Sector skills plans still fail to impress

first_img Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Employers say they are confused, not enthused, by the announcement of a newnational skills network to replace the NTOs. Elaine Essery finds out whyElaborate charade or visionary tactic? The jury is out on governmentproposals to establish an employer-led network of Sector Skills Councils and anindependent Sector Skills Development Agency to police it. Delegates at October’s employer skills summit and NTO National Councilconference heard announcements from Education and Skills Secretary EstelleMorris and Adult Skills Minister John Healey on plans to bring about astep-change in the planning and delivery of education and training to meetemployer needs. They are detailed in Meeting the Sector Skills and ProductivityChallenge, the Government’s response to the Building a Stronger Networkconsultation on the future on NTOs. Just how the new set-up will work remains unclear and a development guidesetting out how the network can be formed is expected this month. What is clear is that the 72 existing NTOs will cease to be recognised inMarch 2002. A much smaller number of bodies will be awarded licences by the SSDA tobecome SSCs. Fitness for purpose, critical mass of employer support and sectorscale will be key licensing criteria. By the end of November, six trailblazer SSCs will be announced to setstandards for others to follow. These are likely to include some of the mosteffective NTOs as well as new groupings of sector employers. Employer-led groups will then be invited to submit proposals to become SSCs.Some may be built on the strongest NTOs, but the Government believes that onlya small minority of NTOs are currently fit to deliver the remit of SSCs. Exceptional funding will be granted to NTOs working towards SSC proposals orwhere essential sector-related work needs to continue. ConcernsGovernment recognises employers’ concerns that the present system seems dominatedby colleges and training providers rather than consumers. In return for their buy-in, it is promising employers an influential voicein a system of demand-led, cradle-to-grave education and training provision. NTO National Council chief executive Andy Powell sees great potential forthe new network to have a big impact. “Individually NTOs do good things for their industry, but collectivelythe network is quite simply not making a difference to school curricula,qualifications, higher education or where the LSC in England spends all itsmoney. NTOs weren’t set up to do that,” he says. “The deal is that employers coming together in larger, strategic unitswill have a determining influence to improve the whole education, learning andskills system. Employers have to trust Government on that.” Frustrated But there is distrust among employers. Many are cynical and frustrated atwhat they see as an unnecessary reinvention of the wheel. Michael Parkinson, president of engineering company Airedale Springs,supports the idea of NTOs, but is critical that they were allowed toproliferate. “Why can’t the Government have the guts to say there’s nothing wrongwith NTOs in principle, but that they need pruning and encouraging to cometogether. In a sense, that’s what they’re doing, but yet again we have toexperience the confusion of renaming and rebranding them,” he says. Parkinson wholeheartedly agrees that employers matter and that sectors areimportant. Had the former Tec director not experienced the ragged transitionfrom Tecs to LSCs, he would probably have been happy with the policy statement.”It’s a good document and, taken in isolation, it reads well,” hesays. “But in terms of what’s behind it, I’m more cynical. I, like manyemployers, have lost patience with the ways in which Government operates. “I’m sick of politicians reinventing things and repairing things whichdon’t need repairing. And I don’t think I’m on my own.” He isn’t. “I think the Government is again confusing everyone,”says John Bambery, MD of Lancastrian Labels and Print, and chairman of thePrint and Graphic Communication NTO. “NTOs were only set up a few years ago, and we’ve had great difficultyin explaining to employers what NTOs are. They’ve now come up with somethingnew, as if to reinvent the wheel, and, again, no-one seems to know exactly howit’s going to work. It’s going to be a re-education exercise in getting throughto employers,” he says. Bambery is critical of the failure of successive governments to follow throughtraining initiatives to their final conclusion before making changes whenthings appear not to be working. It makes the task of engaging employers allthe more difficult. “The Government fails to recognise that a vast number of companies inall sectors have no desire to have anything to do with training. It’s verydifficult to involve them when they don’t see an end gain and regard it as morebureaucracy.” Graham Wescott is chairman of GJ Holdings – a group of companies operatingin road haulage, warehousing, distribution, shipping and forwarding. “I can’t trust the Government,” he says. “It started from asituation where it wanted something less than 72 NTOs, but there ought to be aneasier way of getting rid of some of the dead wood without having to go throughthis charade of consultation, reassessment and making sectors gettogether.” Wescott, who is also chairman of the Road Haulage and Distribution TrainingCouncil, is concerned that road haulage may become part of a much biggertransport SSC which will fail to meet sector needs. “We work with other transport NTOs now and we all have differentproblems. If you have too big a sector with lots of little sectors underneath,it will just create a monolythic structure which achieves nothing.” It is a concern shared by employers in the broadcasting sector representedby Skillset. But Peter Meier, head of human resources at Channel 4, is encouraged thatfitness for purpose will be key. “Skillset has good support from theindustry and is already achieving much of what the Government is aimingfor,” he says. “The worry we had was that it would be put togetherwith other ex-NTOs in a larger grouping which may not have been appropriate asfar as we were concerned.” Others welcome rationalisation into larger units. Dr Michael Sanderson,chief executive of EMTA, the NTO for engineering manufacture, says, “Ithink it will make a difference and it’s the right way to go. What I’d like tosee is, say, 25 bodies of equal strength. “One of the problems is that there’s a lot of in-fighting because we’redifferent sorts of organisations. A smaller number of organisations that aremore or less the same, with more or less the same income and number of staff,would find it easier to co-operate.” ExperienceKaren Price, chief executive of the e-skills NTO, has direct experience ofthe benefits of rationalisation. Over a period of 18 months, she saw three NTOsmerge to form the present IT sector NTO. “Now we’re at the end of the process, we’re much stronger and more capableand we have a much bigger voice as an NTO because of the rationalisation,”she says. Price foresees no difficulties in adapting to SSC requirements, and isthoroughly positive. “Our employers are delighted that they’re going tohave a far greater role to play in the skills agenda and realise that workingwith us collectively they can make a bigger difference than trying to tacklethings individually,” Price says. “There are issues that need clarifying, but I genuinely believe theGovernment intent is there to get it right and I think we as employers andemployer-owned organisations can work with the Government until we do get itright.” Financing future arrangements is an issue. Funding for the new sector networkis set to double in 2002/2003 and treble the following year. Each SSC willreceive up to £1m a year, but Meier believes it is not enough to meet all theGovernment requires of SSCs. “Employers in our industry give quite a lot of money to Skillset – lastyear Channel 4 gave £625,000 in all. In the current environment, we’re notgoing to be able to increase our contribution and it will be the same forothers in the sector,” he says. “Government is being over-ambitious in what it can achieve with itsfunding. It’s got to review that.” And there is disappointment in progress so far. Delegates had hoped Healeywould give details of how to bid to become an SSC but, says Sanderson, “Weheard nothing more than the minister told us at a briefing a month before.”Absence of agreement from the devolved administrations on this UK-wideinitiative is thought to be behind the delay. “EMTA will certainly beputting in a bid to represent engineering with the full support of theemployer, trade union and institutions community. But, apart from lobbying,there’s very little we can do formally now.” Powell understands the negativity expressed by some parties and concludes,”I think the vision is right and I’m hopeful about a lot of things. Thebig issue for Government is its ability to manage this change and thetransition effectively and on that I think there are questions at themoment.” SSC countdownNovember 2001– SSC network development guide published– Advertisements for chairperson and chief exec of SSDA appear– Trailblazer SSCs announcedDecember 2001– Advertisements for the board of the SSDA appear– Trailblazer SSC development contracts agreedJanuary/February 2002– Chairperson and chief executive of SSDA appointed– SSDA begins work. Senior management recruited and staffseconded from government departments, devolved administrations and the NTOnetwork to run the agency – SSC proposals acceptedMarch 2002– NTO recognition ceases– Contracting for exceptional continuing funding for NTOscompleted April 2002– SSDA fully operational – Contracting for mainstream SSC development completed– Awarding of contracts to SSCs commencesAugust 2002– Exceptional funding to NTOs ceases – SSDA takes responsibility for sectors not covered by a SSC Sector skills plans still fail to impressOn 1 Nov 2001 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more