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CBI brands skills system ‘dysfunctional’

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The national skills system is ‘dysfunctional’, seen by many employers as ‘irrelevant’ and is letting down the country, according to the CBI.

The comments came as the CBI unveiled its own four-point plan ahead of the Leitch Report on skills, expected to be published on 6 December, and called on the government to put an end to the mismatch between the £3 billion in publicly-funded workforce training and employers’ skills needs.

In addition, the CBI believes the UK needs a new careers advice system, reform of skills qualifications, and a pruning of the current ‘alphabet soup’ of skills quangos.

Richard Lambert, CBI director-general, said: “Globalisation means that we have to raise our game on skills and prepare for a future UK labour market where there are far fewer jobs for the unskilled.

“Upskilling the economy goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to an open market in which nobody gets left behind.

“While UK firms already make a greater investment in training than our competitor countries, much more needs to be done, and business is ready to play its part.

“We need the right package of support from Government as well as effective incentives for individuals. But at present the skills system is failing to deliver value for money – employers find much of the available publicly-funded training irrelevant and individuals are not offered the support they need.”

The Leitch Report was commissioned by Gordon Brown to investigate the UK skills crisis, and the interim report stated that opportunities for unskilled workers will shrivel from 3.4 million today to 600,000 by 2020, reflecting the urgent need to raise skill levels.

Low levels of basic skills are a significant problem – a fifth of the workforce currently lacks the basic literacy and numeracy expected of an 11-year-old.

The CBI has identified four areas of concern:


  • The £3 billion of spending on FE colleges is failing to deliver – out of the £33 billion spent on training by employers only a small fraction is spent on FE courses and only 15 per cent of employers have had any contact with their local FE college

  • There are nearly 6,000 vocational qualifications in the UK, many of which have been designed by consultants, rather than employers, making them of doubtful economic value

  • The careers advisory service fails to support all students and adults – two-thirds of staff offering careers advice are not qualified and 50 per cent of 16-19 year olds at college have not received any advice at all

  • The plethora of government skills bodies and initiatives designed to support employers has become unwieldy and incomprehensible – less than 50 per cent of employers have received useful information from many of the 49 different government skills bodies in the UK.

The CBI’s four point plan calls for government action in the following areas:


  • Scrap the current system of ring-fenced government funding for FE colleges by channelling money through the Train to Gain system. A large part of this funding would still go to the many excellent FE colleges – but it would ensure that publicly-funded workforce training was relevant to employers’ needs

  • Create a desperately-needed, new professional careers advisory service for all students and adults, available online and providing vital information, advice and guidance to young people and adults

  • Place employers in the driving seat of designing qualifications in a way that reflects the skills needed by the economy. This can be achieved by ensuring that employer-led sector skills councils are able to decide which qualifications are fit for purpose, and ensure that employers’ own training can be accredited

  • Cut the bewildering number of skills bodies and create a simplified system that offers effective support and guidance. A free skills MOT should be offered to all small employers to shows the bottom line benefits of training.

Richard Lambert added: “To equip the economy for the challenges of globalisation ahead, we have to put employer needs centre stage. The current system does not match public funding and support with what is needed to improve low skills and raise low productivity.

“The careers system is going backwards, there are too many agencies trying but often failing to support firms, and the government’s £3 billion funding is too often spent on courses that are irrelevant to the workplace.

“We don’t want another shuffling of the deckchairs within a dysfunctional system. Instead a closer relationship between businesses and training could really help us face globalisation with confidence.”

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