Banking on their flexible friends;Lifelong Learning

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Individual learning accounts are a key plank in Government policy. But exactly how will they work? Raymond Ross visits Fife to find out

A pioneering scheme in Fife got off the ground this month when the first clients started on study programmes under an Individual Learning Account (ILA) initiative, designed and set up by a partnership of Fife Enterprise, Babcock Rosyth, Rosyth Europarc and the Bank of Scotland.

The first of its kind in Scotland, the pilot initiative will have 200 accounts in operation by the end of May. The learning accounts are opened on the basis of a pound;150 contribution from Fife Enterprise with further contributions from the account holder andor employer.

The accounts are designed to meet the needs of a more flexible, multi-skilled workforce by allowing employees to save money while they are working, so they can learn skills which will stand them in good stead as work patterns change. The Government is committed to introducing a national system of individual learning accounts in Scotland, which should attract an initial 100,000 account holders across the country.

Accounts can be used to purchase training or education to support personal development. In Fife, courses are selected from registers produced by the three learning providers: Babcock Rosyth Training; Lauder College, Dunfermline; and Fife College, Kirkcaldy, all of which support the scheme.

Benny McConnachie, an area manager with Dietsmann Morgan Moore (DMM) Ltd, the first company to sign up last November, explains how the system works. "The three parties are Fife Enterprise, the employer and the individual. Fife Enterprise gives pound;150 as a one-off, start-up grant to open the account, which can be spent at any of the three learning providers. The individual can add to the account, as can employers.

"We have two employees participating but hope to increase that to 30. We will pay up to pound;20 every month into each individual learning account," he says, on the grounds that DMM simply wants to put something back into the community.

The ILA accounts, however, belong to the individuals, who take them with them wherever they go. "The money can be spent only at recognised learning centres and is deducted at the end of any particular course," says Bobby Graham, the ILA project manager for Fife Enterprise and one of the originators of the scheme while he was personnel manager at Babcock Rosyth.

"ILAs are about learning in the broadest sense. They're not just about training and they don't have to be qualifications driven. This makes it easier for people who have been out of education for a long time."

Courses include core skills ranging from numeracy and algebra to psychology, communications and languages. The vocational courses divide into technology and business opportunities, including information technology.

Anyone over 18 is eligible, except for those on the Government's Skillseekers scheme or on full apprenticeships, though most individuals are in the 36 to 50 age range.

Nineteen-year-old Lesley Bissett is initially using her ILA at DMM in Dunfermline to hone her administrative skills, and then intends to do a course on record keeping for payroll, and computer courses in database and spreadsheet work. Her colleague, 25-year-old Iain Miller, is taking ICT courses to acquire the skills necessary to join the computer division of the company.

For both of them the big attraction is that the courses offer a system of flexible learning, allowing them to do them in their own time. "It means you don't have to catch up again at work, as you would with day release. You do it in your own time and at your own pace," says Bissett.

"We might only see the tutor occasionally," says Miller, "but it's not a problem because we will be in contact through e-mail and we can download the course material to work at home."

Neither of the two had any problems opening their individual learning accounts. "All the work was done for us by Fife Enterprise and the bank. We simply filled out a form. If these ILAs didn't exist, we would have to go to night classes and pay for it all ourselves," says Bissett. "This gives you more time and that helps to motivate you".

For Miller, the ILA is now part of a career strategy. "In time, I'd like to go as high as possible with the company. The ILA system makes getting the qualifications easier in order to get on in professional life."

Further details from Gail Sibbald, Fife Enterprise, 01592 623000.

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