Brown shakes up skills – can Humphries deliver?

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the employers’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), today. According to the Press Association, he promised a shake up of skills to ensure a highly-qualified workforce:

“Let us face facts – as a result of changes in the global economy, many of the jobs British workers do now are becoming redundant,” he said. “Of today’s six million unskilled workers in Britain, we will soon need only half a million – over five million fewer.

“We have nine million highly qualified workers in Britain, but the challenge of the next 10 years is that we will need 14 million – five million more.”

Nobody disagrees that the UK needs a more highly skilled workforce. But nobody agrees how.

Who will sort it out?

Back in September, Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy bounced the question back to Gordon Brown at the CBI summit on skills. He claimed that employers could not be asked to redress the inadequate education many children receive at school.

The December 2006 Leitch Review backed portable skills and qualifications-focused learning, but Learning and the Line, an excellent CIPD report by Sue Hutchinson (Bristol Business School) and John Purcell (Warwick Business School) points out that employers don’t care about qualifications. They care about competency. 

At the same time the threat of employers having to provide compulsory training has been attacked by The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), but the spectre of poorly-implemented compulsory training seems to be growing (see previous post on the nightmare training scenario).

In short, employers say they train to job-focused competence. The government threatens to compel them to train train for qualifications. Employers turn around and kick the educational system.

And where in all this is the skills envoy? Sir Digby Jones, former CBI head, and former holder of the post, slipped off to be Minister for Trade in June.

Step forward Chris Humphries, newly appointed (Nov 6) Chief Executive for the Commission for Employment and Skills . He’s highly respected on all sides, and it sounds like he has the right job title. He has a lot of vocational training experience, and although he comes from awarding body City and Guilds, he also ran the British Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Humphries – we look to you to knock a few heads together. And while you’re at it, you might want to check out the web site for The UK Commission for Employment and Skills:

This is a temporary website. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills website will be launched on 1 April 2008.

There’s been enough unintentional humour on this issue already.

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