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BSA column - No 18 SKills and Training

Author : Mark Fox, Chief Executive of the BSA

29 June 2012

‘Education, education, education’ – this was Labour’s war cry when they came into office in 1997. But while the government fixated on the numbers of young people going to university, basic numeracy and literacy skills were allowed to decline and technical colleges were no longer recognised for the important training opportunities they offered. Now, instead of having the most skilled workforce in the world, many graduates can’t find work and employers are struggling to find skilled workers.

We must recognise that a university degree will not be right for everyone. We can, and indeed should, remain proud of Britain’s universities - many of which are world renowned institutions of learning. But at the same time we must also recognise the considerable value that vocational training and apprenticeships has for the UK. It is time they carried equal merit alongside academic degree courses. For many young people, vocational training will be far more suitable and will offer much better employment opportunities than will a £9,000 a year arts degree.

We must support our young people by increasing the number of training places available. New programmes should be designed not for learning’s sake, but to help get people back into work and to support economic prosperity across all parts of the UK.

That means they need to be led by the needs of the job-creators.

The Government are beginning to understand this. At the last Conservative Conference, the Prime Minister sent out a call to businesses: the Government would cut red tape, but industry must show leadership on skills and training. The BSA, in co-operation with Asset Skills, are answering that call.

The BSA has been working with Asset Skills to identify the obstacles our industry faces when it comes to taking on apprenticeships. Once we’ve identified these barriers, we can start to build a training framework that meets the needs of both industry and the nation’s workforce, thereby helping restore growth.

Some key issues are easy to identify; others less so. One recognised challenge is that training providers do not always understand the nature of the facilities management industry. As a result, training courses are not designed to meet the needs of FM businesses. Jobs in FM are rarely desk-based, nine to five positions, but are often shift-based work which takes place across different schools and hospitals. Similarly, young people themselves increasingly choose to work for more than one employer at a time.

We know business wants to make better use of traineeships, but they need training providers – and the training system – to understand how their businesses and their employees work.

Equally, schools and careers advisors rarely appreciate the career opportunities available in the FM industry. For those considering apprenticeships, they are more frequently directed towards schemes such as engineering or hairdressing, rather than facilities management, despite the exciting career pathways available. We know we have an important role to play here. Over the coming weeks and months the BSA and Asset Skills will be working together to consider how we can support schools to ensure students receive the best advice and a better understanding of the world of work they are about to enter.

There have already seen some promising first steps. In response to calls from industry that school children were not being taught useful and necessary IT skills, the IT GCSE syllabus has been dramatically transformed. We need to see more positive action of this kind - businesses setting out what skills they need from today’s workforce, and government working in partnership with industry to help deliver those skills.

Over the coming months, we will continue to explore various training options for the FM sector. We don’t know yet what the final conclusions will be, but we are sure of one thing: our final report will not be the end of this work, it will be the beginning of what we hope will mark a transformation in the skills agenda for the FM sector.

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