Government bangs the skills drum

If you don't offer staff training, you may be about to feel the Government's wrath. Well, sort of.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

John Denham, the Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, has just launched a new consultation intended to force more employers to offer decent training to their staff. According to DIUS, one-third don’t offer anything whatsoever, which means that 8m people lose out. He reckons that by giving all staff a legal right to request training time, another 300,000 people a year could benefit from extra courses.

After the recent Leitch review concluded that the UK needs to raise its game to stay competitive, the Government is keen to create a more skilled workforce – one more like our cleverer counterparts overseas. ‘The employers who do not train run real risks with their businesses,’ Denham said today. ‘We need to find new ways to bring the drive for skills into every workplace and to every worker, which is why we are consulting on a new right for workers to request time to train.’ In some cases, the Government will even pay for this via the Train to Gain scheme - due to get about £1bn in funding by 2010.

However, as laws go, this one could end up being a bit toothless. Although workers would have the right to request time to train, employers will be under no obligation to grant it. All they would have to do is ‘seriously consider’ it – and they’re perfectly entitled to give it the thumbs-down, as long as they have a ‘a good business reason’ for doing so. And the criteria would be carefully controlled – the training request has to be for something that would ‘improve business performance and productivity’  -so if you’re thinking of trying to persuade your boss that paying for you to climb Kilimanjaro would be great for your teamwork skills, think again.

On the other hand, the Government says it wants this to work in the same way as the right to request flexible working – and that’s been relatively successful. Even if employers say no, they’ll at least be under more of an obligation to explain why not, which should mean more requests get through. And the DIUS proposals seem to have gone down reasonably well with the business community, who were worried that employers might be forced into providing training regardless of the inconvenience.

Not that everyone’s convinced about its figures. The Federation of Small Businesses said today that while it supported the skills drive, it reckons three-quarters of SMEs already offer work-based training – but it’s too complicated and expensive to have it accredited by the Government. And since SMEs form such a large proportion of the total, it may be that Denham’s estimate of the number of badly-behaved employers is actually way out. Difficult though that may be to believe...

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