The UK National Training Organisation network is to be replaced by a new network of Sector Skills Councils in March next year, Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris announced today.
The announcement is the culmination of a lengthy review begun at the beginning of this year which looked at the role of the 73-strong network of NTOs. Back in February, the NTO National Council declared its support for the review, which seems likely to spell the end for the National Council in its present form.
The NTO network was formed in May 1998, replacing the Industry Training Organisations formed in the 1980s. In the last year or so there have been concerns about the effectiveness of some of the sector representatives - the NTO tele.com went into receivership at the end of last year after a contracted training provider went bust, leaving the Department of Education and Employment with a £10 million liability. The last few months have seen a merger between several NTOs, including the Gas and Water NTOs.
Speaking at the 2001 Employer Skills Summit, which takes place today and tomorrow (16/17 October), the Minister outlined plans for employers to take the lead to set up the new Councils, whose role will be to identify skills shortages and look at ways of overcoming them. Ms Morris said: "The Sector Skills Councils will be created by business for business. Governments across the UK recognise that employers are best-placed to identify where there are gaps in the skills of their workforce and equally well-placed to create strategies to close these gaps. People are our greatest economic asset, and the skills they possess are the key to raising the UK’s productivity. We want employers to be centre-stage in decisions about skills, business development and productivity performance. Sector Skills Councils will be the main way employers can influence the skills agenda. They will build on the best of the current National Training Organisations which will cease to be recognised by the Government in March 2002.
She added: "We are not going to be prescriptive about the number of Sector Skills Councils but we do not expect every employment sector to have one, and some will cover more than one sector. Sectors that do not have a Skills Council will be served by the new Sector Skills Development Agency that will oversee the functions of all Councils. Each Council will have the task of addressing the key concerns of its sector. They all have different skills needs and the Sector Skills Councils will be a reflection of this - but they must have the backing of key sector employers – whether small or large - and all will need to develop world-class national occupational standards, such as Modern Apprenticeships. Most importantly, all will be judged by the same, measurable criteria:
"I want to see Sector Skills Councils working in partnership with other organisations such as trade unions, Regional Development Agencies, the Connexions Service and the Learning and Skills Councils to improve the standards of vocational training and workforce development. Regionally, we are already doing excellent work – but until now, we have not given enough consideration to the equally important approach of looking at our needs sector by sector. If we do this, working in partnership with employers, we can transform our skills base."
The announcement today spells a major change in the set-up of workplace sector representation. More details are due to be published in a policy statement, "Meeting the sector skills and productivity challenge" tomorrow on the DfES website. It's unclear at present what sort of incentives will be made to employers in order to encourage them to take part, but the government intends to se up 'trailblazer' Councils and a shadow Sector Skills Development Agency before the end of the year. We'll be bringing you more news on this issue over the next few weeks.