Firms say no thanks to training
pound;94m goes unspent as half of businesses contacted by Train to Gain brokers fail to send workers on level 2 courses
LESS THAN half of the businesses contacted by brokers for the Government's flagship Train to Gain programme are actually sending any staff for training.
Because student numbers were lower than expected, about a third of the first year's pound;268 million budget pound;94m went unspent.
Although the Learning and Skills Council, the further education planning and funding body, is celebrating beating its first-year target for "engaging" employers in the scheme, it admits student numbers are not as buoyant.
More than 52,000 businesses have met skills brokers to discuss their training needs the target figure was 33,000 but just 20,000 of these have employees studying for their first level 2 qualification, equivalent to five good GCSEs.
Colleges say they recruit most of their Train to Gain business themselves, rather than using the brokerage service, which next year will cost pound;36 million.
Julian Gravatt, the Association of Colleges' director of funding and development, said a survey earlier this year had shown that just 5 per cent of Train to Gain placements provided by colleges come via brokers.
"Colleges have worked out that they're not going to get very much from brokers. I think some of the other successful training providers have too," he said.
"Train to Gain is basically two systems: an advice service for employers, and supporting them in training low-skilled workers. They are almost completely different.
"You could say the LSC is meeting its target, but is it the right target?"
The LSC said its figures showed that, overall, brokers were responsible for bringing in about half of the students funded by the programme at colleges and private providers.
But Glenn Robinson, director of Train to Gain at the LSC, said it was more important at this stage to reach out to employers who had no track record of formal training.
"The most important thing about the skills brokerage system is its completely impartial," he said. "We are not trying to push products, level 2s or anything else.
"There are 20,000 free leads here. Where else in industry does that happen?
"These are employers who could be with you for a year, providing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds in business."
It is important that the scheme is reaching the right types of businesses, he said. More than seven out of 10 are small or medium-sized companies, traditionally the least likely to train.
A similar proportion have never carried out formal training before, proving that Train to Gain has improved on the employer training pilots, which were criticised for funding training that businesses would have paid for themselves.
Brokers are not responsible for all of the failures to bring employees into the system from willing businesses. Mr Robinson said that for some employers level 2 qualifications were not needed and their business needs might be better served by other action, such as referring them to JobCentre Plus to recruit new staff.
The success rates of providers in using referrals varies widely, with the best managing to get staff trained in 93 per cent of cases, while the worst failed to get anyone trained.
The Association of Learning Providers, which represents hundreds of companies involved in Train to Gain, is calling for changes to the system to encourage more employers to take up the offer of free training. It said there needs to be more flexibility, with employers able to choose a wider range of qualifications and part qualifications than just a full level 2.
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