When I find writing about competencies is getting too exciting, I like to write about the various bodies in the UK responsible for national skills development. A bit like an accountant kicking back by doing the filing.
No chance of getting too excited there, you might think… but you’d be wrong.
I was recently pointed to an article in the FT about Chris Humphries, Chief Executive of the UKCES (the UK Commission for Employment and Skills) getting hot under the collar about the Byzantine labyrinth of bodies responsible for skills in the UK. Apparently he said:
“I don’t think there’s an employer in the land who understands what the new systems are.”
The FT adds:
The maze of government skills bodies has changed with alarming frequency, but Labour has pushed, pulled, squeezed, stretched and turned the public sector skills industry upside down at a faster rate than predecessors. Critics say this has not given each organisation enough time to establish credibility and competence.
One huge revamp of the system involves scrapping the over-arching Learning and Skills Council (the LSC, responsible for all vocational learning in England) and replacing it with local authority powers and three new national groups.
It’s not a pretty prospect.
Ironically the LSC began work in 2001 to make life easier:
to modernise and simplify the planning, funding and delivery of education and training for people over the age of 16 in England, other than those in universities
but as Humphries points out, this remit is huge, and in this case having a single body does not simplify, but adds complexity.
So how many bodies does the UK need and are any of them doing a good job of building the UK’s skills? Yes, down at the level of detail, I believe that some are. Last Friday I hosted a webinar. Speaking was Genny Dixon of e-skills UK, the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for IT. Listening were members of the Learning and Skills Group. I was able to put the two parties together.
SSCs are supposed to engage with employers, and the end-user IT qualification ITQ is undergoing an update at present. Genny was interested to quiz the employers attending the webinar about their views on end-users skills and how the new ITQ could function better.
In other words, not the sort of conversation that has the cocktail party jumping.
But it is, absolutely, the sort of detailed work that needs to take place for SSCs to engage with employers, do their jobs well, and build the skills of the sector they are responsible for. It is the sort of conversation that is only possible because e-skills UK has been in existence for 5 years, and has a good track record. In other words, someone has let get on with the job.
Interestingly, the SSCs were also set up as over-arching bodies. E-skills UK replaced some 38 different IT skills bodies, I believe. In this case the simplification has worked.
Chris Humphries is right that there are too many bodies for, and too much meddling in, skills. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of the bodies, and some of the people in them, are doing good work. We should remember that, too.