Industry prefers slower reform

October 15, 1999

Responses to Learning to Succeed, the white paper on 16 to 19-year-olds

Captains of industry have fired a broadside at the government's plans for an overhaul of post-16 education and training.

Proposals to scrap training and enterprise councils and create a national learning and skills council will lead to over-centralisation, too much bureaucracy and turn off many employers, the Confederation of British Industry warned this week.

In its response to the white paper Learning to Succeed, the CBI condemns the proposals as "a step in the wrong direction".

It says the 18-month transition from the old to the new system is already "characterised by uncertainty". This will lead to "a slow-down in progress towards the National Learning Targets, a serious decline in the performance of TECs, and the loss of the best TEC directors and staff".

Although the proposed system has a "clear rationale", it is "untested in practice" and "it is not so far clear that it will meet employers' needs for highly skilled young people and flexible, business-friendly systems for work-based training and workforce development".

The CBI adds: "It would be a challenge to involve employers effectively with the proposals as they stand."

A better option would have been a slow evolutionary move towards a new system, based on the present one, rather than a quick, revolutionary change.

The CBI says there are three priorities that employers regard as essential. The new system must:

Deliver employability and meet skills needs through employer leadership. In practical terms this would mean a commitment to make employers the chairs of new learning and skills councils

Meet local needs through a devolved, federal and flexible system. The emphasis should be on "a bottom-up, can-do system, not on command and control from the centre"

Enhance, not undermine, the work-based training route with appropriate funding and quality systems.

In particular work-based training systems must be kept as simple as possible with minimum red tape.

Peter Clark, CBI senior policy adviser, said employers were not convinced that it was right to dismantle the TEC system. The problem with effectively creating a quango for post-16 education and training is that it would be unable to respond quickly to local needs. "It will be all too easy for this to just pull power to the centre so that you have a nationally determined strategy for manpower and purchasing education and training," said Mr Clark.

"The problem with that is that it's not flexible to local needs. We are not in an environment where there is a national labour market.

"For most people, and certainly for those below professional level, you must have a local dimension," he added.

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