Do we have one of the most under-trained workforces in the developed world? Certainly the Government thinks so and is particularly critical of training in IT and engineering.
Government is not short of initiatives and organisations to tackle the problem but is it "all talk and no delivery"? Training professionals agree that they want employers and staff to set the training agenda but, despite a massive web of consultation bodies, few engage positively with training providers.
Computer Weekly recently published the annual IT Directors' Forum and Working in IT surveys. Interestingly, while IT directors had recruitment and retention of staff as their number one challenge they did not even mention training. Only 2% of the IT workers surveyed cited training as their primary motivating factor. Could it be that training is being seen as an end in itself and an added cost rather than an aid to productivity and a valuable investment?
Certainly, the training industry does itself no good with a massive web of competing organisations and the alphabet soup of acronyms associated with training. I suspect there are few who really have a comprehensive handle on what is going on.
In the UK we still try to differentiate between training and education, probably due to our "class-war" hang ups. However, the drive is to award qualifications for all training and I think we should assume all training is education and vice-versa. Having made that clear let's review some recent changes.
Training and Enterprise Councils have been replaced with Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) at both local and national levels. Schools, colleges and universities are introducing more "vocational" qualifications from GCSEs upwards. The Careers Service is being subsumed into the Connections Service. Modern apprenticeships are now designed at basic, advanced and graduate level. National Vocational Qualifications, once heralded as a unifying methodology, are seen as an extra layer.
The professional institutes and other professional bodies are all putting in their two-pennyworth. The University for Industry will soon be with us. Learning Direct and UK Online have been launched.
In the past we had Industrial Training Boards. These were transferred into National Training Organisations (NTOs) and they in turn are awaiting the long overdue results of a government review. The NTOs' qualification-awarding bodies have had to become separate bodies responsible to the National Qualifications Authority.
The Government said it wants to reduce the number of NTOs but has created more, such as the E-Skills NTO, which has tended to further complicate the line of decision making. Rumours abound that it is planning to have a central body co-ordinating the NTOs, thus adding a further layer of bureaucracy.
In a recent NTO for Engineering and Manufacturing-sponsored survey of school leavers, the popularity of careers in IT scored highly. But evidence suggests that few pupils follow through into IT-specific courses. Despite this, the UK is still seen as one of the leading nations in providing IT professionals.
How can this be? Could it be that people who use IT as a tool, not as an end in itself, acquire and use skills in a better way than many IT specialists?
Whatever the answers I do know that training professionals need to cut through the organisational red tape and reconnect with those who want to develop their skills.
Ian Bruce is a former Conservative MP and chairman of the cross-party IT industry lobby group Eurim