Train all workers until 19, says think-tank
The report of the Commission on Public Policy and British Business concludes that Britain's education and training system is under-performing. There is a long tail of under-achievers and levels of numeracy, literacy and adaptability are so low among large sections of the current workforce and school-leavers that business performance is suffering.
The commission, chaired by Professor George Bain, principal of the London Business School, consists of leading academics and senior business leaders, including Lord Hollick, the chief executive of United News and Media, Sir Christopher Harding, the chairman of Legal and General, and supermarket chief David Sainsbury.
The report says some young people stay on at school, often retaking a low-level qualification when they would be better off with practical training in a commercial environment. Moreover, schools have a financial incentive to keep young people enrolled, and may understate the advantages of apprenticeships or sandwich courses. At the same time, roughly 20 per cent of the 16-19 age group are in work without any guaranteed access to training at all.
The report says both these problems can be tackled by a single policy: mandatory traineeships for all workers aged under 19. Everyone, either still in the education system or working, should aim to reach at least GNVQ level 2 by the age of 19. Employers would need to release employees for the equivalent of eight hours a week for off-the-job vocational education.
Another aim is to remove impediments to lifelong learning. It recommends that funding biases in adult education should be eliminated by making all sub-degree courses free and charging partial fees for all part and full-time degree courses.
At present, full-time degree students receive maintenance grants whereas other students have to support themselves. "With so distorted a system it is not surprising that we produce so few people with first-degree-level vocational qualifications."
The report singles out training and enterprise councils as potentially the most important agents at local level for encouraging and enabling more employers to train and develop their workforce. TEC funding needed to be more flexible.
Most of their funding goes on youth training (Pounds 700 million) and training for the unemployed (Pounds 550 million). The report says they should have greater flexibility to promote employee training, particularly in small firms. Only one in 10 small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has had any contact with its local TEC about training.
The low quality of some British managers was a continuing problem. One solution would be to extend a "Business Angel" approach into the training area. There were examples of this among some large firms. They seconded some of their younger managers to set up and run an SME training network dealing with issues such as marketing, financial management, human-resource management and supply-chain management.
This could be encouraged with small grants to cover the salary of training angels up to a maximum of 10 days a year. Such schemes could also provide an alternative to early retirement for redundant senior or middle managers from large companies.