Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2006
Q400 John Penrose: Just to pursue
a little bit on that. What we have been hearing is that attitudes
to skills vary very strongly between different groups. You said
yourself we do not necessarily have a culture which values skills
in this country in the way that some other countries do. Do you
think you are going to have to delve into whether or not some
groups of the harder to help are more or less pro skills development?
If there are some groups that are less pro skills development,
does that not argue that you may need to have some specific kinds
of outreach or something like that in order to change that particular
culture because it will be a different set of obstacles than in
Lord Leitch: One of our principles
is to adapt and respond, so I agree entirely with you. I think
there will be different tailor-made solutions for different groups
in different locations. I think the situation is different in
different parts of the country. It is different for different
socio-economic groups as well, I agree with you.
Q401 John Penrose: Are you planning
to do any follow-up work to address those sorts of questions?
Lord Leitch: My job is to deliver
this report and it is then to fight hard as a champion for recommendations
and then the implementation, how that is taken forward, is up
to the Government in the UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Q402 John Penrose: So which departments
should we be following up? Is it going to be DWP or is it going
to be the Department for Education and Skills?
Lord Leitch: I think it is both
actually. I commend you to do that.
Q403 John Penrose: That is the question
they have got to answer? You have identified it; they have got
to come up with the answers?
Lord Leitch: Yes.
Q404 Michael Jabez Foster: Your report
seems to acknowledge that the ambitions of the individual to be
trained are really important in determining whether or not they
are going to enter into a training programme. On that area of
personal attitudes and expectations, may I put to you that in
certain areasmy own constituency of Hastingsthere
are very, very low skills and a culture of acceptance of low skills.
What can be done about that?
Lord Leitch: I think, as I said
earlier, changing the culture is incredibly difficult. I think
we should begin a journey to change behaviour which will lead
to a change in culture. I think it should start with awareness
and then access. Awareness is actually showing people that there
is increased value to them from learning. I think that starts
perhaps in pure marketing in terms of giving people the insight
to what is there. I mentioned this particular advert that went
before. I think we should start with that. Then we have the basic
skills and all the work we have talked about. I think that is
the only way we can do it. I can think of no other solution.
Q405 Michael Jabez Foster: I had
a carer yesterday who is 53 years old and she said, "My caring
role has ended. My parents have had to go into a home eventually
(so she is feeling terribly upset about it) and I have not got
a skill in the world. I am not very clever (she probably is) and
I have certainly not got the confidence to go and do anything."
What do we do about people like that because there are many thousands
of people like that, particularly carers who get to the end, who
lose their carer's allowance because they are no longer performing
the role and they have no income and no confidence. There is a
massive group out there.
Lord Leitch: There is and the
universal careers advice service would be the first port of call
for that person, done in a user-friendly way, to sit down and
counsel where you are in your life, what skills you have, if any,
what you would like to do, and what is possible. It is the art
of the possible. First, it is the analysis, then giving them advice
and guidance as to what they can do, and then giving them access
to that. That is the way forward.
Q406 Michael Jabez Foster: Do you
think there is enough facility there because the whole project
is based, as you said at the very first question, on asking employers
what they want, and by asking employers what they want is not
the difficulty at the softer endperhaps carers who are
still caring in that area who are a long way from the work marketand
do you think there is sufficient attention given to those groups
which are not the immediate concern of employers?
Lord Leitch: We are suggesting
more attention should be given to those groups. This is not all
employers. What we are recommending is not everything for all
employers. There is a responsibility on the state to give everybody
this basic platform of skills. The Careers Advice Service is a
Government responsibility, it is not an employer responsibility,
so there has got to be that balance. What we are saying is on
the role of the Commission it is employer-led, but we make the
point very strongly in the report that it is within a framework
of rights and responsibilities for individuals, so this is not
saying delegate or abdicate all responsibility from the state
to employers. It is not that at all because the state has a very
crucial role to play in groups like you are talking about.
Q407 Michael Jabez Foster: So you
would accept that outcomes may be more distant than the immediate?
Lord Leitch: Yes, absolutely.
Q408 Michael Jabez Foster: And the
gains may be more distant?
Lord Leitch: Absolutely and you
might have to take a longer view with some people. There is clearly
a social aspect to that.
Q409 Harry Cohen: Where do you stand
on the DWP's "work first" approach? Does this mean that
the focus is on upskilling people who are already in work, perhaps
even at the expense of those who are out of work?
Lord Leitch: I think that the
"work first" approach from DWP has been incredibly successful.
All the evidence shows that for people who are unemployed getting
them into a job is a great solution, and I think a 75% employment
rate is testimony to the approach of work first. We are not advocating
that you change that approach. What we are saying is that you
complement it by saying there are some groups who need skills
first before they can get work. We have identified the sorts of
things we have been talking about there. There would be some groups
who need more skills before they can get into work and these particular
disadvantaged groups are exactly that, so skills first.
Q410 Harry Cohen: Train to Gain has
been successfully piloted and you have eulogised about it earlier
on as well. How do we ensure that the quality of the training
is there and very relevant and not just for the current job but
for that person to take on into the future?
Lord Leitch: In quality of training
I think there is a role for sector skills councils. Again, we
are talking about economically valuable skills. I think that has
got to be a mantra. If we drive economically valuable skills,
the best thing you can do for any individual is to get them into
a job that is delivering those economically valuable skills. They
will then get a wage premium, they will then get a sustainable
job, they will get promotion and then a bigger wage premium. That
is exactly what we should be doing. I make no apologies that economically
valuable skills is absolutely the direction we are trying to move
into, so it would be demand-led. I keep saying the reformed and
relicensed sector skills councils because they are not all performing
at the standards we would like. There are 25 at the moment and
I think a number of them need to be evaluated and assessed as
to whether they are delivering to the standards that we want.
The sector skills councils, reformed and relicensed, will do that
approval. We will also have a regulatory approach by the QCA which
will apply a light touch, risked-based quality control regime
on the courses. I think that you will see the 22,500 vocational
courses, many of which as I have said have no return, reduce,
and we are actually charging the sector skills councils to come
up by the end of 2008 with a view on the number of courses that
would apply going forward, so there is that control. Obviously
you have got to have the QCA controlling it too.
Q411 Harry Cohen: That is helpful.
The aim is by 2010 to get an additional 3.6 million people to
Level 2 or higher qualification, as far as I can see. That is
a lot people. Is it achievable on the Train to Gain model? What
is needed to achieve that?
Lord Leitch: I think it is eminently
achievable. Other countries do it; we are behind. As I said earlier,
I think the proposition to employers is compelling, but there
are some hard-to-reach employers whom we have got to get to and
evangelise the benefits to them (that is the job of Sir Digby
Jones) and I think that is absolutely achievable.
Q412 Harry Cohen: In the time span?
It is a short timespan.
Lord Leitch: We have said on the
pledge that we have got until 2010 and our targets are for 2020.
We have got to look at the trajectory and if it is a positive
trajectory I would make a judgment and I would continue with the
voluntary approach. If it is not working I think we should then
introduce the entitlement. Coming, Michael, back to your point
about compulsion, I think then there is a good case for saying
we have to have that. However, it would be done in full consultation
with unions and employers and done in the workplace, which I think
is one of the factors that would influence the success rate as
an entitlement. The other thing just on the entitlement, we have
got to be very careful if we bring in the statutory entitlement
that what it does is it enhances employers and does not cripple
employers. It is very important that we design very carefully
what eligibility means. Again, you do not want to have a blunt
instrument where you bring in compulsion of an entitlement which
damages employment. You would have to have criteria like how long
have you been in the job before you are entitled to this. You
need to make sure that you are not spending investment and time
on people who will not be there in two weeks' time.
Q413 Harry Cohen: Can I just pick
up on some of these other aspects, not just skills but job retention,
earnings progression, people if they move jobs progressing in
work. How will Train to Gain work in that regard? Do you think
it needs perhaps some adaptation to work?
Lord Leitch: Yes, I think Train
to Gain will continue to evolve and improve. One of the areas
that is being looked at on Train to Gain is to take the concept
to higher levels. I have mentioned the higher education levels.
One of the reasons for a lower percentage of funding in the UK
compared to comparator nations is the fact that we do not have
the stimulus for employers to fund higher education in the same
way. We are recommending that a portion of the HEFCE budget is
applied to stimulate this, so you can see co-funding of degrees
in the workplace. Again coming back to an earlier point about
breaking things down into bite-size chunks so that employers see
a value in unitised, more modular degree courses done in the workplace,
we think that is the way to stimulate that. I can see Train to
Gain extend in that sort of way up to higher levels. In the medium
and lower levels it will continue to evolve and improve and adapt.
One of our principles is "adapt and respond".
Q414 Harry Cohen: My last question
is about rewards and incentives. Clearly there is something there
for employers if they can get a more skilled workforce, but what
about Jobcentre Plus, the welfare to work providers, the LSC,
the skills councils; should something be built into the system
that rewards them if they get people into employment, let alone
the skills upgrade?
Lord Leitch: That is a very good
question. The job of the provider in vocational skills is to provide
those skills to individuals so that they can then either get a
job or progress in a job or sustain a job. At the present time
there is not enough analysis of the impact of what they have done
on outcomes, so what we are recommending in here is that providers
should provide an analysis of what has happened based on the courses
that they provide. That would be one of the factors for assessing
the performance of the provider. You mentioned that employers
get a benefit from this. I can tell you that not all employers
see the benefit from skills. One of the areas that we want to
improve is awareness and engagement, and that is again where the
Commission and the sector skills councils will come in because
we want the one-third of employers who do nothing to start training
and we want those people who are already doing it to see ways
in which they can improve their investment and increase their
Q415 Mrs Humble: First of all, I
just want to ask a follow-up question to one of your answers to
Harry Cohen when you talked about Train to Gain going up through
into the higher education sector. How can you make HE as responsive
in the way that you want it to be responsive given there is a
long lead-in time before universities can set up new courses,
new departments, and recruit staff to then deliver courses that
have been identified by employers in the way that you have outlined?
And then of course degree courses are three years. If you say
it is a five-year period by the time they turn out these graduates,
there might not be the need for their particular skills. How can
HE be part of this much more flexible responsive skills training
system that you want to put in place?
Lord Leitch: I think it can and
it must. There was a report done three years ago by Richard Lambert
on the engagement of employers with higher education institutions.
He was saying much more needs to be done to improve that engagement.
I read two months ago a report done by the City of London employers
on financial services saying exactly the same. You have got to
improve the engagement between higher education and employers.
It has to be done and I believe it can be done. We have got some
good examples. I will give you a good example. There is one sector
skills council which is called eSkills. I do not know if you have
come across this, this is in IT, and for me this is an exemplar
of how to run a sector skills council. Around the table of the
council are the chief executives from all the major IT companies
in this countrythe IBMs, the Oracles, the Ciscos, they
are all there around the table defining what they need. They have
defined that in their sector they need a particular graduate course,
so what they have done is to work with certain universities to
design that graduate course the curriculum of which is suitable
for their industry, so collectively they have done it and they
have developed a portable skill which they say is so good it is
going to benefit all of them. In this year they are going to enrol
600 students in that course, so that is employers taking a three-year
view on what can be done. What we are also saying is that degrees
can be done in a modular way. If you have got degrees which you
can do if you are in work (like the Open University) they can
be done much more in the workplace with a stimulus of funding
coming from higher education which will then encourage the employer
to put more in. The other point on degrees is of course that one
of the most successful areas for higher education in recent years
is MBAs which have been stunningly successful. I think that shows
it can work.
Q416 Mrs Humble: Thank you for that.
Now I will ask the questions that I should be asking you which
are about the interaction between benefits and skills training.
I want to carry on the example John Penrose gave you earlier of
somebody who is over 25, who is unemployed, who knocks on the
door of his FE college because he has recognised that he needs
reskilling and you outlined that that individual would have access
to the learner account and the proposed Skills Development Fund.
How would that support interact with their benefit entitlement
if they are receiving financial support in some way?
Lord Leitch: I will let Stephen
Mr Evans: Then he will say the
opposite! I think that there is always a debate about the benefit
rules versus all the other support that people get outside benefits.
We will probably end up ducking this and saying it is for the
Government to decide the interaction. What is clear for people
on benefits is that some of them need to learn. It is for the
Jobcentre to decide which of them need to get skills whilst they
are out of work. For those people who need to learn they need
financial support to learn and they can get that through the benefits
system or through the kinds of things Sandy was talking about.
As long as they get it, it is up to the Government to decide which
source they get it from best.
Q417 Chairman: There is a famous
rule in social security, the 16-hour rule on learning and education.
If you are doing less than 16 hours you can stay on benefit. Did
you have any discussions around that rule?
Mr Evans: No.
Lord Leitch: I will be quite blunt
on where we have not got gone to places and where we have.
Chairman: That is fine, it is not a problem.
Q418 Mrs Humble: I am still going
to push this a little further even though I recognise that you
have said it is up to Government to sort out the benefit rules.
This is actually a very important area. For example, somebody
on a jobseeker's allowance is required to job search so how would
that then impact if they have had their skills audit and they
are told, "You need this that and the other reskilling, we
have identified the course. We are going to fund it through one
mechanism or another"? That individual has still got to as
part of his benefit entitlement be looking for jobs. He could
then be offered a job in the middle of the course. Could he turn
down that job offer, still retain his benefit because he says,
"Hang on a minute, you have identified I need reskilling
because you have done this skills check." How would this
work? Another exampleand it is appropriate to my constituency
in Blackpoolis sometimes people are offered jobs that last
less than a year, seasonal employment where they are employed
from Easter to the switch off of the Illuminations at the beginning
of November. They could say, "Just a minute, I do not really
want to have a job that is just for however many months. I want
to do some training and then get into a job that gives me a longer-term
Lord Leitch: We have looked at
this. Again conditionality is an incredibly complex area. What
we are recommending is part-time basic skills as part of your
back-to-work plan, so the sort of example you are quoting you
could do with part-time basic skills. Again, I think what you
need to do now is to take our recommendations at this level and
you then need to go to the next level to look at every "what
if" under that next level, and we have not done that in this
Q419 Mrs Humble: You suggest that
the Government "should review whether participation [in basic
skills training] should be mandatory for all jobseekers with basic
skills who remain on benefits at six months." What are the
pros and cons on compulsion in this matter?
Lord Leitch: I think if it is
absolutely clear that if the barrier to somebody getting into
work is that they are in this recycling route of repeat claims,
then compulsion should be applied in those situations, but in
a sensitive wayand it has to be a careful evaluationotherwise
that individual that we are talking about does not stand a chance
of getting a job. It has to be done in an encouraging way to say,
"This is how we are going to help you get into a job otherwise
your chances are much less."