The training revolution

February 01, 1994


Scottish LECs (local enterprise companies) have been more successful than their English and Welsh counterparts, TECs, because of the greater autonomy allowed to their boards, says a detailed study produced by the London School of Economics, published on January 10.

The report, Local Empowerment and Business Services by Professor Robert Bennett, warns that TECS risk drifting into a “second tier role” as business leaders lose interest. Based partly on interviews with TEC chairs and board members, it argues that shortcomings include:

an unclear mission: government provides finance to train unemployed people but stresses the need to enhance the skills of the existing workforce and to promote local enterprise;

lack of power and flexibility: despite being majority private sector, TECs boards are too tightly controlled by government;

duplication of roles: similar aims to other local business-led bodies like chambers of commerce;

lack of skilled personnel: many TEC staff are former civil servants and lack the necessary business skills;

cost inefficiency: costs vary widely between TECs; some are much more costly than other private sector providers and half are too small to be cost efficient.

The report calls for clarification of training objectives, more flexibility over budgets, merging TECs and LECs with chambers of commerce, the recruitment of personnel with business skills, stronger board control of costs and cutting by half the number of TECs through amalgamation. It concludes that implementation of a “rescue package” is needed if the long awaited skills revolution is to occur. Contact Robert Bennett, LSE, on 071 955 7584


The CBI held a conference on the future of TECs in London on December 7, following up the publication of its report Making Labour Markets Work in November (see Community Affairs Briefing issue 13). This was addressed by David Hunt MP, Employment Secretary, and Edward Roberts, Chairman of the TEC National Council, along with speakers from J Sainsbury and Alfred McAlpine, and covered arrangements for TEC funding and accountability. By coincidence, December marked the fifth anniversary of the White Paper which proposed the establishment of TECs, the first of which came into operation in April 1990. Contact CBI on 071 379 7400


The Employment Secretary, David Hunt MP, has challenged industry to find places for up to 150,000 young apprentices by 1995. On December 2 he promised funding of £1.25 billion over three years for a new system of “modern apprenticeships”, in an attempt to treble the numbers of young people gaining NVQ Level 3 qualifications or above by the end of the decade.

To be run by TECs, the new scheme will gradually replace Youth Training and closely follows proposals drawn up by TECs themselves. Among the key features are:

every apprentice will sign a pledge with an employer, with both sides setting out their commitment to the apprenticeship;

the training will be to NVQ level 3, equivalent to A levels or above;

small and medium-sized employers as well as large firms will be involved;

each apprenticeship could take between two and a half and four years, depending on the trainee’s ability.

Following pilot projects in 1994, places will be available on the scheme for school-leavers from 1995. Contact Employment Department on 071 273 3000


A quarter of young people leaving the Youth Training Scheme become unemployed while only a third gain qualifications, according to the latest YT Leavers Survey published in December. Figures show that as many as 52% of all young people on the scheme leave early, rising to 60% in London. Furthermore unemployment among young people remains high, varying across the country – lowest in the Eastern region (21%) and highest in northern England (30%) and London (29%). Black people are also more likely to be unemployed after YT than their white counterparts. Contact Paul Convery, Unemployment Unit, on 071 737 8001


The National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent are in danger of “perpetrating a disaster of epic proportions”, according to a report on its activities by a group of leading academics published in December. The report, All Our Futures, commissioned by Channel 4 and funded by the Gatsby Foundation, was written by Professor Alan Smithers of Manchester University’s Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER). It claims that Britain is falling behind its European counterparts and argues that in seeking to create a more practical education system, the NCVQ has rejected established teaching methods.

The report makes several recommendations, including:

the NCVQ and the government should define the purpose of GNVQs – are they intended to provide better training for technicians or as a preparation for higher education?

NVQs and GNVQs should respond to employers’ needs for literacy and numeracy more fully;

written examinations should accompany practical assessments.

Copies of the report are available upon receipt of a cheque for £1, made payable to Channel 4, from: All Our Futures, PO Box 4000, London W3 6XJ


Four in ten large employers are already using NVQs and SVQs, according to the first major report into their take up and usage. The report, National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications: Early indications of take up and use, published by the Institute of Manpower Studies on January 25, shows that a further three in ten anticipate using them. However, among smaller employers, the situation is markedly different – only 6% of employers with fewer than 50 employees were using NVQ/SVQs, with a further 14% anticipating future usage. The report is based on a survey of 1,500 employers conducted in the spring of 1993. Contact BEBC Ltd for copies of the report on 0202 715555


A new booklet, GNVQs – the new vocational A levels – a brief guide has been published by the Department for Education. Aimed at employers as well as students and parents, it is available free. Contact DFE Publications Department on 081 533 2000


1994 is crunch year for TECs. It’s the year they must demonstrate results. Up to now, when criticised, they could legitimately say “give us time”; legitimately, because they ushered in a revolution in the organisation of training, with the hope of a parallel revolution in enterprise support (see next section). Revolutionary changes take time to settle down. But the first TECs started in April 1990, nearly four years ago, and now criticisms are mounting, as we report above.

Many senior executives have given generously of their and their companies’ resources to support TECs. The unwritten deal was that government would give the funding, the executives their private sector expertise – together, Britain would get a world-class workforce. Many, having now served three or four years, are still wondering: where is the autonomy? where is the adequate funding across all programmes? In fact the TECs themselves have welcomed the broad thrust, if not every detail, of the CBI’s report. Professor Bennett’s analysis pulls fewer punches.

The only answer to criticism is success, so this year’s performance figures, likely to be ready in time for the TEC National Conference in July, have got to show the real difference TECs are making. Meanwhile, the task for TECs keeps growing, as the depressing YT figures show. David Hunt’s ‘modern apprenticeships’ scheme is an excellent step forward, with young people achieving qualifications, not simply serving time. Now can companies meet the challenge of offering 150,000 training places?

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 14 – February, 1994