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Under-valued British Training Network Could Provide Key Solution to Skills Gaps, Inquiry Concludes

An under-valued network of employer-led training organisations established almost 50 years ago could help to remedy the serious skills gaps and shortages that are hampering the UK's economic recovery.

This is the conclusion of an independent Commission of Inquiry into the role of Group Training Associations (GTAs) chaired by Professor Lorna Unwin of the Institute of Education.

GTAs, which are not-for-profit associations, are already well-established in some parts of the country, particularly the North of England and the Midlands, but they have only a patchy presence in other regions. The time is now right for these associations to become active in areas of the UK where they do not exist or have only a limited role, the Commission believes.

"Group Training Associations should be central to the Government's plans for economic growth, rebalancing the economy, increasing the stocks of technician and higher level skills, and the expansion and improvement of apprenticeships," Professor Unwin says. "GTAs play a strategic role both geographically and sectorally by monitoring and meeting the challenge posed by skills gaps and shortages. Their focus on specific areas of skill means that they have a great depth of knowledge and capacity to develop occupational expertise."

The Commission's four-month inquiry into the role of GTAs has confirmed that they offer local solutions to the workforce and business development needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They also provide large employers with consistently high quality training and help them to build capacity in their supply chains.

A key part of the business service that GTAs offer employers, Professor Unwin says, is to connect companies with funding streams and provide guidance for employers who are confused by the plethora of UK training schemes, qualifications and initiatives.

She and her fellow commissioners recommend that GTAs should begin to move into sectors that have not benefited from their involvement to date. However, the Commission's report notes that they and their umbrella organisation – GTA England – will need government support to do this.

Although GTAs operate within a "fiercely competitive marketplace" they do not have access to the capital funds available to FE colleges, the Commission points out. It also notes that some colleges which sub-contract the delivery of vocational education to GTAs hold back between 15 per cent and 40 per cent of the funds they receive from the Skills Funding Agency as a management fee. As such sub-contracting reduces the amount of money that is spent on actual training, the practice should be discouraged, the Commission says.

It recommends that the government establishes a "level playing field" for GTAs and FE colleges. A fairer funding system would enable GTAs to deliver vocational qualifications – outside apprenticeships -- up to and including Higher National Diplomas, Professor Unwin says. "It would also provide capital funding to sustain and upgrade GTA facilities and equipment. Employers must also contribute financially to the sustainability and expansion of GTAs."

The Commission's report says that the Government and its agencies should work with GTA England to develop a plan for expanding existing GTAs and establishing new ones. The new GTAs could be set up under the "care" of an established GTA in the same or a closely related sector, it adds. This would be similar to the "incubator" approach used by some university-business partnerships.

The report recommends that GTA England and local GTAs should build relationships with individual trade unions too.  This should enable them to reach more SMEs, employees and individual learners, the Commission says.

It also recommends that the definition of a GTA should be clarified and that a code of ethics should be drawn up to govern its activities. The Commission is particularly keen that GTAs should be clearly distinguished from the small number of Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs) established by the previous Labour government. ATAs concentrate on Level 2 (intermediate) apprenticeships and do not have the same levels of expertise and capacity in vocational education and training as GTAs, the report says. Employers also tend to have a different relationship with ATAs, using them as employment agencies.

John Hayes, the former Skills Minister, welcomed the Commission's report before taking over as Energy Minister last week. He said: "GTAs have a proven track record of going the extra mile to meet the specific training needs of SME apprentices. I would like to thank Professor Unwin and her colleagues for their valuable research in to the GTA model and identifying how it might be expanded to benefit other sectors and regions."

David Way, Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, also welcomed the report. He said: "It is an important step which will reinvigorate and redefine the GTA model some 40 years after its conception in the 1960's. GTAs are unique as they are not-for-profit employer-led training providers with close ties with other SMEs and the communities in which they are based. Collectively they support hundreds of small businesses across the country to access quality apprenticeships and industry-specific training tailored to meet their needs. The recent Holt Review further highlighted the value and potential impact that GTAs can have in making apprenticeships more accessible to SMEs. NAS will now work closely with GTA England to address some of the issues raised in the report and to identify how we ensure more SMEs have access to a GTA in their local area."

Mark Maudsley, CEO of GTA England, said: "The GTA England Board fully endorses the Commission's report and its recommendations were accepted by GTA England members at a recent meeting."

The Commission of Inquiry was established by GTA England with the support of the National Apprenticeship Service. It conducted its inquiry between January and May 2012. The Commission gathered written and oral evidence from a range of stakeholders involved in employer engagement, training, apprenticeship, and workforce development.

The Commission's report will be available from 8am on Friday, September 14, from the website of the IOE centre which hosted the inquiry, the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) The report will also be available from the GTA England from Monday.


Source: Institute of Education

Feb 27, 2017 07:33 PM