Businesses are reporting bottom-line benefits from Train to Gain, but despite the valued added by training they are no more likely now than in previous years to pay for it themselves, according to a new Ofsted report.
Employers valued the enhanced skills of employees who had undergone training as part of the Train to Gain programme, says the report, The Impact of Train to Gain on Skills in Employment for 200809.
Some said it had made them more successful in tendering for contracts as they now had a more highly qualified workforce. Others said training had led to more efficient working practices, fewer customer complaints and reductions in staff turnover.
Accordingly, the survey of the Train to Gain provision run by 40 providers showed that employers were highly satisfied with the training available.
It showed that the programme, which is currently in difficulty as demand has outstripped budget, had driven up demand for training from employers, although most of the 11,000 employees covered by the review were in industries where training was obligatory, such as the care sector and construction.
However, the state-funded provision reviewed by Ofsted appeared to do nothing to increase employers' willingness to pay for their own training.
Only three providers used their Train to Gain relationships with employers to stimulate employers' investment in further training, the review said.
Inspectors said most responses reflected the view that Train to Gain was a funded programme offering free training for employees and, as such, had a limited role in helping to establish a demand-led system of training.
The tendency to see Train to Gain as discrete and self-contained was underlined by the fact that providers gave inspectors little sense that they saw it as part of a local or regional plan for provision to meet local economic needs.
Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at the Department of Management, King's College London, has just published a paper calling for Train to Gain to be scrapped on the grounds that employers do not need public subsidy to train staff.
She said: "Ofsted rely, inevitably, on employer responses and reports. Since the training was totally free and they have absolutely nothing to lose by being positive, it would be amazing if they didn't come back with favourable comments.
"We also know that repeated studies have suggested that it is mostly dead weight in terms of employer spending - in other words, training they would have paid for themselves - and the report doesn't even address that. Nothing here changes my mind - it's a gross misallocation of funds."
The report noted that Train to Gain did raise qualification levels in the workforce, with most employees who start a course completing it and gaining a level 2 national vocational qualification.
But few employees progressed any further, to level 3 and beyond.
This was largely because most Train to Gain qualifications are NVQs delivered at level 2. As NVQs are based on competency standards for different occupations, employees are highly unlikely to progress to level 3 without promotion.
Providers were criticised for poor use of individual learning plans, target-setting and progress reviews which could have helped employees to progress.
Inspectors also found that Skills for Life provision in language, literacy and numeracy was insufficient in two-thirds of cases, due partly to a lack of appropriately trained staff.
John Hayes, shadow further education minister, said: "This report confirms that the Government's workplace training schemes are not operating anywhere near as effectively as they should be.
"With unemployment rising, it is vital that the Government gets a grip. The Train to Gain scheme should be radically overhauled to concentrate on giving people real apprenticeship training that they and employers actually need."
A spokesperson for the Learning and Skills Council said: "We are pleased that so many employers are training their staff and benefiting from Train to Gain, especially at this time in the economic downturn."
The LSC said Train to Gain had engaged 152,000 employers and had started 1.4 million people in training since it began in 2006. It also said 72 per cent of employees who had been through a Train to Gain programme planned to do a higher-level qualification in the next three years.
"The service has been instrumental in making workplace training more responsive to the needs of employers, and the flexibilities on offer have helped to increase learner numbers rapidly so more employees benefit," the spokesperson said.
"The new Skills Funding Agency is being custom-designed to work with employers, colleges and providers to ensure that it delivers for learners and employers within a demand-led system, both regionally and nationally."
Joy Mercer, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges have responded extremely well to the Train to Gain agenda and have improved delivery since Ofsted's report in 2007-08.
"But if Train to Gain does not lead to progression and employers are in control of that, then is this value for money?"
- Employees improved their knowledge, skills and qualification levels
- Education in basic English, maths and IT education through Skills for Life was insufficient
- Progression rates beyond level 2 qualifications were poor
- Too few employees gained qualifications before the end of their programmes
- Employers were highly satisfied and identified benefits for their business
- The direct involvement of employers was a key factor in employees' success
- Target-setting and monitoring of employees' progress was sometimes poor
- Most of the employers engaging in Train to Gain operate in sectors with legislative or established industry requirements for training
- The level of recruitment to Train to Gain via the skills brokerage service was low.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should:
- Improve uptake and quality of Skills for Life training
- Develop eligibility criteria to help employees to progress to higher level
- Establish consistent approaches to data on employee progress
- Prioritise funding for sectors in most need.