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Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Pledge to boost skills
factory worker at machinery
Skills throughout the UK workforce need to be improved
The government has announced a raft of measures to try to combat the UK's skills shortage.

There are too many areas vital to our economy where there are not enough skills to grow our businesses

David Blunkett

In response to the national Skills Task Force report, the Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, admitted that the country's poor adult literacy, numeracy and skills levels constituted a serious problem.

He pledged that the government would try to do what it could to raise skills levels throughout the workforce, and would increase investment in learning.

Specifically, he announced:

  • reforms to apprenticeships to raise standards and boost participation
  • a new 2.5m fund to raise skills levels amongst small businesses
  • a review of the financing of adult learning

He said the education maintenance allowance scheme, which pays 16-year-olds to stay on at school or college, was being extended to include more than a third of local education authorities in England from September - a move first announced earlier this year.

And he unveiled a 3m advertising campaign, using the slogan "Don't Quit Now", which will run during the summer in an attempt to persuade more pupils to stay in education after they turn 16.

hand dialling buttons on phone
Making a call - but many adults cannot read a telephone directory

Speaking at the launch of the task force report in London, Mr Blunkett said: "In this new century, skills and learning must be the key determinants of success and prosperity.

"Opportunity for all is not only right, it is an economic necessity. No longer can we educate just an elite to the highest levels - we need to develop the talents of every member of the workforce to their full potential.

"There are too many areas vital to our economy where there are not enough skills to grow our businesses."

The report, published on Tuesday, is the culmination of more than two years' work.

Qualification changes

During the two years, three interim reports have been published, and task force chairman Chris Humphries said the government had already implemented some of its recommendations.

These included the introduction of two-year, vocationally-oriented "foundation degrees" which the government is pressing universities to offer from 2001.

The final report makes a total of 36 recommendations to improve the UK's skills base and end what Mr Humphries calls a "gifted amateur" culture.

They include a proposed "baccalaureate style qualification for post-16 general education".

A few schools in the UK already enter their pupils for the International Baccalaureate exam. Over two years, the pupils study three subjects at higher level - equivalent to A-level, and three at subsidiary level.

Instead the government is urging sixth formers from this September to study five or six "advanced subsidiary" (AS) levels before going on to study three full A-levels in the second year.

It is also renaming Advanced GNVQs "vocational A-levels" in an effort to beef up their academic standing.

But Mr Blunkett said the job of boosting the UK's skills levels was not one for the government alone.

"Employers and individuals must act on the task force's evidence that training pays for business competitiveness and career success.," he said.

"I intend to do more to create the right climate for that to happen."

'First steps'

Mr Blunkett said a consultation on how to reform on-the-job training - in the form of foundation to advanced modern apprenticeships, intended to be equivalent to degrees - would aim to make the structure more rigorous.

pint of beer on pub bar
Fancy a pint - or a computer course?

As well as improving training standards, it would provide support and financial incentives to employers who took on modern apprentices, and guarantee apprenticeships for all young people who wanted them.

The 2.5m "challenge fund" for small businesses would help them join forces with other firms to train employees.

And the review of finance for adult learning would "make sure funding reaches those who need it more".

Mr Blunkett stressed that these measures were only the first steps in the government's response to the task force report, and that a full response would be published in the autumn following the Treasury's spending review.

He added that his top priorities for the planned Learning Skills Council for England would include many task force recommendations.

The government is planning to set up the council to take responsibility for the funding and contracting of further education and training.

The Learning and Skills Bill, which is to establish the council, is currently completing its progress through Parliament.

The government is already working on improving basic adult literacy and numeracy.

Learning centres

Last month, it announced details of classes to teach adults basic skills, including how to read the phone book and check their change in shops.

It also announced the allocation of an extra 20m for adult education basic skills projects, and extra money to pay for intensive training for basic skills teachers.

The government is also setting up a network of information technology learning centres - in places as diverse as pubs and football clubs.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday, Mr Blunkett said computer classes were being used as a "carrot" to try to encourage adults to accept help with learning.

He said: "We have got to replicate what we have been doing in schools with the literacy and numeracy programmes for adults, but we have got to get people to accept there is a problem in the first place, and make it easier for them to admit they need help and come forward and access it.

"Once people are prepared to come in and say they want help in learning about computers, we can then start working with them with the literacy and numeracy skills that they need to operate them properly."

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See also:

22 May 00 | Education
Basic skills for adult learners
31 Jan 00 | Education
Centres to bridge 'digital divide'
02 Jun 00 | Education
Pupils keen to be paid for learning
27 Jun 00 | Education
UK suffers skills shortage
27 Jun 00 | Education
School leavers told: Don't quit
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