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Wednesday, 01 July 2015

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The skills system must be simplified

A YEAR ago, on April Fools’ Day 2008, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) was launched. From the outset UKCES has called for simplification of the UK’s employment and skills system.

UKCES argues that the complexity and bureaucracy of the system turns off even those employers who are keen to engage and help. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) responded by asking the Commission to “advise Government on simplification of post-19 training and skills in England”.

Concerns fall into six major areas:

• Difficulties of access, a feeling that the whole thing is just too darn complicated

• Too many programmes and initiatives creating a climate of uncertainty

• Restrictive constraints, too many rules and regulations for example, eligibility rules on individual programmes

• Excessive bureaucracy in administrative arrangements

• Complexity of structures and the sheer number of bodies and organisations operating in the system

• Rapidity of change.

And ire from the Conservatives in their latest paper on skills and training, “Labour’s Failure on Skills”, is also aimed at complex systems and constant restructuring.

So as the recent DIUS Select Committee Report “Re-skilling for recovery” notes, the UKCES Simplification Project is important and timely but it needs to move very much more quickly.

The Select Committee Report was delayed to reflect the latest economic conditions and argues that re-skilling rather than up-skilling should now be at the heart of skills policy to meet the challenges of recession and redundancies. But surely they are not mutually exclusive? The Committee also argues that the Government’s flagship ‘Train to Gain’ programme must be re-focused. The ditching of the Learning and Skills Council and the creation of a Skills Funding Agency will add to confusion the Committee suggests, going on to urge the Government to ensure the new system can be understood by its users, not only by ‘a few civil servants and academics’.

Things will only be improved by fundamentally simplifying the underlying programmes and structures. There is a lot, therefore, hanging on the UKCES Simplification Project – but will Government and Opposition listen ?


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