Train or else, warn academics

8th August 1997 at 01:00
Employers should be prosecuted if they take on young people and do not train them, a new report suggests.

The proposal comes from researchers for the Institute of Personnel and Development whose report, Working to Learn, takes a radical new look at 16-19 education and training with particular emphasis on the work-based route.

The report says that it is against the national interest for employers to provide full-time jobs without training to those under 19: "There is a need for legislation to make it illegal to employ young people for more than the equivalent of three days per week, except as part of an approved training programme." Part-time workers should get supplementary training.

The researchers, eight distinguished academics specialising in education, training and employment, said that simply tinkering with the present mechanisms would lead to "initiative fatigue".

Since the early 1980s there had been scheme after scheme - the Youth Opportunities Programme, the Youth Training Scheme, Youth Credits - and continual changes in vocational qualifications.

Yet the results were:

* young people who wanted nothing more to do with formalised learning;

* a society which has low expectations of what many young people can achieve;

* an implicit belief that many are destined for unemployment or for a life of low-skill work that needed little or no preparation;

* cynicism - "often well founded" - about the quality of Government training schemes aimed at the unemployed;

* jobs that offered no training, and;

* patchy demand from employers for a general upskilling of the workforce.

The researchers blamed a commitment to market-based education for creating low expectations. Competition between schools, and schools and colleges, and colleges and employers had been wasteful. Funding was "absurdly complex, expensive and incomprehensible".

They propose a unified structure of post-16 education and training with, as a first step, a new programme of work-based education and training. All young people not in full-time education should be entitled to participate. All employment of young people, full and part-time, should incorporate the new programme.

There should be a broad-based traineeship of at least two years to provide a planned range of work experience, general, vocational and citizenship education, occupationally relevant training and acquisition of key skills.

"A single framework is needed for youth education and training that is inclusive (academic, vocational and practical) and distinctive in both its breadth and its flexibility to respond to young people's initial and subsequent choices, strengths and learning styles. Such a framework would encompass academic and vocational, theoretical and practical, college and workplace development without the distraction of competing routes to qualification. "

The proposals will go some way to restoring the "social contract" between society and young people, which had broken down with increasing marginalisation and the risk of social exclusion.

Individual needs had to be addressed in planning learning programmes, the report says, but over-emphasis on individual responsibility for learning "dangerously ignores wider issues of social justice".

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