Money that makes for work mobility;TECs

26th June 1998 at 01:00
If you can't have one job for life, a life of learning may help you find jobs. Helen Hague looks at learning accounts.

In Gloucestershire, the Training and Enterprise council did not wait for a Government Green Paper on Lifelong Learning to set up accounts which enable citizens to invest in and get help with training costs.

Now the Government is working on a national framework for individual learning accounts - and the training council is passing on knowledge gleaned from running Skill accounts, first piloted in the county in 1995, to officials at the Department for Education and Employment.

Gloucestershire Training and Enterprise Council launched the venture with the Midland Bank, after getting funds from the Single Regeneration Budget. Those opening accounts get a subsidy of up to pound;150 from the council. To qualify for this amount, they have to have saved pound;350 towards the cost of their chosen course.

Graham Hoyle, Gloucestershire training council's chief executive explains:

"The idea is to give people a leg-up and a subsidy to encourage people to train and use the account as a long-term savings plan, building up a fund for the future. People in jobs who don't see the immediate need to get more skills are also encouraged to think about a time when they may have to change jobs". The scheme chimes in with notions of the death of a job-for-life and the need for individuals to update their skills to help ensure they are equipped for career changes.

Midland Bank has made a commitment to refine the model, in line with the national infrastructure to deliver accounts through 'smart cards' to a million people next year.

Those involved in 11 planned pilots will get pound;150 from the Government to kick off their account - and are expected to chip in at least pound;25 themselves. They can use the account to buy academic or practical courses to supplement their education. Linking up to financial institutions to handle the accounts is a crucial plank of the building up a nationwide infrastructure.

The scheme will be the trial for the Lifelong Learning Initiative the Government announced in February. Ministers hope it will eventually enable any adult to open a learning account. Training councils will be responsible for establishing the first million accounts and putting in the public contribution of pound;150 to start them up. Discussions are still going on about whether these accounts should be targeted at those most in need or to adopt a more mixed approach.

In Gloucestershire, 561 accounts have been opened to date, with people saving towards the cost of learning, and 153 employers are contributing. Forty seven per cent of account holders have got the savings habit, and are continuing to make contributions. They have spent the money on a range of training, from computer-aided design to homeopathy.

The Kent Learning Bursary Save To Learn Account gives residents in the county an incentive to put money aside for training. For every pound;100 people save, Kent Training and Enterprise Council will add pound;20 .

Chris Humphries, chief executive of the National TEC Council believes accounts have the potential to transform access to learning. He believes learner choice should be driving the system: "Put the cash in the hands of the customer - and let them decide", although the Government has not yet adopted this radical agenda.

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