Unions call for compulsory training levy
Two of the UK's largest trade unions have recently called for a compulsory training levy of 2% of paybill on employers. The call comes against a background of a government "skills audit", which found some severe training shortfalls, and the Government's new plan to improve skill levels.
The leaders of two of the UK's largest trade unions - the TGWU and GMB general workers' unions - are calling for the Government to impose a compulsory training levy of 2% of paybill on employers to boost the skill levels of the UK workforce.
The Labour Government, elected in May 1997, recognises that the UK's training provision has shortfalls - especially in the current climate where intense competition makes high-quality training a prerequisite for the success of most companies - and aims to promote an atmosphere where training is top of the agenda. The need to make this a priority was underlined by the findings of a 1996 government "skills audit", which found that workers in the UK with low or intermediate levels of schooling receive substantially less training than their counterparts in countries like Germany and the USA. This situation is made worse by the fact that some UK companies have a tradition of "poaching" skilled staff, rather than training their own.
However, the Government has rejected the route of imposing a levy on employers to pay for industrial training, and has instead decided on two options:
- for individuals, there are "individual learning accounts" aimed at improving basic skills such as numeracy and literacy. These are one-off lump-sum training subsidies of GBP 150, awarded if the individuals concerned are willing to pay the first GBP 25 themselves. The Government is hoping to fund one million such grants; and
- for companies, the Government expects employers to make a commitment by investing in training and learning through either individual training plans or the attainment of specific standards such as the "Investors in people" programme (UK9703111F). There may be requirements on companies to publish details of training plans and budgets.
The TGWU and GMB are sceptical about the role of the individual learning accounts, arguing that they are not very well suited to workers who are attempting to learn new skills. They are also worried that these accounts will widen the training gap between those in receipt of training and those who receive little or none. Those most in need of skills - low paid or unemployed people - are those least likely to be able to afford the GBP 25required. Both unions also feel that to leave the provision of training to a voluntary approach is inadequate "when experience has shown that too few are ready to do so of their own accord". While they agree with the Government on the need to create a "skill culture", they suspect that the overwhelming majority of companies will ignore the pleas of the government to move towards such a culture on a voluntary basis. The unions feel that this will be especially the case in small and medium-sized enterprises where the need for training may be greatest.