Give Employers Credit for Training and Get Welsh Workers the Right Skills for Their Jobs

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Byline: By David Rosser

Last week the Welsh Assembly Government launched its third skills and employment strategy, called Skills That Work For Wales. It sets out some of WAG's thinking on how to make the provision of publicly funded training in Wales more relevant to the world of work and on getting more of the economically inactive - those who cannot or who choose not to work - into employment.

It talks about putting employers at the centre of this strategy, with a stronger voice, and promises a more focused and tailored skills service in return for business taking more responsibility and putting in its own funding.

This attempt to align the skills agenda with employers' needs will be welcomed by business in Wales, though the details of delivery will be crucial to its success.

Employers have a mixed, but overall pragmatic, approach to training. While some do not invest in training at all, and some provide training well beyond the needs of the business, in an attempt to create a learning culture, the vast majority of employers invest in the skills that are needed for the workplace.

They take economically rational decisions based on the current and predicted needs of the business, and purchase the training from the best-placed provider, either in-house provision, their local college or university, or a specialist training company.

So how does government action and funding sit alongside this employer responsibility for training? Affordability is certainly an issue for businesses.

While CBI surveys show employers are more reluctant to cut training in tough times than they might have been in the past, there is no question that if there is external funding available to offset the cost, then more training is likely to take place. The Assembly is determined, rightly, to ensure that it is supporting employers who are willing to invest their own money alongside.

The other key aspiration of government in this area is to ensure employees gain some recognised qualification.

Most businesses are more focused on providing their workers with skills - not because they are concerned at losing people if they provide them with qualifications, but because the time commitment for acquiring qualifications not related to a business's needs can be disruptive.

This is another area where government funding can encourage an employer to go further than it might choose to do itself.

There is a balance to be struck here. Forcing employers to provide training for qualifications which they see as irrelevant in order to receive funding may prove counter-productive and fail to gain the increase in training that is desired. …