Social partners support the Government's vision of a learning society

The social partners have given their support to the Government's proposals, issued in February 1998, to make the UK a "learning society".

At the end of February 1998, as part of a move to improve the skills and education of the nation, the Government launched its vision of the UK as a "learning society" in a Green Paper entitled The learning age. The document proposes radical measures to transform learning, including:

  • a new "University for Industry" (UfI), which will use "leading-edge" technology to make learning available at work, in learning centres and at home. A prospectus is to be launched in March 1998 and the UfI will open in 1999. It is envisaged that the UfI will help individuals and businesses update skills in a new and flexible way which relates directly to the needs of the learner; and
  • individual learning accounts (ILA s), which will help people save for learning and have more say and responsibility in developing their skills. The Government will start the new initiative by investing GBP 150 million in the first million accounts. A new "smart card" will record the amount held in an individual's account and a record of their educational progress. The Government say that the new ILAs have the potential to develop as the centrepiece of adult learning in the future.

David Blunkett, the education and employment secretary said: "We now stand as a nation on the brink of a new learning age. Jobs are changing and with them the skills needed for the world of tomorrow. Whereas the industrial revolution was built on capital investment in plant and equipment, the information revolution of the 21st century will be based on knowledge and human capital."

Social partner organisations welcomed the Government's approach to lifelong learning and acknowledged that skills and knowledge are critical to international competitiveness. John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said that the Green Paper will give a much stronger role to trade unions in generating a culture of lifelong learning, and that it builds upon individual agreements already negotiated by some unions to improve learning at work. John Roberts of the Confederation of British Industry stated: "We welcome the recognition of the central role that the workplace plays in supporting the skills development of the individual." TheInstitute of Personnel and Development, which represents personnel professionals, said that the new proposal would put learning back where it belongs - with the individual.

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