New proposals on training for young people
A recent report written by eight academics, published by the Institute of Personnel and Development in August 1997, claims that the UK's existing system of work-based training for the young is failing both young people and society, and suggests a radical reform of provision in order to enhance the quality and status of foundation learning in work. The existing government-sponsored Youth Training scheme should be scrapped and replaced by new work-based traineeships for all employed and unemployed 16-18 year olds not in full-time education.
The Working to learn report, published by the Institute of Personnel and Development, was launched in August 1997 against a background of widespread concern about current work-based training provision. These worries centre on three issues:
- that young people in England and Wales can still effectively end their participation in formalised learning forever by leaving school at 16 (a situation that is nearly unique in the developed world);
- that the potential for work-based learning to both motivate young people and develop latent talent is still under-valued; and
- that the current inconsistent and narrowly defined, occupationally-specific approaches to vocational education and training (VET) serves to meet neither young people's nor society's needs.
These problems in turn reflect: a situation where the education system produces some young people who want nothing more to do with formalised learning; a society which has low expectations of what many young people can achieve; the continued existence of employment for the young that offers no training; and an at best patchy demand from UK employers for a general "upskilling" of the workforce.
Of particular concern is the fact that, with the exception of the "Modern Apprenticeships" scheme (which offers high-quality apprenticeships to a relatively small proportion of young people), work-based learning for youngsters is a low status route in Britain. Youth Training (YT) - the main work-based training scheme - has a poor success record. At present, the majority of YT trainees fail to achieve a full qualification, and nearly 47% leave the scheme before completing their training. Moreover, YT offers very narrowly focused training with little broader general education, and has become stigmatised in the minds of parents and young people alike.
The Labour Government is currently reviewing VET for young people. Besides the introduction of work based training as an element within its "Welfare to Work" initiative for the young and adult unemployed people (UK9707143F), the Government is pledged to replace the current YT scheme for 16-18 year olds. This review is taking place in the knowledge that numerous attempts since the late 1970s to put in place a robust, high-quality work-based training route for those young people not staying on in full-time education have ultimately ended in failure.
What is working to learn?
Working to learn offers a set of proposals to try and break this cycle and to provide a scheme that reflects recent changes in the youth labour market, such as the rise of part-time employment. It suggests a broad-based programme of learning covering both occupationally-specific skills and general education. Each trainee would have a "mentor" and a programme tailored to their needs. This would include occupationally-relevant training, at least two work-experience placements, education for "citizenship" and adult life, and the opportunity to pursue academic and vocational qualifications. Young people would also develop key skills, such as numeracy and communication, and additional skills linked to their career interests, such as foreign languages.
The traineeship would be delivered through two routes: one full-time and lasting at least two years; the other a part-time route for those who want to combine a traineeship with other work or caring responsibilities. Trainees would be allowed to change occupations at least once, without penalty to them or their employer, in recognition of the fact that 16 year olds may not be clear about, or may not make, the right career choice.
Working to learn argues that planning and delivery of the new traineeships needs to be undertaken through the development of new partnerships between all those involved. Thus the design and operation of the programme would be overseen by a "National Consortium", made up of representatives from central government, local education authorities, employers, trade unions, careers services, further education colleges, and voluntary bodies. The Consortium would be responsible to government and would develop learning materials, control quality via an inspectorate, disseminate good practice, pilot new learning methods, and support the training of trainers.
Local delivery of the work-based education and training would be through a network of "Local Learning Coordination Units" (LLCU s). These would again be made up of representatives of the major partners, and would channel government funding to approved training providers (firms, colleges, group training organisations, and private training providers).
Working to learn is just one contribution to a wider debate about the future direction of VET policies in the UK. Despite massive structural change in the VET system over the last two decades, and apparently significant increases in aggregate volumes of training since the mid-1980s, the "skills revolution" demanded by a broad spectrum of opinion (the Trades Union Congress, Confederation of British Industry, and the major political parties) remains elusive. Significant weaknesses continue to flaw the systems that deliver skills, and demand for "upskilling" remains patchy and halting. It is these weak spots that the Labour Government is currently seeking to address through a range of promised initiatives on adult and lifetime learning, a "University for Industry", better skills training as part of a package of measures aimed at long-term unemployed people (Welfare to Work), and a new training scheme for 16-18 year old entrants to the labour force. Future EIRO records will report on these developments as and when they emerge.
More broadly, the continuing debate in the UK about the best means to encourage learning and deliver skills underlines the importance that skills have been afforded in policy-making on economic competitiveness. With workforce skills now being seen as the sole source of sustainable competitive advantage within and between developed nations, upskilling has come to be seen, both by national governments and by bodies such as the EU and the OECD, as a key element in economic and social policy. (Ewart Keep, IRRU)
Working to learn, by Karen Evans, Phil Hodkinson, Ewart Keep, Malcolm Maguire, David Raffe, Helen Rainbird, Peter Senker, and Lorna Unwin, is published by the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD). Copies of the report are available (price GBP 14.50) from Plymbridge Distributors (tel: 44 (0)1752 202301).