Training and Enterprise Councils have trumpeted the Government's latest performance figures as evidence of "excellent performance and value for money". Such self-congratulation is understandable. Since the creation of the Department for Education and Employment, the 81 TECs have been nervous about their future, wondering if they will have a role - especially a training role - in the new millennium.
The figures do indeed show improvement. Across England and Wales, the proportion of adults who secure a job after a Training For Work programme has increased by 34 per cent. At the same time, the cost of achieving some sort of qualification, job or period of further training has been cut by 32 per cent. Also, several individual TECs - most obviously Essex, whose "positive outcome" performance increased by over 200 per cent - have made remarkable strides.
And yet, given the overall Training For Work qualification and employment record, these apparent strides are more like pigeon steps. Six out of ten adults do not achieve a national vocational qualification of any kind after a TFW programme. If this is cause for concern, the fact that seven out of ten adults do not find a job is cause for some serious rethinking. Clearly, for too many unemployed people, who enrol with great expectations, the TFW programme is nothing more than a ticket to stand still: they move from no job to no job. It is therefore worrying that the Government is exhibiting a depressing poverty of ambition on the TECs' behalf. James Paice, the minister responsible for TECs, hopes that 50 per cent of TFW participants will be finding jobs by 1998: a drab aim for a training-for-work scheme.
Also worrying is the persistent variation in TEC performance. For example, those enrolling on a TFW programme through East Lancashire are more than three times as likely to get a job as those enrolling through Bedfordshire. Likewise, those enrolling through Cambridgeshire are nearly four times as likely to leave with a national vocational qualification than those enrolling through Powys. This partly explains why only 28 TECs have so far been awarded a Government licence. The TECs have a long, hard battle ahead of them. It is not going to be easy to justify their continued existence with further education colleges - appetites sharpened perhaps by restrictions on their higher education activities - sniping from the side, eager to take over the TECs' training budgets. Perhaps the choice of former NATO general Sir Garry Johnson as the next chairman of the TEC National Council is less curious than it looks.
The THES summer leaders by the heads of the research councils and the Humanities Research Board are available in the Opinion section of THESIS, the THES Internet Service.