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Skills bonanza for the future

Greater employer involvement in education and a new generation of GCSEs and Modern Apprenticeships is how the Assembly government intends to equip Wales's future workforce.

Getting business more involved with young people at 14 and beyond is a major thrust of the government's new strategy.

Skills that Work for Wales is the nation's official response to Sir Adrian Webb's report on the mission of FE, and Lord Leitch's remarks lamenting a shortage of skills UK-wide.

Wales currently has more adults without qualifications compared with England or Scotland, and fewer with high-level skills.

The draft document, launched last week, sets out how the nation can catch up. But business leaders responded this week by saying the plans did not go far enough, maintaining industry should be given direct public funding and control over the skills agenda.

The Assembly government aims to sweep away the maze of schemes that deter employers from training programmes.

Businesses will have a clear role through sector skills councils, where they will advise the government on which vocational qualifications they think should be priorities for public funding in schools, colleges and the workplace.

Employer-led qualifications, being developed for the 14-19 diplomas in England, will be made available within the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification framework from 200910. An employer engagement task force will also emerge to sign up businesses to the vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways revolution, allowing young people to complete work experience at an earlier age.

As TES Cymru reported last week, there will also be greater emphasis on the social reasons for the high numbers of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETS).

Barriers to young people achieving, including the teenager in a family of high unemployment, binge-drinking and the demands on teenage mums, will be looked at more closely following the work of a task group.

Substance misuse was cited in the report as a major area to address in the battle to equip young people with skills.

A new Wales Employment and Skills Board will direct funding to key areas. Leighton Jenkins, CBI Wales assistant director, said placing funds directly with employers "would more effectively target skills gaps and deliver more relevant courses".

Meanwhile, Modern Apprenticeships, which combine paid employment or work experience with on-the-job training, will continue to be the government's "premier work-based learning route".

Small businesses have often struggled to provide apprenticeships. "We'd like to see these properly funded. They should have parity of esteem to give them broad appeal," said Mr Jenkins.

The Assembly government is currently piloting GCSEs making English, Welsh, maths and ICT "an explicit part" of teaching and assessment. It's also considering statutory entitlement to free basic skills learning for post- 16s who need it. However, Mr Jenkins warned that stressing the basics must not be at the expense of level 3 and 4 skills.

The government says it will only fund post-16 providers who deliver high- quality education. "We will reward the best and spread best practice," says the report. "We want some to develop excellence in particular sectors, such as the skills academies for manufacturing proposed in One Wales."

John Graystone, chief executive of the FE colleges body fforwm, felt giving business a stronger voice was a sound principle, but said: "Businesses will require help from colleges to identify their skills needs. Collaboration is the best means of tackling the gaps."

The Assembly government is working with the rest of the UK on better matching of vocational qualifications to employers' needs. These will have credit as an integral element and form part of the wider Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales.

Learners will work at their own pace, receiving credit for completing short courses, on-the-job training or even informal learning.

Chris Howard, an executive member of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "Whatever the concentration on skills and modules, the teaching itself needs to be interesting to young people."

Meanwhile, Mr Jenkins feels employer recognition remains a problem. "The Webb review into FE suggested that some internal training by employers, where they work with colleges, should be self-accredited. The government isn't pursuing that."

The strategy is out for consultation until April 10.

Champion post won't be replaced

Wales did have a link between the Assembly government, schools, colleges and industry in the part-time role of Peter McGowan - former vocational skills champion.

He worked on promoting new vocational qualifications, such as the Welsh Baccalaureate, to business leaders. But the government confirmed this week that he will not be replaced following the end of his appointment last year.

Mr McGowan had been critical of the lack of action taken to ensure businesses were aware of important developments in vocational education, as well as the lack of understanding by his industry colleagues of new skills-based learning in schools.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "The vocational skills champion was very much on the initiative of the then minister (Jane Davidson) and came to an end before the last Assembly elections.

"The champion's purpose was to investigate issues around, and increase the take-up of, vocational learning routes, and raise their profile. Peter completed his work with a final report, which was debated by the then education and lifelong learning committee."

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