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Shadow Minister minister praises FM sector on training and apprenticeships

20 May 2008

David Williets, MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

At the BSA inaugural Annual Lecture this week, David Willetts MP, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Univeristies and Skills praised the efforts of the FM sector for its staff development initiatives and outlined the likely approach to skills training under a Conservative Government.

At the Business Services Association's first Annual Lecture held this week at the Cabinet War Rooms in London and sponsored by law firm, Pinsent Masons, Mr Willetts stressed the contribution made by private sector contractors in the FM sector. "Jobs you do are crucial to our economy and our quality of life. Your industries and the people working in them are the ones that keep out economy and society going. Your employees are entitled to greater recognition than in the past.

"We should see contracting out not just as matter of economics efficiency, important though that is, but also as creating new service industries and careers for individuals that deserve recognition in their own right. Starting as a cook or cleaner was never going to be the way to the top of a financial services company or a manufacturing firm. But you have created new companies where that career path is now possible. You should be able to start as a cleaner or a cook and if you want and can do it, move right through an organisation to the top."

He expressed concern at the lack of real progress in providing employment and training to young people, and particularly the growth since 1997of NEETs - 'not in employment or training' from 8-10%of 16-18 year olds.

"One explanation is that the number of young people in jobs and work-based training has fallen from 36% to 29%. So the real problem is the decline in work based training," he claimed.

He criticised the Government's preoccupation with funding skills measured by paper qualifications as a key reason why the problem of NEETs is getting worse. He continued: "FE Colleges tell me they can do far more if only they can be liberated from the straight jacket of a funding formula from the Learning and Skills Council which ties funding so narrowly to the production of paper qualifications."

He also pointed out that the Government target of 320,000 apprentices by 2006 had been missed with only 239,100 apprentices in training today. Advanced Apprentices which provide A-level equivalent training have fallen from 125,000 in 2000/1 to 97,000 today. "We need more real apprenticeships," he said. "There is a massive pent up demand for real apprenticeships which is not being met because of the sheer hassle and cost of setting them up and running them."

In the discussion following Mr Willets lecture, Richard Beamish of Asset Skills highlighted the work undertaken with women returning to work in the cleaning industry after having children stating that there are 1,500 in employee supported training. Jo Robbins of VT Group and BSA's HR Committee, suggested that some credit should be given to companies in the procurement process that do invest in training their people compared to those that do not . Ian Fielder of BIFM, pointed out the high attrition rate in training schemes and asked whether a levy system on employers could be an approach. A TUC representative also pointed out the continuing gulf that exists between the best employers who want to pay well and treat their employees with respect ,and those that do not, as highlighted in the TUC's 'Vulnerable Employment' report.

Michael Ryley, Lead Partner for international law firm Pinsent Masons' Support Services Sector, commented : "As lawyers, we often find that the 'people' issues in outsourcing deals get bogged down in the application of defensive employee protection laws. Yet effective change management will not be delivered without winning the hearts and minds of staff and this can only be done by concentrating on the opportunities, both economic and social, that arise from the migration of the workforce in connection with an outsourcing. It is encouraging to see the debate being moved in this direction."

A full transcript of Mr Willets lecture is available on

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