While the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) welcomed the 2020 vision outlined by Lord Leitch, its learning and development adviser Eileen Arney says it remains to be seen whether the review's blueprint will prove any more successful than similar past exercises.
There is much to commend Lord Leitch's review of skills, but improvements in the supply of skills must be matched by improvements in management in the workplace. Poor management all too often means that skills are not used to best effect, and investment in workplace learning does not deliver the intended benefits.
Structural reform While Lord Leitch emphasises the merit of building skills policy on existing structures he in fact posits a considerable amount of structural reform, with a new Commission for Employment and Skills, employer led Skills Boards, and an Employment and Skills service designed to improve the skills and employability of jobless people. There is even the suggestion of reviewing the existing Investors in People Framework.
In principle the proposed streamlined system makes sense - many indeed may see similarities with the tri-partite Manpower Services Commission of the 1970s and early 1980s.
The prize Lord Leitch reckons that implementation of his blueprint would eventually raise the UK's underlying rate of productivity growth by 0.1 percentage point and the UK's sustainable employment rate by around 0.2 percentage points. These would be substantial improvements but Lord Leitch's report is relatively vague on how precisely investment in skills translates into higher productivity.
The report acknowledges in passing that “skills must be effectively used for the benefits to be fully realised”, and calls for improvements to management and leadership skills to enable this, but puts too little emphasis on the key role of effective people management. As this week's CIPD/Ipsos MORI survey of 2000 UK employees finds, almost 1 in 3 feel that they are not being managed well enough to make effective use of their existing skills."
The pledge Lord Leitch wants employers to pledge that they will support low skilled employees to gain level 2 qualifications - and in an effort to assuage the trade union lobby implies that come 2010 they may be compelled to do so, including mention of possibly bringing back training levies in some industrial sectors.
However, the suggestion of compulsion, and emphasis elsewhere in the report on encouraging employers to increase investment in portable accredited training, gives too little weight to the reality that for many employers it is not in their financial interest to invest in portable skills that might be poached by competitors.