Employers need to be convinced
Judith Hinman outlines the difficulties of offering Skills for Life via Train to Gain and suggests how they might be addressed
Delivering Skills for Life in the context of Train to Gain has proved very challenging in recent months. Across the country, targets have not been met. This suggests that there are difficulties to be addressed if Train to Gain is going to be a vehicle for realising the ambitions of the Leitch Review (1).
Unlike its precursor, the Employer Training Pilots, Train to Gain funding can only be used to support employees who have been assessed as Skills for Life Entry 3 or Level 1 to achieve an NVQ Level 2. Resources for employees with literacy or numeracy at Entry levels 1 and 2 must come from core funding. Half the Train to Gain funding is conditional on employees passing the national tests in literacy or numeracy. These employees are expected to progress by one literacy or numeracy level in an average of 15 hours' teaching. The average time for the NVQ Level 2 is probably now around 25-30 hours.
The challenge facing providers is that passing many of the NVQs that are in demand from employers does not require much literacy or numeracy, if workplace assessment methods are used. This is the case despite recent warnings from the Adult Learning Inspectorate and others (2) that have focused on the need to secure additional learning from this type of programme, rather than just assessing existing skills to achieve a qualification.
Employers are often unwilling to release staff for programmes that seem to them
to devote a disproportionate amount of time to largely irrelevant skills. As one
owner of a small construction firm put it :
'I need my bricklayers to get an NVQ so we can bid for contracts that require a qualified workforce. They are experienced men and don't need to waste time being tested to see if they can do sums.'
So the challenge is to embed skills that employers frequently do not think are needed and that employees do not particularly want. 'I failed at school but I've coped in my life so far; I don't want to drag all that up again,'said one care worker when interviewed about her experience of initial assessment. This reluctance is frequently echoed by the brokers and business managers whose job it is to sell training to employers.
It is hoped that these challenges will be alleviated over time by the introduction
of the new design principles for vocational qualifications that will include personal
and functional skills as well as vocational ones. But, until more employers are
convinced of the benefits to all of a workforce with literacy, numeracy and ICT
skills at Level 2, they will continue to be unwilling to release employees to
Making a positive case
So how can they and their employees be persuaded? They can be convinced by good advocacy and above all by good delivery of Skills for Life, delivered either in a contextualised pre-NVQ course or in a more fully embedded model where the NVQ delivery allows for that.
As one care manager said:
'I just had no idea until I saw some of their reports how weak my staff's writing skills were. They have to write handover notes, and I can't see some of them being able to do it without serious help. I'm now really keen on the course they are being offered.'
Despite its many difficulties, a positive case can and must be made for using the funding to best effect.
Judith Hinman is Development Consultant at NRDC
(1) Leitch, S. (2006) Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills. Final report London: The Stationery Office
(2) See Implementing Train to Gain A Good Practice Guide 2006 Appendix 1, Quality Improvement Agency