A pain to train for small businesses?

We're all for work-based training - but not for saddling businesses with more red tape...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As part of its ongoing skills drive, the Government wants to give every employee the right to request time off work to train. So far, so reasonable – but not everyone’s happy about another of its suggestions: that each request should be witnessed by a union representative. The Federation of Small Businesses reckons that it isn’t fair to saddle small companies with this kind of extra red tape, arguing that they just don’t have the time or resources to hold formal meetings like this in every instance. It’s now written to the government requesting an exemption for businesses with fewer than 20 staff.

‘The ‘time to train’ process is too expensive and too bureaucratic for small firms as it stands,’ says the FSB’s Education and Skills Chairman Colin Willman. And the problem isn’t just the additional bureaucracy, he argues – it’s the potential consequences of failing to comply. ‘The FSB is concerned that… [it] will also lead to panic amongst small businesses that a refusal could be interpreted as constructive dismissal.’

Of course the trade body isn’t opposed to the idea of work-based training per se – in fact, it points out that three-quarters of its members offer their employees some kind of training (you may find it slightly alarming that 24% don’t, but we’ll let that slide for the moment). But it doesn’t think introducing more bureaucracy is the answer. ‘We believe the best way to engage small businesses with the policy are to keep it informal between employer and employee, making it easier to identify the necessary training,’ said Willman.

The basic principle – the less unneccesary red tape the better – is clearly a good one. And the Government does actually seem to be getting the message (or at least, it’s making the right noises). Launching a consultation today on the new flexible working rules recommended by Imelda Walsh (the HR director of Sainsbury’s wants to extend the right to parents of any children aged 16 or under), Employment Relations minister Pat McFadden called for businesses to suggest ways of cutting down on the form-filling involved – like scrapping the need for written notification, for instance.

On the other hand we can see where the Government is coming from – if the employer isn’t open to a conversation, union representation might be some employees’ best bet of getting the training they’re entitled to. Let’s hope this consultation produces a compromise that keeps both sides happy...

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