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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 05:48 GMT
Can we fix the skills shortage?
Builders generic
Some critics say not enough money is spent on the right kind of skills
The government agency charged with closing the nation's skills gap receives more money than the Royal Navy.

Yet critics believe the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) presides over a funding mismatch - either training too many people for the jobs available or not training enough people with the right kind of skills.

The LSC will receive 11bn this year, at a time when the nation is still short of properly qualified bricklayers, electricians, plumbers and other skilled tradespeople.

And even the government's new skills envoy, Sir Digby Jones, is scathing about the funding results so far from the collection of government agencies and quangos involved in skills training

'Not delivering'

Sir Digby, the former CBI leader, told BBC Radio Four's File On 4: "It is what I call the British Leyland model - you put a lot of money in at the top and an Austin Allegro comes out at the bottom.

"The money has not been spent in the right way and it is not delivering what the employers want."

One employer who would agree is Dianne Johnson, a director of an electrical contractors and engineering firm in Cheshire, who desperately needs to train skilled electricians but cannot get government help.

Sir Digby Jones
The money has not been spent in the right way and it is not delivering what the employers want
Sir Digby Jones
A government initiative called Train to Gain claims to help improve people's skills but Mrs Johnson believes it has a fatal flaw.

"In our industry, it's a waste of time because most of the people that apply to us for a job have reached the same level of education that the scheme trains people to reach," she says, adding that the bar has been set too low for government help with skills training.

The LSC maintains the scheme is working well and pointed File On 4 to Crewe Alexandra Football Club.

The League One side is now getting its stewards trained under the new scheme - including people who have been doing the job for 20 to 30 years.

Some of the club's experienced staff feel they already have the skills they are being trained in.

Professor Frank Corfield, of the University of London, has studied the Train to Gain initiative. He said the pilot projects for the scheme showed a high proportion of firms would have carried out the training anyway.

Funding 'anomalies'

Even when the money does go to companies which would be hard to reach, he says his research shows that "as soon as the money stops, the training stops".

The LSC also provides large amounts of money for vocational courses in further education colleges but even the funding methodology can cause anomalies.

It is highly likely that of the 130 students enrolling to train in basic plumbing skills at Grimsby Institute - there will only be 50 vacancies for the apprenticeships to get the vital on-the-job training as a professional plumber.

Colleges get funded per student and it is in their interests to recruit students regardless of the local job market.

Ministers hope to plug the skills gap

"The LSC needs to change its funding methodology to address the skills gap rather than give the students any course they want," said Jim Branney, a senior lecturer at Grimsby Institute.

However, LSC national director of strategy Rob Wye insists that initiatives such as Train to Gain are moves towards a new demand-led system.

This will see people trained "in line with employer demand and so overtime will ensure that demand and supply are fully matched".

And Skills Minister Phil Hope asserts government policy has touched 58% of employers who have never trained before.

"We see much more employers being engaged, they have a much greater influence over priorities and how resources are channelled," he said.

However, the progress is too slow for Sir Digby.

"It is like turning an oil tanker round - I want to sort it out," he said.

Hear the full story on Radio 4: File on 4 Tue 20 Feb 2007 at 2000 GMT

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