The government is to consider paying National Insurance contributions for employers if their employees undertake basic skills training.
Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett has announced the plans for grants in a number of pilot areas to compensate employers for the tax paid for employees while they undertake this type of training in an a further attempt to tackle the problems highlighted by poor literacy and numeracy in the UK.
Free basic skills training is also being made available to any adult who wants it through the government's learndirect service. Additional plans are being made to improve the basic skills of public sector workers including the NHS, and the education of prisoners.
The plans form part of the government's ‘Skills for Life’ strategy, unveiled in December, which aims to improve adult literacy and numeracy skills, with National Literacy Tests and National Numeracy Tests due to be put in place at the beginning of this year in order for learners to be properly assessed. Recent studies have revealed that more than 7 million adults struggle with basic literacy, which is seen as a key factor in the UK's competitiveness in industry. The government has pledged at least £1.5 billion over three years to fund the strategy.
The government's decision to invest further resources in basic skills comes as new research is published highlighting the benefits improved basic skills would mean to the UK economy. Announcing the plans, David Blunkett said that the UK was around 20% less productive than the Germans (measured by the real hourly wage gap), and that it was estimated that around two-thirds of this shortfall (13% of the 20%) was due to weaker literacy and numeracy skills.
Last month, a report published by the Basic Skills Agency cast doubt on the success of current basic skills training provision, saying that although It found that although most of the learners tested had made 'modest progress' in reading, progress was considerably slower in improving writing skills. The report recommended more training and better career development for Adult Basic Skills tutors, together with a greater use of intensive tution. The government has plans for a new university-based national research centre which will help develop best practice in teaching adults the basics.
Speaking to TrainingZONE last week, Derek Wanless, chairman of NACETT, the council for national training targets, said that improving basic skills was one of the biggest challeges faced by the incoming Learning and Skills Council.