Stating the obvious:
If the workforce is highly qualified, motivated and multiskilled it promotes productivity, flexibility, quality and innovation. In addition it ultimately elevates the status of industry and manufacturing and confirms the importance of high quality technical education and training. After all it is skills, knowledge, experience and competence of people that will create jobs.
However it must be remembered that it is not just about formal technical instruction BUT ALSO about the importance of apprenticeships and on-job training/experience programmes.
Also work experience programmes at school and college level and sandwich courses at FE and HE level are equally important provided they are relevant and effectively managed and monitored.
A whole series of factors contribute to the continuing culture of the low level of skills and an inadequately qualified workforce in this country. One critical contributing factor to the poor links between education, training, industry and government is the continued failure to establish an effective national network of organisations that oversee occupational standards and develop a long term strategy to promote and improve skills training in their respective occupational areas. In addition such bodies would help to determine training needs and become a powerful lobby for technical and vocational education and training. The membership must include employers, employer associations and trade unions. Many attempts have been made since the Industrial Training Act (1964) and the creation of ITBs. Some examples of successive attempts have seen Industrial Training Organisations (ITOs), Industrial Lead Bodies (ILBs), Lead Bodies (LBs), National Training Organisations (NTOs) and Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) come and go without any real positive and lasting impact. Criticisms of these organisations have identified systematic weaknesses including failures to:
- Represent and cover the whole economy
- Represent Medium and Small Enterprises (SMEs) particularly small companies
- Represent job functions which cross occupational sectors
- Establish a reliable, accurate and up to date Labour Market Intelligence system (LMI)
- Create a better match between supply and demand
- Identify skills gaps and shortages
- Adopt a medium and long term strategy for training and skills development and improvement
- Develop an effective general advisory service on training for the whole country
- Recognise and manage local and regional labour markets
- To recognise the skill needs of young people and adopt a strategy to increase skill levels
- Develop and encourage a central focus for management training
- Develop strategies for higher skills development that were too often focused on the lower levels e.g. level 2.
- Prone to adopt short term strategies.
Many of these elements are interrelated e.g. ineffective LMI, a continuing skewed/ imbalanced supply and demand equation and the failure to identify skill gaps and shortages etc.
Also these organisations were accused of becoming very bureaucratic and prone to political interference.
Couple these elements with the continuing low status afforded to trainers and training organisations, lack of adequate investment in training and poor management training I see little or no hope of improvement in the near future. Also the continued operation of the open market militates against the development of a long term, coherent and consistent policy. The open market creates complexity, fragmentation, instability that makes management difficult and precipitates a level of destructive competition between providers. At present there is little prospect of breaking out of the low- skills culture and the low-skills equilibrium will continue unabated! This will make any attempt to rebalance the economy almost impossible whatever the politicians say.