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UK Government skills strategy

Trade associations being overlooked, complains TIGA.

November 25, 2009

TIGA said today that the Government’s determination to drive up skills amongst the UK workforce was commendable, but that its strategy for achieving this was still too bureaucratic and centrally driven in nature, and overlooked the role of trade associations. TIGA made the comments in response to the Government’s policy document, Skills for Growth.

Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA, said:

“The Government’s ambition for three quarters of people to participate in either higher education or complete an advanced apprenticeship or equivalent technician level course by age 30 is commendable. Of the adult population, just 51 per cent and 31 per cent have either a level 3 or level 4 qualification respectively. This is relatively low. The UK should strive for one of the best skilled and qualified workforces. Enhanced skills can improve productivity which is good for business. Equally, higher skills can raise the employability of individuals.

“The intention to require the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to report annually on the UK’s skills performance is sensible. In particular, the Commission needs to benchmark the skills and qualifications of the UK workforce against our overseas competitors. A key challenge will be to increase the proportion of learners from a vocational background who proceed to a level 4 (degree or the vocational equivalent) qualification. At present, the Government reports that only 0.2 per cent of learners from a non-academic background do so. The games development sector typically needs people qualified to at least level 4.

“The Government rightly says that the skills system should be responsive to the market and demand led. Yet Skills for Growth takes a bureaucratic, centralist approach.”

Under the Government’s plans, within a national framework, Regional Development Agencies, working with local authority leaders, sub-regional bodies and other partners such as Sector Skills Councils, will be tasked to produce Regional Skills Strategies. The skills priorities in the regional strategies will inform Ministers’ Annual Skills Investment Strategy and how the Skills Funding Agency (a new quango) will fund colleges and training institutions to ensure an appropriate supply of skills to meet the national, sectoral, regional and sub-regional priorities. This is not a market driven approach to improving skills but a bureaucratic one.

At the same time, Skills for Growth is prescriptive about the vocational qualifications that should be studied: 14-19 diplomas and apprenticeships. This overlooks the fact that the jury of employers and universities is still out with respect to the diplomas; and there are other respected vocational qualifications in addition to apprenticeships. Edexcel’s BTEC qualifications are a case in point.

It may also be a mistake to end public funding of short qualifications for staff in small and medium-sized enterprises. Short, ‘bite-sized’ training can often be valuable and can meet employer and employee practical needs.

Richard Wilson added:

“Skills for Growth overlooks the role of trade associations, like TIGA. Trade associations are voluntary associations that represent real employers and businesses. They are well placed to identify skill shortages and skill gaps and to contribute to practical solutions.

“The intention to rationalise the skills landscape by abolishing 30 publicly funded skills bodies over three years sounds attractive in principle; the publicly funded infrastructure is certainly over-crowded. However, if the activities of the doomed organisations are simply perpetuated in the remaining organisations, bureaucracy will not in reality be reduced. Nor will absorbing these organisations be cost free.

“Terminating Investors in People (IiP) as a separate organisation and folding it into the UK Commission for Employment and Skills is surprising. IiP is one of the more well established non-departmental public bodies, having been in operation since 1991. It is widely recognised as one of the UK’s leading people management improvement standards. We hope the UK Commission will vigorously champion the IiP standard.

“Reducing the number of sectors skills councils by 2012 will presumably mean that the remainder will have to be responsible for an even larger and more diverse set of business sectors. Yet one size does not fit all. The effect may well be to leave sector skills councils increasingly out of touch and remote from real employers.

“The UK needs a skills system that is genuinely responsive to employer and learner demand. The Government’s proposed individual skills accounts could help to achieve a demand led system, provided that learners have sufficient flexibility over the use of the accounts. We need to go further. FE colleges could be given more money in the form of a direct block grant and offer courses that genuinely meet demand. Train to Gain, a scheme whereby employers can benefit from full or partial public funding, could be made even more flexible and used to fund a greater variety of courses at all levels. To stimulate training and to promote an employer led skills system, a proportion of a business’s expenditure on education and training could be offset against corporation tax.

“Skills for Growth is rightly ambitious, but the skills strategy underpinning it is not yet a truly demand led system.”


Notes to editors:

1. For the statement that just 0.2 per cent of people from a non-academic background progress to higher education, see the recent report from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, led by Alan Milburn, cited at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/publications/Skills-Strategy.pdf

2. UK employers are committed to training. In 2007, employers spent £38.6 billion on training. In the games sector, 85 per cent of UK game developers provide training for their staff.

3. Government expenditure on further education has increased by 53 per cent in real terms since 1997. Total Government investment in adult further education and skills through the Skills Funding Agency and department-held budgets for 2010-11 will be £4.4 billion. In addition, capital investment in FE and Skills will be £540m in 2010-11. For information on the Government’s Skills Investment Strategy, see www.bis.gov.uk.

About TIGA:

TIGA is the trade association representing the UK’s games industry. The majority of our members are either independent games developers or in-house publisher owned developers. We also have outsourcing companies, technology businesses and universities amongst our membership.

TIGA's vision is to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business. We focus on three sets of activities: political representation, generating media coverage and developing services that enhance the competitiveness of our members. This means that Tiga members are effectively represented in the corridors of power, their voice is heard in the media and they receive benefits that make a material difference to their businesses, including a reduction in costs and improved commercial opportunities.

For further information, please contact: Dr Richard Wilson, Tiga CEO on: 0845 0941095; Mob: 07875 939643; or Email: richard.wilson@tiga.org, or, Eva Whitlow, TIGA PR Manager on: 07814 039 983, or email eva@tiga.org

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