Time to cut out the expensive middle man?

24th July 2009 at 01:00

There is a nice, if bitter, irony in the fact that Train to Gain has failed to deliver value for money (page 31) when the training itself is provided by an FE sector renowned for running education and training with shoestring efficiency.

Might it have something to do with the fact that Train to Gain is a vast, state-authored, demand-led, hugely complex, poorly managed initiative grafted on to the FE system? It is a rhetorical question about a training initiative from which it is hard to tell who actually gained what.

Taxpayers certainly haven't gained much, with Pounds 1.4 billion of their hard- earned deductions spent on a scheme that seems to offer more phut than bang for buck.

Around half a million employees had gained a qualification through Train to Gain by April this year and that's despite success rates as low as 8 per cent. And for more than half of those, Train to Gain provided their first qualification. It would be churlish to call this anything other than a gain for those individuals, particularly those who got promoted or received a pay rise as a result.

Providers and employers have gained a share of the Pounds 1.4bn for training. But the feast is now followed by famine after the brakes were slammed on the hugely oversubscribed initiative. This has left many providers unable to deliver on contracts, which has seriously damaged the goodwill between the Learning and Skills Council and providers, and between providers and their employer clients.

Many employers also report little short-term benefit to profitability and have complained that they were sold off-the-peg training to problems that required a bespoke solution. This last point highlights a fundamental problem with Train to Gain as originally conceived and implemented. It was too top-down and too remote an initiative to properly broker employer demand and training supply.

Some of the best examples of employer-provider collaboration have arisen from conversations held locally between the two parties, without the need for an expensive brokerage service. A way of encouraging and funding a simpler, more direct and more responsive relationship between employers and providers is needed.

Additional flexibilities have been built into Train to Gain but, with goodwill so damaged on all sides, it may be too late to save the scheme in the longer term.

Alan Thomson, FE Focus Editor; E: alan.thomson@tsleducation.com.

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