Ministers claim the skills audit in the White Paper shows the UK's lifetime learning system in a superior light. But the report itself warns against such comparisons, writes Ian Nash. "Unfortunately, because of the traditional concentration upon initial education and training, there are few statistics about lifetime learning in the five countries, and even fewer easily comparable statistics," the report says.
Within the European Union, labour force surveys yield some comparable results for employees aged 25 to 59 in training. But the latest figures are for 1993 and indicate only the percentage of employees who have received training "within the last four weeks".
On the four countries which have the statistics, the US come out ahead with 16 per cent, the UK is a close second with 14 per cent, Germany has 5 per cent and France 3 per cent. The growth trend is encouraging for the UK, with the percentage of the workforce in training going up by half from a 1984 low of 9.2 per cent.
But the figures ignore those Germans who do not need training since they have gone through high quality apprenticeships. Nor do they account for the duration of training. Companies which put many employees through short courses score higher than those which have been committed to longer-term training programmes.
The report concludes: "The evidence is mixed, and we have to conclude that we do not know whether UK employers do more or less training than employers in the comparator countries, or whether it is more or less effective. It is clearly wrong, however, to conclude from the evidence that they do less."