Blunkett unveils training plan to help fight skills shortage

THE GOVERNMENT has challenged industry to improve its training record in order to counter skills shortages.

David Blunket, minister for Education and employment, said companies need to work with the government to improve the skills of their workforce.

Speaking at the launch of the third Skills Task Force report last week, he unveiled a training scheme aimed at stimulating firms to educate staff. One of its objectives is to reassure companies that fear newly skilled staff will be poached by competitors.

Under the programme, the DfEE will contribute to loans to employers to train staff. Companies will be responsible for repaying the loan, but if the employee leaves, the new firm has to take on the debt.

`Each employer would gain the full benefit of investment, paying for it over an extended period,’ Blunkett said. `Employers are often reluctant to invest in training as they fear trained employees would be poached by competitors.’

The scheme is based on a recommendation from the Skills Task Force. The DfEE has yet to announce when it will start.

Blunkett acknowledged that there are severe skills shortages in certain sectors, including manufacturing. He cited the gas industry, which registered only 128 new fitters last year, in an occupation where the workforce totals 100,000.

TUC general secretary John Monks said the UK has a long way to go before it catches up with highly skilled nations such as Germany.

He said the changes would start to narrow the gap, but `without a new obligation on employers to invest in skills, the UK will still fall short of our international competitors’.

The Government has also bowed to pressure from employers for a greater say in the running of new learning and skills councils, which will govern the distribution of training funds to companies from April 2001.

People chairing the councils will now have to have substantial business expertise.

Ann Bailey, head of education and training at the Engineering Employers’ Federation, said the move was vital. `It is employers which need to use skills, so they need to be setting the agenda rather than making do with what is on offer to them.’

John Robinson writes for Personnel Today