KEEPING skills up-to-date is increasingly vital as we start the 21st century. Whether it is better computer fluency or small business skills, people will need to acquire greater flexibility and adaptability in the changing jobs market.
As they do so, it is right that they get a greater say in the courses that are open to them and that their own contribution to improving those skills is recognised by the Government and employers.
That's where Individual Learning Accounts, soon to be launched nationwide, are so important.
We are aiming for 500,000 people to hold these accounts by the end of this financial year.
In order for this to happen, many of them must sign up for courses this month, when enrolment is at its peak. This target will be reached, with help from colleges and other providers.
Many learning providers are already well advanced in preparing for the national launch, telling potential learners about Individual Learning Accounts. Others need to do more.
Overcoming financial barriers to learning through Individual Learning Accounts will be welcomed by both providers and learners. Many of us have long been aware of the extent of wasted talent among the population, as people are unable afford to advance their skills.
Above all, Individual Learning Accounts are about a change in our philosophy. They are an expression of a new relationship between government and the citizen which means people can take personal responsibility for their learning. They enable people to take up discounts and benefits, provide information about learning opportunities linked to other government initiatives and make it easier for employers to support employees' individual development aspirations. Trade unions have a role to play too.
The accounts aim to encourage personal responsibility for development and recognise that 'the more you learn, the more you earn'. Equally, they are designed to increase the amount of individual investment in learning.
Once someone is a holder of an Individual Learning Account, they can access a unique package of incentives which include a contribution of pound;150 from the Government into the first million accounts opened; a 20 per cent discount off many courses; 80 per cent off priority courses such as computer literacy.
Wha does this mean for providers? You can expect more demand for learning. People will be much more aware of the opportunities open to them. This is a significant opportunity for learning providers to help widen participation in learning.
In practice, learning providers will often be expected to answer enquiries about Individual Learning Accounts and market the availability of the accounts to students and the local population. They will need to work closely with the Individual Learning Accounts Centre - on the verification of accounts and recognition of courses, and provide all necessary details to the Centre on course start and completion dates.
The Individual Learning Account Centre will manage the administration including account opening, enquires and provision of information on account records and statements. The centre will also form a key contact point for learning providers. Learning providers will able to contact the centre on their own enquiry line - 0800 072 4949.
I encourage you to make full use of their professional guidance.
The key priority now is registration. Learning providers should act now to gain full registration as a provider of Individual Learning Accounts. The ILA Centre will help with this. Demand for Individual Learning Accounts is likely to be high during the current enrolment period, but you can register your college and your students now.
It is important that you allow as much time as possible for this, and return all forms promptly, as the discounts connected to the accounts cannot be accessed without both individuals and learning providers being registered with the centre, at the point of enrolment for learning.
Everyone can open an Individual Learning Account, but they are particularly suitable for those who have not undertaken any learning recently. Colleges and learning providers are crucial in letting learners know about the benefits they can receive, and the ILA Centre will be pleased to keep sending you as many application forms for individuals as you need.
This is an unprecedented opportunity, for individuals and learning providers alike. We recognise that there is a need to move very quickly, but for people who have for years suffered from barriers to learning, the Individual Learning Accounts cannot come soon enough.
Further information on Individual Learning Accounts is available at