EMPLOYERS must be persuaded to invite colleges into the workplace to improve staff literacy and numeracy, according to the head of the Government's new adult basic skills strategy unit.
Learning at work was the best way to overcome complaints from adults that they do not have time to attend college-based programmes during evenings or weekends, Susan Pember told college principals and basic skills co-ordinators last week.
Speaking at the launch of new training materials as part of the Further Education Funding Council's basic skills quality initiative, Ms Pember, currently principal of Canterbury College, admitted it would not be easy to hit the targets that her unit had been set by the Government. She is due to take over as its director next month.
The most challenging target is that of reducing the number of adults with literacy or numeracy problems by 750,000 by 2004 - something unlikely to be achieved without creative ideas.
"Employers may not have a responsibility to pay for training, but they've a responsibility to join with learning institutions to make sure their employees have been assessed in basic skills and have the opportunity to take part in activities," she told the launch event at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
A new national test n basic skills, due to be piloted in the new year, would help to overcome scepticism in the workplace. "The plethora of qualifications make it difficult for employers to know the qualification a person has."
More than 100 basic skills facilitators, many of them tutors in colleges, have been trained to deliver training to other staff. A total of pound;1.8 million is being granted to colleges to buy-in training while the new materials, covering teaching, guidance and curriculum management will be delivered free to colleges next month.
Merillie Vaughan Huxley, a senior FEFC inspector, admitted lecturers had to convince managers of the importance of basic skills. "Teachers may be doing a reasonable job teaching and learning, but may not be well organised," she told the conference. "We need a re-think on how we teach and manage learning."
Jim Donaldson, the council's chief inspector, warned that his annual report, due to be published next week, would again highlight the fact that basic skills tuition is generally of a poorer quality than teaching in other curriculum areas.
He was pleased that facilitators would train teachers in colleges other than their own. "We've moved away from the competitive environment which was all too prevalent in the early 1990s," he said.