Learning and Skills in the UK – An Introduction

Learning and skills is a generic term for the plethora of organisations, initiatives and services involved in improving the skills of the UK workforce. The government is providing most of the financial investment but employers and trade unions are also heavily active in this area. However, it is very difficult for the uninitiated and even insiders, to keep up with the activities of all these different stakeholders. Learning and skills even has its own terminology – do you know your LSC from an SSA or even a ULR? How about the NIACE or the SSDA?

The sheer complexity of learning and skills services has resulted in the establishment of another specialist niche service known as Information, Advice and Guidance, with its own acronym, IAG. Moreover, not a week goes by it seems without another government White Paper, pilot project or publication on learning and skills. Perhaps the difficulty lies in the fact that no one has yet decided who is responsible for training and educating the UK workforce.

Should it be the responsibility of the state through the education system at tax payer’s expense? Or perhaps employers should bare the burden of training – after all they profit directly from the skills of their workforce? How about the workers themselves? Maybe they should take responsibility for their own professional development and employability – no one can count on a job for life any more.

Learning and skills has become a high profile issue which is engaging a variety of organisations and stakeholders including trade unions, employers and Sector Skills Councils. Whilst the UK has a strong economy, productivity is trailing compared to our key competitors and poor skills is one of the reasons why. For example, over one third of adults in the UK do not have a basic school leaving qualification and five million people have no qualifications at all.

The current Blair administration, and its predecessors, have grasped the skills mantel and have also identified links between skills, economic growth and equal opportunities. Good employers have always valued and invested in skills, and trade union membership has historically conferred the benefits of access to training and education.

Meanwhile, Sector Skills Councils were set up by the government to promote and encourage skills acquisition across 25 industry sectors. Learning and skills is one of those rare issues where traditional protagonists share a mutual interest – after all skills are good for employees, good for industry and good for the economy.

Let me now take you on a brief tour of the learning and skills landscape in order to sketch out the main players, and nail some of the more unwieldy acronyms. The trade union movement, of which UNISON, Amicus, T&G and GMB are the largest members, is headed up by the Trades Union Congress known as the TUC. Historically, trade unions have been vociferous in demanding greater access to education and training and still today membership benefits include access to subsidised, if not free, training opportunities.

In 2002 the government finally passed legislation giving legal status to ULRs (or Union Learning Representatives if given their full title). The relevant passage is covered by Section 43 of the Employment Act 2002. Within two years the TUC estimated that ULRs had empowered 100,000 people to access training in their workplace in one year.

Given this success, trade unions are now campaigning for the legislative right to include training in negotiations with employers, mandatory training levies and further statutory powers for ULRs. They are also seeking further influence on Sector Skills Councils, or (yet another acronym) SSCs, and support for more prescriptive learning agreements.

However, whilst trade unions are effective at campaigning for improved learning resources in the workplace they have yet to really exploit the potential of learning and organising. This represents a golden opportunity for trade unions but they have been slow to realise it. In the meantime the establishment of Unionlearn, the new trade union learning academy, may help convince more senior union officials of the value of learning and skills, and learning and organising.

Unionlearn is funded by the Department for Education and Skills, the European Social Fund and the TUC, and its three main priorities are to help trade unions become better learning organisations. It intends to do this by helping unions carry out a range of learning and organising activities including brokering learning opportunities for members, establishing a kite mark quality standard, researching union learning priorities and promoting learning agreements.

This includes increasing the number of ULRs from 14,000 to 22,000 by 2010. Unionlearn will also take over operation of the Union Learning Fund often referred to as the ULF. This fund was established in 1998 to help unions play a greater role in promoting learning and organising in the workplace.

Sector Skill Councils, or SSCs as they are also known, are independent, employer led organisations which cover a specific industry sector. Their specific aims are to cut skills gaps and shortages, improve productivity, business and public service performance, expand opportunities to boost skills and productivity, and improve learning supply through apprenticeships, higher education and National Occupation Standards – or NOS for short.

These 25 SSCs form the backbone of the Skills for Business Network and are licensed by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Together they cover around 85% of the UK workforce. Industries not included in their remit are covered by the Sector Skills Development Agency. This agency, also known as the SSDA, is a non departmental body which funds, supports and monitors the work of the SSCs and collates high quality labour market intelligence.

Although SSCs are employer led they have at least two seats on their Board of Directors allocated to trade union officials. Each SSC is required to draw up a Sector Skills Agreement, or SSA for short, in collaboration with other stakeholders such as government departments, the SSDA, trade associations, employer bodies, the ULF, Unionlearn, and learning organisations. This agreement sets out how the SSC will address the skills gaps and challenges posed by their particular industry.

In addition to the key players mentioned previously there are vast number of other organisations linked with learning and skills. These include qualification authorities, learning delivery organisations, brokering services, economic development agencies, further and higher education services, government departments and funding agencies. It would take far too long to list all of these organisations and their relevant acronyms in this article but there are a few you should be aware of.

First of all there are the Regional Skills Partnerships, or RSPs, which have a regional responsibility for improving skills; and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) which is responsible for regulating qualification standards, and also the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, or NIACE for short, which is a charity dedicated to helping adult learners. Another important organisation to be aware of is the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) which funds vocational education and training.

The government has launched a number of initiatives, strategies, proposals and pilot projects all designed to increase relevant skills in the UK workforce. These include two White Papers which form the cornerstone of its national Skills Strategy. The second White Paper, entitled “Getting on in Business, Getting on at Work” was published in March 2005 and further developed a strategy for expanding the UK skills base.

In February 2006 the government published a Further Education White Paper, entitled “Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances”. This latest White Paper takes forward recommendations made by the Foster Review and has also been produced by the Department for Education and Skills. The Foster Review was an independent review into the future role of Further Education colleges and took place in November 2004.

The Further Education White Paper recognises the importance of these colleges and the need to strengthen the role of the sector by focusing on employability and learner progression. It also recognised the role of trade unions and Unionlearn, included a £20 million per annum skills package for women, outlined plans for free tuition to first full level 3 qualifications for 19 to 25 year olds and proposed bringing forward the national roll out of an Adult Learning Grant. I should point out here that level 3 qualifications equate to A-Levels, NVQ 3 and Advanced Extension Awards.

Further White Papers are likely to be announced when the results of the Leitch Review are published later this year. The Leitch Review was commissioned by the government to identify the UK’s optimal skills mix in 2020 in order to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice. An interim report has already been produced but the final version will not be ready until summer 2006.

There are two other important skills initiatives that should be mentioned in the course of this speech. The first is Train to Gain. This is a new service introduced by the LSC aimed at enabling businesses to find relevant training services for their workforce. It will be introduced across England in 2006 and was originally known as the National Employer Training Programme (NETP) but rebranded in early 2006. Train to Gain includes free brokered training for employees without a level 2 qualification (such as GCSEs or NVQ 2) and will trial some subsidies for level 3 and level 4 (or diploma level) qualifications.

Meanwhile in March 2006 the government published its second round prospectus setting out proposals for a network of 12 National Skills Academies by 2008. The first four national academies will be established in construction, food and drink, manufacturing and financial services.

Of course what is yet to be seen is how this extremely diverse array of services and organisations will operate in partnership with one another, and to what extent there will be unnecessary duplication. Hopefully, however, the alliance of traditional adversaries namely trade unions, employers and governmental organisations will produce significant results that will benefit individuals, businesses and the economy.

Copyright 2006 Rowena Slope (Redkite Research)

Increase Profits Efficiency by Investing in Product Labeling Equipment

If you have a business that sells specialty products, labels play an important role in giving it a signature look. A lot of products in the market are well known because of the nice design that their labels have. This is the first thing that people check when purchasing a product. So it is important to make a nice statement with the label of your product.

Evolution of Label Machines

In the olden days, putting of labels was done by hand. A lot of people were required to finish labeling a batch of products which translated to high overhead costs of the business owner. Also, since everything was done by hand, it cannot be helped that there would be labels that would be wasted because it was not placed properly or that it became dirty.

Nowadays, the method of putting labels by hand is still very much utilized by small scale businesses. But since this is the age of gadgets, hand held product labeling equipment has replaced paper labels and glue sticks. This has made placing of labels on products faster compared to doing everything by hand.

However, even with this automatic gadget, it still requires a lot of people and a lot of this thing if the output of the manufacturing is high. So there is still that concern with overhead costs that has to be addressed as well as the time spent in putting the labels.

For big factories automatic product labeling equipment is preferred because of the efficiency and the high output. Having these machines definitely reduce the labor costs because you only need a few people to operate it as well as making sure that the labels are placed correctly.

It would just require quite an amount in purchasing this. However you can consider it as an investment for your factory especially when you are starting to increase your production. Putting the labels manually or even with hand held product labeling equipment will definitely not be able to keep up with the number of products that are produced each day. You might find yourself having a backlog in the labeling area if you will rely on them unlike with automatic product labeling equipment.

Where to find the Right Supplier

Since labels are part and parcel of all the things that we purchase today, companies producing product labeling equipment have sprung up to answer the demand. You will be sure to find one that will be able to fit into your budgetary requirements. You can even consult them on the right equipment to purchase if it is your first time to do so. Since they have the expertise, they will be able to recommend you the right one that will fit your production needs.

So when you see your business getting larger, consider investing in a good product labeling equipment to do the sticking of the labels for you. You save time, energy and most importantly money that could be used for product development and growing the business even bigger.

Hire a Copywriter to Give Business a Boost

As a business owner, you want to do as much as possible to secure business and improve your profit margin. You probably already know that advertising and marketing are two routes to take to get the word out about what you have to offer. Marketing and advertising can be expensive investments. Too often business owners throw away money by creating ad and marketing campaigns without the guidance of a professional. In turn, they don’t see the results they should.

Writing promotional copy that will get noticed and garner you business is not an undertaking to be left to an amateur. Professional writers will have an intimate knowledge of the target audience and will possess a flair for language. They also know how marketing works and what key words or phrases are certain to gain a response — and a sale — from the public.

A copywriter is typically an individual whose experience lies in writing advertising copy and generating creative concepts. He or she may also have niche experience, meaning the bulk of the copywriter’s skills lie in a particular area of concentration: technology, finance, entertainment, etc. In addition to exemplary writing skills, a copywriter will also have a knack for manipulating language to best highlight a business.

For larger companies, copywriters may be on staff in marketing departments or as advertising executives. However, smaller companies do not always have the resources to employ a full-time copywriter. In this instance, a viable solution is to hire a freelance copywriter who will work on a per-job basis. When considering a copywriter, rely on the following guidelines:

· Ask about recent projects and areas of specialization. This will help determine if the copywriter has experience with your type of business or project.

· Discuss the expected time of completion for a project. While a copywriter typically can’t deliver work overnight, he or she should provide it in a reasonable time frame.

· Who does the work? Some copywriters subcontract out if they are too busy. You want to ensure you’re working with the person who will be handling your project exclusively.

· Discuss rates and payment. Many copywriters are consultants or freelance workers. As such, their salary is dependent upon a consistent log of work. To guarantee your satisfaction, cost and payment may be negotiable according to the scope of work needed.

Remember, when engaging in a promotional effort for your business, take the time to research and contract with a copywriter who will help ensure business success.