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New skills chief to unite staff training

One voice for lifelong learning employers under sector skills council. Steve Hook reports

The new body in charge of training standards for staff in post-16 education has appointed a leading government adviser on skills to be its first chief executive.

David Hunter, chief executive of the further education national training organisation, has been the leading proponent of the new lifelong learning sector skills council.

The skills council is one of more than 20 being created across industry - from engineering to beauty therapy - to act as the voice of employers in vocational training. It is seen as the most important of all the SSCs because the skills of its own staff - primarily lecturers - will have an impact on the vocational standards of the other sectors, whose people they train.

Mr Hunter, 52, warned in April that Success for All, the Government's skills agenda, will end up "in shreds" if the lifelong learning SSC or the new Centre for Excellence in Leadership (FE's management college) fail to deliver.

In bringing the new organisation into being, Mr Hunter has had to break down the rivalries of different parts of the post-16 education community - including higher education, youth work, work-based training and private training providers.

As well as acting as the voice of lifelong learning employers in the development of workforce skills, the skills councils will have to map out a coherent set of training standards for lecturers in the different and hitherto competing parts of the education world.

Most of the work carried out by Mr Hunter's own organisation, Fento, will be subsumed into the new body.

Mr Hunter, an Ulsterman by birth, cut his teeth in youth and community work on the streets of Belfast.

Before joining Fento, he was chief executive of ANIC, the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges, affiliated to the Association of Colleges in England.

He admits that creating the new SSC has been his most exhausting challenge.

"I am determined to transform the quality of learning by raising the skills of learning professionals," he said.

The SSC's creation involved merging the interests of several organisations, but it also required, as an absolute condition of getting its licence to operate from the Government, the full participation of all four UK countries.

With the SSCs being recognised as a Department for Education and Skills (and therefore English) initiative, this was a tough task.

Mr Hunter's credentials as a non-Englishman were firmly on the table in this respect. At one recent gathering of the great and the good in post-16 education, a rather English-centric discussion was taking place about lifelong learning. He reminded his colleagues, to their embarrassment, of the existence of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You could have heard a pin drop.

John Hedger will continue as interim chair of the new organisation until October 2005. A former career civil servant, he served on the board of the Department for Education and Employment.

"David's energy and commitment and his wide-ranging experience and knowledge will help to put Lifelong Learning UK at the forefront of the Skills for Business network," he said.

"The vision of the new organisation is to lead a partnership of employers in all parts of the sector and from all the countries of the UK."

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