Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Friday, 16 November 2007

Skills drive 'to boost workforce'

Many courses are intended to be part-funded by employers

A massive skills push to fulfil a government promise of "British jobs for British workers" has been launched by the government.

The plan to upgrade the skills of England's workforce includes 3.5m basic literacy and numeracy courses.

More than seven million training places will be available from 2008, but this includes millions already running.

Overall skill levels must improve regardless of the influx of migrants, Skills Secretary John Denham said.

But critics say the creation of such basic training classes points to a failure of the education system.

It will also help ensure that nobody here is unable to get a job because it is easier to employ a skilled or better qualified migrant worker
John Denham,
Universities and Skills Secretary

Under the plan, England's Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills will invest an extra 500m a year from 2008 so that investment rises to 4.3bn by 2011.

Dius said in a statement: "The funding will provide over seven million training places over the three year spending review period from 2008/9."

There will also be 120,000 new apprenticeships for the under-25s and 30,000 places for older workers.

There will also be an extra 95,000 places for people who do not have five good GCSEs, to enable them to get those or equivalent vocational qualifications.

There are also plans to increase the number of places on level three courses - the equivalent of A-levels. They will increase by 310,000 by the end of the decade.

Many of these courses are intended to be part-funded by employers through the "train to gain" initiative.

Back on benefits

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made the job promise in high-profile speeches to both the Labour party conference and the TUC conference in September.

It is estimated that nearly a third of people of traditional working age in the UK are poorly qualified and almost seven million have problems with numeracy or literacy.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Denham said the government recognised that something had to be done to raise the employability of unskilled British workers.

Mr Denham said upgrading skills of the UK workforce was a necessity linked to staying competitive in the future, not just competition from foreign migrant workers.

Raising the skills of the worst qualified is crucial to the government's Welfare to Work strategy. Billions of pounds have been spent on the various "New Deal" strategies to get people off benefits.

But many claimants are too poorly qualified to be able to get sustainable jobs. Almost half of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants who move into work are back on benefits within six months.

But the shadow skills secretary David Willetts claimed three quarters of seven million posts announced were not new.

Economic growth

He has written to the permanent secretary in the Dius to ask him to instruct ministers to withdraw any claim that today's announcement creates seven million new training posts.

A spokesman for Dius said the training posts were not all new and that some were online courses, some apprentices and some college courses.

But he could not say how many already existed and were filled.

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the largest trade union, Unite, said there is a need in the British economy for skilled workers from both home and abroad.

"You need both, we should not pose one against the other. Here in Britain we have workers out of work and the government needs to help those workers back into work. We will also need the skills of migrant workers as well."

The chief spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Stephen Alambritis said it was the education system that needed to change.

"When recruiting school leavers, over 40% of small businesses report problems with basic, low-level skills - such as literacy and numeracy, and soft skills - such as communication.

"The need for 3.5 million basic skills courses is an acknowledgement that the education system is not performing as it should."

Below is a selection of your comments.

The basic educational standards required for a skilled work force would be achieved with the existing education system if the legal constraints of discipline were re-balanced in our school. A system of genuine consequence for disrupting the efforts of others in the classroom such as the cane or deducting the additional cost of teaching disruptive students. The benefit culture mind set requires us to reduce prospects of long term benefit claming as a lifestyle option so that learning skills for better work is the focus.
Tim Roberts, Bristol

Brilliant news for somebody like me, I wasted my school years and left with just 5 grade a-c GCSE's. I see myself as an intelligent person yet I didn't fulfil my potential during my school years and went straight into paid work, only now am i making up for lost ground. I think these measures are aimed at people like me who mature into learners later in life, i'm only now, at 24, starting to take my A-levels with a view to going onto Uni. This sounds like fantastic news for all concerned but particularly people similar to me who do want to learn but, for some reason, fall through the schooling system having not achieved what they are capable of.
Kevin Martin, Llandrindod Wells, Wales

I am 22 years old and wasn't able to complete my a-levels due to circumstances at home beyond my control.. I have eleven good GCSE's at grade A and A*, yet have no a-levels, therefore no degree, therefore am limited to the jobs I can do. To study a-levels as an adult, at evening school, costs a very large amount - making it near enough impossible to do on a low wage. I'm now stuck in a cycle of a low paid job, where I can't afford to do a-levels, therefore can't go out of my low paid job. Increasing the number of vocational courses and a-level places would help people such as myself, who are desperately trying to get a career, but don't have the necessary qualifications or means to get those qualifications.
Anon, Lancashire, UK

My son is at college learning to be an electrician, his work and marks have been excellent. But he cant get an apprenticeship and no companies are even contacting the college, at an open evening for potential employers not one even turned up. He sends out CVs but nothing. He's even offered to work for free. Apprenticeships are fine but companies need to be encouraged to take these youngsters on as well.
Andrew, Weymouth

My Son is currently in year 11 and does not want to stay on at school. He is a very able student and is predicted good GCSE grades. He wants to do an Aprenticeship in Construction. We are finding it very difficult to find a company to take him on, his school is actively trying to persuade him to stay on to do A levels, which he desperately doesn't want to do. He has even been turned down by a training company who takes on young students because he is colour blind. (He doesn't want to do electrical and this disability affects 1 in 8 of the male population) Apparently this is company policy. I think that more help needs to be provided to assist young people to find training companies and employers who are willing to take them on and put them through the training.
Sue Gothard, Uckfield

As an small employer, we used to provide apprenticeships for school and college leavers and we successfully trained about a dozen highly skilled individuals, half of whom are still with us some ten or more years after completing their training. But in 2003, West Yorkshire Learning & Skills Council abruptly decided not to carry on contracting with small businesses - they decided only to deal with organisations training 50+ 'learners' saying that they wanted to work 'strategically' with large training providers. So for the last four years we have not taken on any apprentices at all and the company is now moving its manufacturing out of the UK.

On the face of it, the plans for training places announced by Gordon Brown will be of little or no use to skilled manufacturing businesses like ours as they are mainly aimed at 'basic skills'. Moreover, most of the so-called apprenticeship places that have been announced are unlikely to be real apprenticeships as we know them, rather they will be the new 'programme-led' apprenticeships based in and delivered by further education colleges or 'training providers' with a little bit of work experience thrown in.
Mark Snee, Leeds, UK

I run a joinery workshop an i have always had problems gaining 'educated' staff. i am also a governor at a local school that has a very keen eye on vocational skills. my view is that the 'trades' have been looked down on for a long time, and now the country is paying the price. school kids should be given the option of taking trade lessons and gaining recognised quallifications without being made to feel that they were not good enough in the more academic tutoring. selfestime is very important.
richard curtis, wallington, surrey

We are a small engineering company employing 12 people including directors. In the last 4 years we have taken on 5 apprentices. None has lasted more than 6 months and the average is less than 3 months. These are all young persons tested and select by a training agency and approved for government support (which only arrives if the young person completes their training, not for the drop-outs), but they are unable or unwilling to work. It is easier to live on benefit. In addition to any Government grant these apprenticeships still cost us a lot of time and money to give the in work training. The apprentices seem to think that they have a right to the money but don't need to do any work for it. We are looking for 'foreign workers' because if they have made the effort to come to this country they probable have a better work ethic than the current 'benefit generation' of native young persons
Chris Payne, Stroud, Glos

I work for a Work Based Learning organisation dealing predominantly with young adults age 16-18. The majority of the young people we deal with are not 'job ready' and need assistance with social as well as learning issues. Our successes are not with the Apprenticeships, as these are more applicable to the better rounded individuals, but with the young socially and educationally challenged. This is due to the fact that we don't always play by the rules and have in the past (unfortunately no longer due to restrictions from the local government)afforded the time, effort and opportunity for these people to stay in learning for extended periods of time giving them the support they need. This enables the learners to build their self-esteem, trust, confidence, qualifications and skills, which in turn makes them employable. Unfortunately due to number crunching and focus on targets the government appears to have lost sight of what really works and throw money into poorly thought out programs which result in more and more young people being excluded from the support and training they need.
Jane Kamara, Croydon, UK

I work for a training company which helps unemployed people on job seekers allowance (6 months plus) to return to work. The course is ceurrently manditory for these clients. Here in Cheshire we (the team) have worked really hard to run this programme. We have some amazing results - with long term unemployed returning and sustaining work, however, the most amazing part of this funding is that our pilot scheme finishes on 31.3.08 as the Government will not continue to fund it in conjuction with the job centre. I am glad that the Government are funding apprentice training but is seems amazing that our jobs will cease and that we will be made redundant when all this money is going into training.

We have made a real difference to lives of the unemployed in Cheshire all to go to waste.
louise Orsman, Crewe, Cheshire

I work full time with Apprentices and I'm pleased to hear that the government is making this area a priority, but the increases suggested will only be achieved if there are significant benefits given to employers to offer such training places. The larger organisations are in a strong position to train young people, but small and medium employers, especially from rural areas, do not have the time or finance to spend enough resources on training apprentices from scratch. Training Providers and colleges are also in the situation where they are asked to provide essential skills tuition to 16/17 year olds at inappropriate levels just to meet government targets and priorities, which are often to the detriment of the individual. Despite the criticisms I remain convinced that the apprenticeship style of training produces the most vocationally skilled workers.
Martin Moreton, Telford

I completed a 4 year engineering apprenticeship scheme in 1994. I have since gone to gain an engineering degree. The apprenticeship gave me the initial confidence in my own future employability, to pursue things that I may not have considered without it. I am now a lecturer / assessor at a skills college, teaching on apprenticeship schemes.

Although I'm enthused by the announcement of Mr Denham and I'm confident that with the correct provision they could be delivered by institutions like mine, my concerns lie with the sustainability of a skilled workforce in an ever fluctuating construction/engineering market.
Steve Gilder, Twickenham, UK

I think this is a great idea, I completed a 4 year apprenticeship when I left school and although I am no longer in that line of work the quilifications and skills learned have helped me move on and progress. We need to get people off benefits and into work as the working man and women is paying too much to support others who could be supporting themselves. We need to start skills learning at school level, intergrate skills courses into schools and shildren who are mechanicaly minded will be interested and keen to learn and go on to work.
r p purvis, seaham

My son is nearly 18 and is in his second year of an electrical apprenticship and has just had a 1p an hour pay rise which takes him to 3.40 per hour, he is trying to save for a car and driving lessons. He see some of his school mated working at Mcdonalds and earning minimum wage, over 5.00 per hour, this seems a bit unfair and we have to try to keep him motivated. Regards Julie Hinton
julie hinton, oldbury

Back when the government was pushing NVQs as the next big thing a company sent a letter extolling the virtues to my employer (Early 00s). My employer thought it was a good idea and it didn't cost them anything - so I was placed on the NVQs the company recommended - Administration & Customer Service. I imagine the company got paid extra for signing me up to two NVQs. However it then transpired that my job wasn't suitable for the NVQs I was on and I had the devils own time getting evidence - stretching the truth in some cases. The assessor had a habit of not turning up and not informing you of why she wasn't coming. As far as I'm concerned the NVQ I've got isn't worth the paper it's written on despite taking three years of my life. I fear that this new iniative will end up like the NVQs. Don't get me wrong some NVQs like the Association of Accounting Technicians qualification are excellent but far too many are not.
Sarah, Leicester

Who are these courses aimed at? I was made redundant 2 years ago and, because of my redundancy payout I was not elligible for Job Seeker or any other benefits. I had to live off my savings. I needed re-training but was denied any state funding, I had to fund my own training and because I was not 'available for work' did not even get my NI contributions made up by the state. What a way to be treated after 35 years in work and paying tax and NI. I suspect that the wrong people will be targeted with this initiative just like all the other Labour Government initiatives.
Richard, Dorset

I've been trying to gain training for the last 3-4 years, the government dont seem to want to help the older unemployed. Life seems to end at 25 according to the government!! as a 34 year old trying to improve my chances, all failing it will be nice to see if this so called '30,000 places for older workers' ever materialise like the supposedly ADULT apprentice scheme that never happened. and probaly never will. oh well we shall soon see if this is just another pre election blurgh..
Mark, Stevenage

My son wants to start an apprenticeship to do this he will have to gain 5 gcse passes at level C or above. After this he will have to complete an NVQ2 in basic maths physics metalwork tech drawing at the beginning of the course. This is necessary because all these skills are no longer taught at school to a level that makes a student employable.When I was at school secondary education included metalwork, technical drawing, real mathematics and basic physics.No other European country has such a useless education curriculum. Its time that we stopped trying to keep the subjects taught at schools so broad that nothing is properly understood.It would also be a good idea to force the schools to take responsibility for the safety of the pupils so that they can be allowed to use the machinery that is present in most shools.
Charles Beecham, Taunton Somerset

I don't think it'll make the blindest bit of difference. I've got a whole CV worth of skills but I've been unable to get a job for the last 8 MONTHS, though not through the lack of trying! Too many companies want either cheap labour or people who have already done the job so they don't need training. All this attempt will do is make more qualified unemployed people.
Sian, Kent, UK

Why not open up the apprenticeships to the over 25's? I work in the welfare to work sector and frequently come accross more mature people who are keen to learn a trade. Lots of people do not have any idea of what career to follow under 25 years of age, and the more mature learner may be more inclined to learn and possibly be more loyal to the employer, ensuring that the employer gets the benefit of the skilled worker. There is a huge untapped resource of over 25's who would not waste a second chance. Ignoring the over 25 sector leaves the unskilled workers with 40 years of moving in and out of jobs with no future
Les Peers, Bromborough England

Educate the workers! now there's a laugh. I have a degree, speak two languages and I have a Microsoft Technicains certificate, and still I have not secured a job. I tried to get on an apprenticeship but was told I was too old. I tried to get funding to start a business but was told I did not fall into the required categories: 18-25 0r over 50. There are plenty of highly skilled and educated people in this country who can not get a job because we are too overly qualified. You are wasting your time and money trying to educate a portion of society who dont give a damn if they work or not, help the people who want to work and get on, not those who don't.
Stewart, Glasgow

I was out of work 18 months ago, with 28 years experience in Printing. I had no luck finding any similar work or help from the Job Centre in finding training ("Sort it for yourself" I was told).What is the point of a skilled workforce, when the only jobs available are low paid and on short contracts. We need manufacturing to re-emerge and this can only be done with help from the government., Tipton, England

Too many people end up in jobs which they dislike because they made the wrong choice. What is needed is a training regime which allows the trainee to sample the skill before committing for the rest of their lives. Short, condensed "taster" courses, lasting no more than a few days would give the trainee some practical experience and let them know, first if they enjoyed it, and second if they could actually do it!
David Nicholson, England

Are they going to look at the skills gap or are they just pushing youngters onto course so they seem to be doing something. I worked for one organisation and mainly it was to keep down the unemployment figures. There are serious skills gap in some occupational areas, one area is automation where the skills gap is apparent with the youngest in this field are in their mid forties.
Julie Thomas, Nuneaton UK

A majority of the problems lie with people wanting to move into a different profession that don't have the flexibility to go to education colleges etc. Reasons are usually they aren't able to financially do this or the colleges don't teach skilled qualifications (I.E. Mechanical engineering) outside the normal working hours. This problem seriously needs to be addressed up in the north east.

Also why not give local employers insentives to employ british workers, for instance cheaper council tax rates, the more british workers you employ the cheaper the rates are etc. Too many times has the north east been let down by large companies like fujitsu, siemens and dunlop to name just a few. The councils & One North East giving discounted rent & rates to theses boys who eventually decide to move to eastern europe within 3-4 years, leaving massive skilled unemployment.

Why don't we give discount to the local companies that a born & bread in britain and are going to employ local people for many years to come. We can only make our countries economy stronger by building up our local economy!
Jonathan Coggins, Durham

Years ago, I was in just such a position as many of our young people find themselves and I was lucky enough to get a placing at a government training centre. That place enabled me to get a really good job for life. I'm all for it!
Dave, Burnle England

The plans are excellent and timely. I just wish the media would examine and report the issue of the need to improve adult skills with depth and maturity. Sadly, at the moment, the coverage of this vital area is scant and desultory. The BBC is one of the worst offenders in this regard.
Jane Peckham, London

Why an age limit eg under 25's!!

It's a shame the government always seems to favour younger workers who have only just left education and have had an opportunity to prepare themselves for their new working life. There should be equivalent or greater funding for over 25's to encourage and allow older workers to learn new skills. As an employer it would be nice to see the government work to the agendas that it sets us eg age discrimination! We often have older employees who feel that the current method of vocational qualification funding is biased towards the younger end of the workforce.

Perhaps if education in schools focussed more on the basics then there would be greater flexibilty to help older workers who have so much to offer but who can find it difficult to make there way back into the workforce.
Jon Savage , Amersham

Yes this will help not only business but society as a whole. We are in danger of creating, through the current education system, generations of managers but no engineers or skilled workers for them to manage. Pretty soon we will have people who can quote health & safety & procedure for changing a lightbulb and fill out a 3 page environmental impact study, but nobody who can actually change the lightbulb itself!
Ashley Hinton, Didcot, UK

I believe that I am in a prime position with an entitlement to comment bassed on the following: I am unemployed I have been self-employed I have had many jobs both temp. & permanent I have worked in many types of different job. Most important; I have seen many problems over and over again. Lack of skill is obviously a problem for some but why always focus on the unskilled rather than those who manage and employ them? I have deduced that we also need to focus on 'people management skills' relative to creating workplaces where people are both motivated and cooperative in doing their jobs well. If we ask many workers why they are dissatisfied at work we have something to learn from their answers. What can we do about this and how? Whilst this subject is too complex to address here I am attempting to make the point that this subject is worthy of more committed funding to address the problem for the good of people in the workplace, particularly those employed in privately owned companies. We currently have a BIG problem with too many employed temporary workers who have insufficient motivation and interest in their jobs. The result is poor performance and employer/employee dissatisfaction. How good are our management skills and attitudes towards those that we manage? Need I say more?
Kevin Edwards, Birmingham, UK

This is just a revamp of the old Skill Centres which were scrapped in the eighties as they were good BUT too expensive to run. Government always goes round in circles without ever addressing the problem. Benefit is too easy to get. Those youngsters that want to work will get work. Also there are too many people coming into the country.
patrick barry, wolverhampton

Its about time something like this happened. I am currently funding a home study plumbing course for my partner who doesnt have great qualifications. I just hope its not a case of too little too late. There is a huge skills gap in this country and it cannot continue to be filled by migrant workers or the situation will go from bad to worse. Lets hope it happens sooner rather than later - for our childrens sake.
V Prince, Oldham, UK

Sadly, in my experience, many of our school leavers lack "soft" skills such as an ability to turn up for work on time, to dress appropriately, to speak to a customer with basic civility, to realise that snacking and smoking and listening to music during working time are not human rights etc. It is a sad state of affairs if the teaching of such skills is to be dumped on the poor old schoolteachers.
Hamish Carlisle, London

This looks like a good idea but the reality is that the government has funded it by taking 100 million from the adult education sector elsewhere, threatening the existence of the Open University and higher education lifelong learning departments throughout the country (money taken from the Open University alone amounts to over 20 millions) - something even Margaret Thatcher did not do. The net loss of opportunities for adult learners as a result of this policy will easily outweigh the benefits and the mayhem caused by the incompetent way this has been implemented has already cost an enormous amount of time and goodwill in a vital sector.
Justin Meggitt, Cambridge

I've got a degree in engineering (electronics) and I have been on jobseekers for about 4 of the last 6 years.

I'm 42 and have a lot of work experience also (previously to this last 6 years). Now all I get are interviews which seem to be a complete waste of time but then I've got plenty of that.

To me my vocation has simply left town and moved to China/India as the UK economy is not compeditive in industry and has relied solely on crazy house pricing to stop from colapsing completely.

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