'We don't believe people leave education behind when they enter the world of work'

28th May 2010 at 01:00
Do employers invest enough in staff training? The UK has wrestled with the question for years but the answer is crucial to its economic future. Alan Thomson reports on three companies leading the way

Two recent reports provide a fascinating insight into the tensions that still exist between employers and the state-funded education sector in the UK.

Last week's annual skills survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) put total employer investment in training at pound;39 billion a year - dwarfing the pound;25 billion spent by the state.

A week earlier FE Focus reported that the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning found the true figure for employer investment to be closer to pound;16 billion, with the difference being the cost of employees' time spent on training, which is factored into calculations.

The CBI countered with evidence showing that two in five employers are forced to run courses in basic literacy and numeracy for those fresh out of school and college.

More than two-thirds of employers also found workplace skills - covering factors such as teamwork, problem solving and time keeping - to be lacking in school and colleges leavers.

So is business right to complain about having to pick up the pieces of an apparently underperforming state-funded education and training system? Or should employers put their money where their mouths are and pay for more of their own training? The answer, as is often the case, is both "yes" and "no".

Buried deep within the CBI report is an illuminating graph showing the current involvement in apprenticeships by company size. It will come as no surprise that smaller companies are less involved than big players.

But what may surprise is the scale of involvement by companies with more than 5,000 employees. Nine out of ten of these large employers offer apprenticeships, compared with 17 per cent of companies with 50 or fewer employees and just half of those with between 200 and 499 staff.

The truth of the matter is that many leading UK companies - and not all of them are giants - invest a lot in training, often delivering world-class skills through innovative means.

Here, FE Focus takes a look at three very different companies that are committed to training and have distinct approaches that show what employers can achieve.

Of course, this still leaves too many smaller employers, including many quite sizeable companies, failing to engage sufficiently with education and training. And given that small- and medium-sized businesses employ 44 per cent of the workforce, this remains a problem.

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