Scepticism remains around Lord Leitch’s skills pledges, which pose a number of challenges
Airbus, BT, EDF Energy and Sainsbury’s are among the first 150 employers to sign up to the government’s skills pledge, first outlined in Lord Leitch’s report Prosperity for the Global Economy: World Class Skills last December.
The pledge, however, has been criticised for setting unrealistic targets for smaller organisations, and a lack of communication around what is expected of employers.
It requires employers to commit to helping staff develop basic literacy and numeracy skills, and work towards a level-two qualification broadly equivalent to five A*-C grade GCSEs.
Although many agree that an investment in skills is necessary for the UK to compete with emerging economies and to narrow the productivity gap between the UK and countries like the US, the pledge does not strike all employers as the right, or only, solution.
Gillian Hibberd, corporate director organisational development and HR at Buckinghamshire County Council, recognises the importance of the idea behind the pledge, but questions what difference it would actually make. “I don’t think the government has done a particularly good job of making employers aware of the Leitch Report and the skills pledge. There’s a massive piece of work they’ve got to do in communicating,” she said.
She added that the biggest challenge lies with convincing smaller employers, which might be unable to fund the training and to commit to releasing staff for skills development, to take the pledge.
Buckinghamshire County Council has not signed up to the pledge as it is already committed to its own training programme. The organisation offers staff employee investment development accounts which allow them to take five days’ development annually. The council is also piloting on-the-job training up to NVQ level two within its HR department.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has urged the government to work with employers to give them support to not only meet the pledge but to also offer training that meets their own specific needsTrades unions, however, have welcomed the pledge and have criticised employers for not taking up the opportunity to develop their employees’ skills. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “The government needs to find a way of reaching the third of UK employers who steadfastly refuse to offer their employees any form of learning at work.”
To help improve standards of industry training, the government has unveiled plans for four further National Skills Academies in the retail; sport and active leisure; glass manufacturing, coatings, print and building products; and fashion, textiles and jewellery sectors.