Training network could help plug skills gap, inquiry finds
A network of employer-led training organisations established almost 50 years ago could help to remedy the skills gaps and shortages hampering the UK's economic recovery.
That was the conclusion of an independent Commission of Inquiry into the role of Group Training Associations (GTAs) chaired by Professor Lorna Unwin of the Institute of Education.
GTAs, which are not-for-profit associations, are already established in some parts of the country, particularly the North of England and the Midlands, but they have only a patchy presence in other parts of the country.
The Commission believes the time is now right for these associations to become active in areas of the UK where they do not exist or have only a limited role.
"Group Training Associations should be central to the Government's plans for economic growth, rebalancing the economy, increasing the stocks of technician and higher level skills, and the expansion and improvement of apprenticeships," said Professor Unwin.
"GTAs play a strategic role both geographically and sectorally by monitoring and meeting the challenge posed by skills gaps and shortages. Their focus on specific areas of skill means that they have a great depth of knowledge and capacity to develop occupational expertise."
The Commission's four-month inquiry into the role of GTAs has confirmed that they offer local solutions to the workforce and business development needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They also provide large employers with consistently high quality training and help them to build capacity in their supply chains.
A key part of the business service that GTAs offer employers is to connect companies with funding streams and provide guidance for employers who are confused by the plethora of UK training schemes, qualifications and initiatives.
The Commission's report says that the government and its agencies should work with GTA England to develop a plan for expanding existing GTAs and establishing new ones. The new GTAs could be set up under the "care" of an established GTA in the same or a closely related sector, it adds. This would be similar to the "incubator" approach used by some university-business partnerships.
It also recommends that the definition of a GTA should be clarified and that a code of ethics should be drawn up to govern their activities. The Commission is particularly keen that GTAs should be clearly distinguished from the small number of Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs) established by the previous Labour government. ATAs concentrate on Level 2 (intermediate) apprenticeships and do not have the same levels of expertise and capacity in vocational education and training as GTAs, the report says. Employers also tend to have a different relationship with ATAs, using them as employment agencies.
Mark Maudsley, CEO of GTA England, welcomed the report and said: "The GTA England Board fully endorses the Commission's report and its recommendations were accepted by GTA England members at a member's day meeting in July 2012."