White paper heralds entitlement to level 3 vocational qualifications.
Steve Hook reports
Adults will get more advanced vocational training as the Government concedes that it needs to broaden its approach to improving the nation's skills.
The skills white paper, unveiled by Education Secretary Ruth Kelly on Tuesday, introduced an entitlement for adults to work towards level 3 (A-level equivalent) qualifications.
The entitlement will be introduced in pilots around the country before a national roll-out, with pound;40 million from the Government over four years matched by funds from employers via the National Employer Training Programme.
Ms Kelly said: "We need to support more adults in achieving the higher-end technician, craft and professional qualifications our economy needs to compete with the best."
The Association of Colleges welcomed the plan but said it was concerned that, like the Government's existing commitment to level 2 qualifications and basic skills, it would come at a price.
Colleges say they are being forced to cut other areas because the Government's aspirations are already running ahead of the resources available.
The AoC is also worried that a shift in priorities towards training in the workplace, emphasised by skills minister Ivan Lewis this week, will mean colleges lose out.
It also fears that the new commitment to level 3 will mean a tighter squeeze on areas that fall outside government priorities - including non-vocational courses for older adults.
John Brennan, AoC chief executive, said: "We welcome this new emphasis on level 3 qualifications for adults, as opposed to concentrating on level 2 and basic skills. But funding will continue to be an issue for us.
"The white paper fails to address the real story about adult skills - the failure to persuade employers to invest more in learning."
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "The white paper is another disappointment. It doesn't address the funding issues and duplicates what is already being done. We welcome progress towards an entitlement for level 3 qualifications, but the pilots will only be a success if they are properly funded."
The paper sets out plans for up to 12 skills academies over the next three years. These are linked to the industries in which they specialise via the network of newly-created sector skills councils, which set training standards in each industry and act as the voice of employers in vocational education policy-making.
David Hunter, chief executive of the lifelong learning sector skills council, said: "The crucial question now is how the lifelong learning sector responds to this challenge.
"Will it see the increased involvement of employers as an imposition or can we expect teachers, trainers and other learning professionals to embrace the new agenda and offer learners better prospects of acquiring skills?"
Mr Pendle said the academies would "divert funding away from colleges".
As the document was published the AoC highlighted the plight of colleges already struggling to keep pace with Government aspirations.
Danny Clough, principal of Colchester institute, said: "I'm turning away 1,000 students a year. Money problems mean we are doing this in areas where there are skills shortages, like construction. We have a lot of demand, but not enough supply."