Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Recent history has been littered with schemes...drowned in a sea of mediocrity

I doubt whether many employers will turn their noses up at the government’s contention that there is a need to improve workplace skills and I am certainly not going to join them even if they actually exist. Equally I will not be enrolling into that happy band of people who unquestioningly accept pronouncements, usually put forward by Ministers and their obedient servants, to the effect that qualification alone is the answer to our prayers. Indeed where it is due I intend to be as critical of this government as I was of their predecessors.

Whilst welcoming the government’s commitment to support an increase in skills within the UK workforce I have reservations as to whether the ‘new dawn’ brings with it any more realism than that which accompanied past efforts to do so. Without wishing to be seen to be too curmudgeonly it seems to me that recent history has been littered with schemes posing as the latest panacea which, ultimately, have been drowned in a sea of mediocrity.

Why, despite the enormous investment of public money in recent years, have so many schemes failed to produce little more than short term benefits rather than answer the challenges of a competitive global environment? Could it have been that providers were encouraged by a government obsessed with sound bytes to focus on delivering numbers rather than providing a quality product? Could it be that employers, seduced by the promise of fully funded training, failed to demand the higher standards required to ensure that the training on offer satisfied the needs of their business? Could it be that the whole exercise was about funding and bits of paper? Could it be that many of the schemes were simply designed to reduce the level of the political fallout attached to youth unemployment?

Harsh? Unfair? Maybe, but not entirely I think, but are politicians alone to blame? Not entirely we all have to take some of the rap. In truth many of the schemes were appropriate and well thought out, the fault lies within the execution with the result that many people have regarded some of the qualifications arising from them with a degree of disdain rather than take the trouble to understand how they might contribute to their business plans? How many had been content, simply because they were funded, to take them at face value rather than take the trouble to fully read the curriculum to understand what exactly was involved? The scheme was fully funded, the member of staff got a certificate and the provider got paid. Oh! And the politicians were able to boast about yet another contribution to the wellbeing of mankind.

How many of us have really taken the trouble to understand some of the qualifications on offer and the benefits they offer. I recently read the contents of an NVQ Level 3 in Business Administration and will no longer question its efficacy or usefulness. Properly assessed it is a challenging and comprehensive qualification. Whilst accepting that not all providers have engaged in shortcuts or, indeed, all employers have failed to be sufficiently demanding, too few have been as diligent as they might have been. The result? Despite the merits of various qualifications they have ultimately delivered a great deal less than should have been expected.

The solution? Government should introduce a time served system in which higher standards are sought thus reducing the opportunity for shortcuts to be taken. Employers should be more effectively engaged to ensure that training (particularly that which is funded by Government) actually fits the needs of their business. Finally, we all need to understand that training individuals is not simply a philanthropic exercise, unless we treat it as having real value it will regarded as having none.

It is all too easy to question the credibility of vocational qualifications but the truth is that they are important to the future development of our businesses and the people who work in them. Qualifications alone are not the answer, nonetheless, we all need to do more to ensure that they are challenging and appropriate. We all need to value and support the development of higher level skills, if we do they will be held in higher regard by those achieving them. They in turn will make a greater contribution to the businesses for which they work.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Long term solutions not blame

The recent riots in London and elsewhere have, rightly, attracted enormous condemnation of those concerned in the looting, arson, theft and other forms criminality. Whatever challenges, real or imagined, the participants face there can be no conceivable excuse for their actions and I for one hope that the courts treat those that come before them in an exemplary fashion. The indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks on people in their homes, and while working in their businesses, has been truly sickening.
Apart from having to witness a variety of atrocious occurrences I guess the next thing we will be forced to endure will be the in-fighting amongst politicians of all parties whose horizons do not go beyond the next election. It didn’t take long to start and, no doubt, the bickering will grow in intensity during the coming weeks and months. So and so didn’t come back from their holidays soon enough; the cuts and withdrawal of benefits/EMA/community support were bound to result in these poor disenfranchised souls feeling the need to steal the latest 55” TV/i-pad/i-pod or whatever else took their fancy. Before any attempt is made to find solutions the game will largely be about ensuring that no blame attaches to them and, wherever possible, as much mud as possible is slung at the other side. The truth is that these examples of appalling behaviour were not caused by politicians of any party the responsibility lies fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of those who took part.
Despite recognising that politicians are not directly to blame it is clear that they do have a role in developing strategies that will make it less likely that these riots recur. The job to be done is enormous and will not be concluded following the uncovering of some form of miraculous ‘silver bullet’ nor, in my view, will solutions be found in committing the police to attending yet more community meetings.
My Grandmother was fond of reminding me that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ so maybe the starting point should be to find these people work. The flaw in that idea, though, is that most seem to be unemployable, unable or unwilling to speak in understandable English and largely of the view that the world owes them a living. On the latter point the world owes them nothing they are not prepared to work for and it is most certainly not incumbent on employers to conform to their strange twisted view of life.
Are they lost causes? Some may be but hopefully most can be redeemed, although this won’t happen if we excuse their every misdemeanour. In the meantime we desperately need to be working on those who are likely to follow them to ensure that they develop respect for themselves and others.
In the short term we need the government to do all it can to support all the businesses affected to get back on their feet and their staff back into work, more profound solutions will take a great deal longer.