Potential waiting to be unlocked;TECs;Viewpoint;Opinion

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Training and Enterprise Councils want a central role in adult learning initiatives.

TODAY we have a government for learning and skills. A cornerstone of this philosophy is encouraging individuals to consider learning as a continual process, where new skills are acquired or adapted. The aim is to create a flexible workforce, able to follow a less predictable career path than has been known before.

Individual learning accounts are intended to provide a way for lifetime learning to be-come a widespread habit. I am proud that this element of the Government's agenda was an original concept proposed by training and enterprise councils and accepted by Labour in opposition in 1994. The councils are delighted their suggestion now has such high priority. I endorse this view - they are the only organisations with the necessary experience and partnership network to implement such a programme to best effect.

The training councils, especially in London, have a particular vision for learning accounts. We see them as a way for individuals to transform both their working position and earning potential. This is particularly important for people who may not be able to obtain the training they require in their workplace, or those who are dissuaded by the cost of courses. The key must be to focus the distribution of accounts to the people with the most untapped potential.

How do we ensure people take up a course that is right for them? While people must be encouraged to develop their natural interests, they must be offered responsible guidance. The myriad qualifications, colleges and ways of learning may perplex people to the point where they abandon the idea. This could be a particular pitfall if financial institutions are given exclusive responsibility for administering learning accounts. We welcome the involvement of banks and building societies, but without an intermediary offering professional and practical advice, the accounts will be a half-baked success. Without the training councils acting as watchdogs, the accounts may be squandered on courses that do not meet acceptable standards. TECs may also be able to ensure the best value for money is secured.

In London, we are developing the Skills Strategy, which will address many of these issues. We also recognise that it will be essential to gain employer support. We are already putting these principles into action in pilot projects. AZTEC, the south west London TEC, has joined forces with training provider TALENT, Westminster College and Wandsworth Economic Development Office to pilot learning accounts for people in Battersea . As the redevelopment of the power station creates 5,000 jobs, people will be able to prepare for new opportunities by "upskilling", exchanging their accounts for training courses at Westminster College. North London training council has also developed its existing Kickstart programme, which helps long-term unemployed people return to work, to include a learning account element.

There are still critical issues to resolve. The most important is motivation. The skills revolution may be less dramatic than those prompted by social unrest, but one common characteristic is that their success depends on the will of the people. That is something none of us connected with the introduction of accounts should ignore.

* The writer is director of the TEC London Council.

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