'Recycle the talent pool'

3rd August 2007 at 01:00

Simply getting qualified may not be enough businesses can boost workers' skills if they know how

EFFORTS TO improve the skills of the nation could be wasted by businesses who do not know how to make the most of employees' talents, MPs have warned.

The House of Commons education select committee said the Government's approach to skills, guided by Lord Leitch's report, assumed that it was enough to ensure more people obtained qualifications.

While the Government's commitment to skills was praised, experts consulted by the committee said the UK needed to do more research and development, investment in capital projects and planning its workforce needs before it could properly benefit from higher qualifications.

Professor Ewart Keep, from a skills research centre run by Oxford and Cardiff universities, said: "I think one of our biggest weaknesses is our inability to get skills policies aligned with how we think about economic development and until we do, a lot of money will be wasted, because it will not be used properly in the workplace.

"I think Leitch is quite misleading and a lot of effort will go into chasing targets, which we can meet, but won't transform the economy."

Some countries identified as having higher skills than the UK, such as Canada and New Zealand, did not have higher productivity levels, supporting the claim that more qualifications was not the whole solution.

Further concerns were provoked by the broker system in the Government's flagship skills programme, Train to Gain, which is expected to get people most of the qualifications Leitch demands. "In some cases, brokers may be succeeding only in adding an extra, unwelcome layer of bureaucracy," the committee said.

Marianne Cavalli, principal of Croydon College, said employers came to her direct and had to be turned back to go through brokers. "They may come back through the broker system but they may not," she said.

"There are fundamental issues on the capacity and the strength and, I think, the connections which the current broker services have."

Other colleges, such as those in the 157 Group, said the focus on qualifications was diverting attention away from employers' biggest wish: to be able to obtain "bite-sized" training modules when they needed them, which could build up into full qualifications over time.

The new credit-based Qualifications and Curriculum Framework is intended to provide this, although funding is weighted towards full qualifications.

Some employers questioned Lord Leitch's claims about the rate of decline of low-skilled jobs. The Business Services Association, which represents companies providing outsourced services such as cleaning, warned that overskilled staff may be disappointed because their jobs and pay may not keep pace with qualifications.

The committee was also critical of the dramatic fall in adult education places, caused by the change in funding priorities.

It said the Government's promises on personal and community development learning "falls far short of what is required and will do nothing to address the recent substantial fall in the number of adults learning". Disabled people and those with the lowest level of skills would suffer the most, it said.

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