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Providers who are growing in influence

"Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends" Benjamin Disraeli 1804-1881 Back in 1982, the Government decided to invest massively in youth training. A billion pounds is a lot of money now. It certainly was then. Vocational training providers such as Pitmans were asked to help. The Manpower Services Commission (MSC) - which had started in a smaller way in 1974 - was dramatically increased in size and scope.

They were exciting days. For the first time we had a structured, work-based training industry backed by the Government. The MSC gave way to the Training Commission for a while and then to the Training Agency before privatisation led to the training and enterprise councils in England and Wales in 1989 and the local enterprise companies in Scotland.

On Monday week, April 1, there will be a further shift to the Learning and Skills Council, which will be directly responsible for the training of young people, while the Employment Service - also within the Department for Education and Employment - will continue to provide programmes for the over-25s without jobs.

The Learning and Skills Council will work with 16 to 24-year-olds who have left full-time education and will also join local education authorities to support 14 to 16-year-olds who follow the new vocational option in the national curriculum.

The common denomnator in the changes of the past 20 years has been the provider. Learning providers are fundamental to work-based training. It is they who have developed government programmes. They have recruited clients, carried out induction, given careers advice and created job opportunities, especially in the vast small-business sector. It is the provider who has delivered the education, training, assessment and internal verification required and who has dealt with administration, with pastoral care and worked in partnership with employers to develop jobs, National Vocational Qualifications and career development.

The Association of Learning Providers was set up in December 1999 to represent the UK's 2,500 learning providers. The work-based sector is a relatively new industry, and the association is a "network of networks" that represents the interests of providers and the young and unemployed people for whom they are responsible.

Ministers and Whitehall officials have welcomed this focal point for providers. My association, as it develops, assumes more areas of influence. It will work closely with the DFEE, the Learning and Skills Council, the Employment Service and with other agencies that concern themselves with giving young people and adults the best possible opportunities.

Hugh Pitman

The writer is chairman of the Association of Learning Providers

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