE, director of policy and external relations at Holex and a former lead director for FE in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, it argues that the scheme should be “adult-focussed rather than employer-focussed” and help anyone “who needs to retrain to remain employable”.

The National Retraining Scheme should also sit within a wider “lifelong learning strategy for work and retirement” according to the report.

Short on substance

Creating a National Retraining Scheme was a pledge in the Conservative general election manifesto. Last November, chancellor Phillip Hammond announced a partnership between the government, the CBI and the TUC “to set the strategic direction” for the scheme. He added: “Its first priority will be to boost digital skills and support expansion of the construction sector.”

But the report says: “Government certainly sees the importance of retraining. However, there is a sense, perhaps, the government is promoting the National Retraining Scheme in public while trying to work out what the scheme actually is.”

It warns that existing structures such as mayoral combined authorities and employment and skills partnerships raise “questions about how a National Retraining Scheme can actually be national when there are other governance arrangements which can independently determine their own priorities”.

Barriers to retraining

Issues such as covering costs of training and getting time off work to do it remain barriers to retraining, according to the report. Self-employed workers should be able to claim back for lost earnings as a result of training, through a reimbursement fund, it suggests.

It calls for all adults to be entitled to a fully funded first full Level 2 qualification and says that the Department for Education should also give loans to all adults studying for Level 3-6 qualifications “in line with the new system of maintenance loans for part-time higher education students”. In addition, the right to request time off for training should be extended to workers in organisations with 100-249 employees.

Responding to the findings, Mark Dawe, chief executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We agree that the scheme should cover all adults, especially in terms of providing basic skills for the unemployed and the proposal for bite-size provision instead of full fat qualifications also deserves serious consideration."

Partnership working

Neil Carberry, CBI managing director for people and infrastructure policy, commented: “We’re delighted to be working alongside the TUC and the government as part of the National Retraining Partnership. The Partnership, alongside improved technical education and a reformed apprenticeship levy, could drive a skills revolution. We are committed to designing a system that really delivers for those already in work, improving careers, opportunities and business performance.”

TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Unions, government and business must work together to make sure that the National Retraining Scheme helps every worker who is struggling to progress to better work, or at risk from the impacts of technologies like automation and AI. Globalisation, industrial change and Brexit demand that we invest in the potential of all workers, delivering the skills we need to compete in the growth sectors of the future.

He added: "Trade unions have a unique role to play, making sure workers whose needs are most acute receive the right support and training opportunities. This can safeguard their livelihoods and enable them to take on the jobs of the future."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The National Retraining Scheme will make sure that there are opportunities available for everyone to get the skills they need throughout their lives. It is crucial we get this right - that is why we continue to work closely with key groups including the Confederation of British Industry and Trade Union Congress so the scheme is spot on for both learners and employers”.

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