A recent ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has established that excluding female employees on maternity leave from training programmes amounts to discrimination.
The case of Loredana Napoli v Ministero della Giustizia - Dipartimento dell'Amministrazione penitenziaria, originated in Italy when on 5th December Ms. Napoli – who had become deputy commissioner in the Italian prison service in 2009 – was admitted to a training course due to start on 28th December 2011. After giving birth on 7th December, she was however placed on compulsory maternity leave for 3 months in accordance with national legislation, and informed in January that she would be excluded from the course once the first 30 days of her maternity leave had elapsed.
The decision to exclude her from the training was taken pursuant to Italian regulations and Ms. Napoli was notified that she would be enrolled in the next course organised.
So why the big fuss?
Well, the regional Italian tribunal to which the case was originally brought asked the European Court of Justice to consider whether the European directive on the equal treatment of men and women in fact precludes national legislation that excludes women on compulsory maternity leave from vocational training courses. And, in the judgement delivered on 6thMarch, the ECJ observed that the "less favourable of a woman related to pregnancy or maternity leave" does indeed constitute unfavourable treatment that violates EU law.
But why was her treatment considered less favourable? She was, after all, allowed to return to her previous status as deputy commissioner and guaranteed a place on the following course, without being in any way demoted. But the key issue here is the fact that the course, as a result of being provided in the context of her employment relationship, constituted part of her "working conditions". Consequently, the fact that she was excluded from the vocational training, which prevented her from being promoted alongside her colleagues, was determined to have had a negative impact on her working conditions and prevented her from benefiting from the same improvement of working conditions as her colleagues. Because EU law states that women, at the end of their maternity leave, should return to their jobs in no less favourable working conditions than when they left, the court thus ruled that Ms. Napoli’s exclusion from the training course constituted discrimination on grounds of sex.
The Court suggested that organisations in similar situations can address such situations by providing parallel remedial courses that allow returning mothers to “to be admitted within the prescribed period to the examination and thereby to be promoted, without delay, to a higher grade.”
We’ve all heard that vocational qualifications are high on the Government’s priority list when it comes to education and professional development. And amidst news that UK graduates are under-using their skills, while employers are not finding the skills they need among UK workers, the focus on vocational programmes (and apprenticeships in particular for the younger generations) is only set to increase.
But is pole dancing instruction a vocation that is really in high demand these days? Well no, perhaps not.
As a result, Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced earlier this week – in the context of a wider plan for the reform of vocational qualifications commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills – that funding is set to be cut for 5,000 qualifications considered to be of "low value". The reckoning is that, while we may all enjoy a nice aerial balloon display or need a bit of self-tanning from time to time, these are not the kinds of skills that will help employers grow their businesses or enhance the competitiveness of the country as a whole.
"Small qualifications in coaching angling, aerial balloon displays and self-tanning are not a good use of taxpayers' money or learners' time. There are currently 15,400 regulated qualifications, and even with the restrictions we have made so far, 11,000 of them are eligible for government funding.
We are determined to make sure that people who work hard to achieve a qualification can be sure that it is recognised as meaningful and valuable to employers and that it makes a real contribution to our long term economic plan for Britain."
The move is expected to free up roughly £200m of the adult skills budget that can then be redirected towards qualifications that are more responsive to employers’ needs and provide clearer routes to a career or further training.
At the same time, the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education (NIACE) has warned that, while this is an important endeavour, it is equally important to ensure that valuable "re-entry points" (however trivial they may seem to outsiders) are not cut off for individuals with little or negative experiences of learning who can find these qualifications a more manageable way of returning to education.
What do you think? Is the government right to cut funding for these qualifications, despite their potentially important role for those who are trying to return to learning? Vote in our poll on the right-hand side of this page!
Despite the many arguments to the contrary, there are still employers who live in fear that training their staff – by virtue of making them more employable and attractive to competitors – will only lead them to take their talent elsewhere.
It is an age-old conundrum, and not one that is easily resolved, but a new study commissioned by Skillsoft has provided individuals on this side of the debate with more food for thought, revealing that 64% of the 1,001 office workers surveyed are motivated to take training in order to be better at their current job – not to get a new one. A further 61% suggested that their desire to train was primarily geared towards developing skills for internal purposes.
Though becoming more employable was also found to be a strongly motivating factor, particularly among younger employees (66%), it is also true that a majority of them (76%) planned to stay in their current jobs for at least another 2 years.
Commenting on the results, EMEA General Manager Kevin Young suggested that: "It’s natural for employers to have concerns about investing heavily in training programmes when staff might use that training for their own advantage, just to leave and get a pay rise at another company. Our research suggests that people are actually motivated and encouraged by training and repay that investment back to their employers."
This week we’ve gotten several enquiries from our users regarding Assessor training, with many looking to launch a career in the sector and looking for courses that can help them gain the necessary qualifications.
No surprise here: a career as an Assessor can be highly varied and rewarding and, with the number of vocational qualifications being offered in the UK constantly growing (both in terms of numbers and in terms of the different industries covered), there is no shortage of demand for qualified assessors.
But perhaps we’ve missed a step here - for those who don’t know, an assessor is someone who supports and assesses students working towards qualifications in colleges, training centres and workplaces, ensuring they meet all of the standards necessary to achieve their qualification. What appeals to many people is the fact that you can be an assessor in many different areas of work, depending on your previous experience and your other qualifications. As a result, there is a lot of room to develop in this role, and it is also great option for those looking for a career change who want to use their existing skills and knowledge.
What we’ve noticed, however, is that there still seems to be a bit of confusion regarding the naming of the qualification(s) that you need to launch your career as an assessor, so we thought we should try to clear things up. The A1 and A2 Assessor qualifications no longer exist – in fact, they have not existed since September 2010 when they were replaced by three new QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) qualifications, which are the following:
Though you will see some providers continuing to refer to the A1 qualification – primarily because the term was very well-known and continues to be widely used – what they are referring to is one of the qualifications above. Essentially, not much has changed – the purpose of the qualifications and the role of an assessor continue to be the same, but it is important for clarity’s sake to understand that, while the term will be understood and recognised by many people, it is technically no longer correct to refer to an A1 Assessor Award. More importantly, this will obviously also have implications for the terms you should use to search for these qualifications too.
This is also the case for the term NVQ, which continues to be used in many qualifications despite the fact that they have also been replaced by Awards, Certificates & Diplomas under the QCF system. So while assessors continue to assess vocational qualifications, the names of those qualifications have changed too. In short, an NVQ assessor is now technically known as a QCF assessor, in reflection of the shift to this new framework.
Hard to wrap your head around? Yes, we think so too. And this is why we have started compiling a Qualifications Guide with the aim of clearing up all of these issues and helping users find the right courses.
If you have more specific questions or info that you think could be beneficial for other users, please post in our forum!
A study published in January by talent management group Right Management has uncovered what HR decision-makers in the UK & Ireland believe will be the key skill for any employee looking to secure a position in around 5 years’ time: adaptability.
What exactly is meant by “adaptability”? Well, in a broader area referred to as “resilience”, adaptability means the ability to deal with change and uncertainty. And The Flux Report, which interviewed 100 HR decision-makers and 250 line managers in companies with 500+ employees, found that 91% of the HR professionals surveyed believe that people will be recruited based on this very skill.
The study highlights that a large proportion of organisations (98%) have experienced some type of major organisational change over the last 5 years, including downsizing (64%), change in leadership (64%) and/or internal restructuring (74%). According to the authors, this flux has been felt across organisations, but nowhere more than at the “junction” between a business and its employees: the HR department. And, as the change is likely to persist into the 5 years ahead and, it is now a critical time for businesses to re-group, re-strategise and think about the transformations that will (or should) affect their workforce in the short- to medium-term.
As highlighted above, characteristics such as “agility” and “resilience” are likely to play a key role, not least in terms of employee wellness and the ability to cope with the physical and mental aspects of ongoing (and often fast-paced) change. With many employees already suffering from fatigue, stress and lack of engagement, it is key that organisations think strategically and put practical measures in place to ensure that individuals are able to deal with the turbulent times ahead.
Other interesting findings include 79% of respondents predicting that people will develop and maintain skill sets in simultaneous careers, and 74% expecting most HR administration tasks to be outsourced by 2018.
In case you were wondering, 46% also believe treadmill desks will be widely used to combat sedentary office life.
Throughout the years of the economic crisis, the oil & gas industry has always stood out as one of the few that continued to grow and require new talent. In fact, against a backdrop of high unemployment and low recruitment levels, the oil & gas sector was – and continues to be – plagued by a chronic lack of skilled labour. In particular, the rapid pace of technological development, led primarily by the US boom in shale gas production, has exacerbated the need for new recruits who not only need to have the right skills but also need time to reach the desired levels of expertise.
In concrete numbers, a recent survey conducted by Schlumberger Business Consulting and reported on by Ideas Lab has estimated that approximately 22,000 experienced geologists and engineers will be leaving their jobs in 2015 and will thus need to be replaced. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same survey found that 98% of oil & gas companies in the UK are currently looking to hire more workers.
But what is perhaps more interesting than the (albeit telling) industry figures is the different ways in which key players in the industry are tackling the shortage:
In all of the cases above, however, what is absolutely key is the issue of training. No matter how "pre-disposed" one may be, the rapidly changing and highly technological nature of the oil & gas industry means that even those already working in the sector will likely need to undergo regular training to keep up to speed with the latest developments. Though practical experience in the field is also invaluable – part of the reason why the loss of professionals reaching the end of their careers is so problematic – it is only with apposite skills programmes that the talent available can start to make a real dent in what is perhaps currently the most critical skills gap in the current job market as a whole.
In the 2013-2016 Skills Funding Statement released earlier this week, the Government has set out its plans in relation to government funding for the next two years, which will fall by 19% from today’s £4.08bn to £3.86bn in 2015/16.
The best part of this reduction will affect what is referred to as the "core" adult skills budget (ASB), while other provisions such as 24+ loans and ESF (European Social Fund) will remain on comparable levels. Though the cuts will certainly affect all providers in terms of reducing participation, the Government has justified the measures by highlighting its focus on apprenticeships, traineeships and English and Maths training for the unemployed, as well as highlighting that the reduction is geared towards guaranteeing the quality of the programmes delivered.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), represented by CEO Stewart Segal, responded to the statement with the following:
"These budget reductions mean that providers have to focus on delivering high quality programmes that deliver the most benefit for employers, learners and the local economies. he cuts come after a number of years of overall budget reductions and real term rate cuts. Providers have responded positively and continue to deliver higher quality provision.
The statement recognises that providers need the freedoms and flexibilities within the contract to respond to the new challenges and we are concerned that some of those flexibilities have been reduced by restrictions on managing the ASB contract lines introduced this year."
Though some concerns were expressed regarding the future of funding for apprenticeships, the AELP response was generally confident that, if the partnership approach outlined in the statement can be put into effect, the challenges of the future can be met with the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of employers, learners and communities alike.
During 2013 there was a lot of talk about rising skills shortages in various sectors of the UK labour market and a lot of discussion about potential ways of filling these gaps. What seems to have happened, in large part as a result of the economic crisis and a subsequent resistance to investing in training at both an organisational and individual level, is that the job vacancies being advertised were paradoxically not being filled because professionals simply did not have the right skills to be able to fill them.
But the various studies performed often focused on single sectors, making it difficult to grasp effectively how extensive and how “serious” this situation was proving to be for the economy as a whole.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has now shed welcome light on this matter with its comprehensive 2013 Employers Skills Survey, which interviewed 90,000 employers on various employment- and skill-oriented topics between March and July 2013. The results of this extensive report show that, while job vacancies have risen by 45% since the height of the crisis in 2009, skills shortage vacancies (SSVs) – which are created when employers cannot find people with the right qualifications and skills to do the job – have also nearly doubled during the same period, growing from 63,100 to 124,800 (or 22% of total vacancies in 2013). And while the analysis showed that a large proportion of these SSVs are due to a lack of practical, technical or job-specific skills, it also highlighted an increase in the proportion of SSVs arising from a lack of “softer skills” including team working and customer handling. Meanwhile the quota of SSVs arising from insufficient communication skills alone rose from 37% in 2011 to 41% in 2013.
Variations across different geographical areas were recorded (with Scotland most affected), as well as across sectors (with SSV density highest in plumbing and health & social care), but perhaps the more interesting figures related to employer spend on training. Indeed, while the number of organisations providing training is back to pre-recession levels, the amount spent per employee has actually decreased from £1,680 per employee in 2011 to £1,590 in 2013.
A related issue is that employers are now trying to solve their problem by recruiting over-qualified staff, which can have important implications in terms of staff motivation and productivity.
As noted by a representative from UKCES:
“Worryingly, these figures show that the percentage of staff in the UK receiving training from their employer hasn’t changed significantly for a decade. There are also signs that some employers might be trying to solve their skills problems by choosing to recruit highly-skilled and qualified staff to do very basic jobs. Under-using people’s skills like this risks a bored and demotivated workforce. By providing high-quality and job-specific training, businesses can make sure they have the skilled workforce they need, as well as inspiring loyalty and keeping their staff motivated.”
The question now is: with 2014 beginning with such positive figures regarding vacancies and unemployment, will we be able to ride the wave of recovery and make a significant dent in these numbers for the benefit of employers and employees alike?
Last week several representatives from our team here at Findcourses.co.uk visited the Learning & Technologies Exhibition in London, which is considered not just the UK’s but Europe’s leading showcase of workplace learning and development.
And with over 6,000 visitors, 230 exhibitors and 140 free seminars we can confirm that yes, it is a rather large event! Particularly because, being partnered with the Learning Technologies exhibition and conference, it really provides a huge number and variety of things to see. The exhibition floor is a kind of maze, with the stands filling up the entire surface area of the hall and a constant flow of people walking around between and after the various seminars. Many of the visitors that we spoke to throughout the 2 days went as far as to say that it was nearly too big to see everything, particularly as everyone is on a tight schedule with the talks they want to see and mini-events they want to take part in (from small discussion groups to tweet-ups and everything in between).
From our point of view, it was great to see such a vibrant atmosphere and to have the opportunity to chat with so many different people – in cases such as this it is definitely better to have too many rather than too few stimuli! We particularly enjoyed the positive response we got from visitors who had not heard of us before, or who had seen the name but were not quite sure what Findcourses.co.uk was all about. Turns out a lot of them were looking for someone doing precisely what we do and were only too happy to find out that such a service provider actually already exists. And that felt good, because in the end it is a confirmation that our underpinning vision hits the nail on the head. With the Learning Technologies side so technology-focused (which we have absolutely nothing against), it is easy to feel like you are somehow falling behind in terms of innovation and the latest trends, but in the end what really matters is what you do with that technology. It needs to have a purpose, and the simple fact of being innovative will not, in and of itself, be enough to meet the training challenges of the future.
What we need to do is harness the power of that technology in a way that helps us achieve our goals, which means prioritising flexibility in the knowledge that there will be no one-size-fits-all solution.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the growing signs of economic recovery in the UK, with the increase in job vacancies and decrease in unemployment numbers creating renewed confidence among employers and employees alike.
Though the news is of course welcome, a recent statement from NIACE – the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education – has called for caution, urging organisations and individuals to consider tha, in the long run, high employment alone will not be enough to secure sustainable long-term recovery. What is needed, as written by Director of Communications and Public Affairs Tom Stannard, is an accompanying commitment to help people progress in their careers. Crucially, this will require the constant development of new skills and learning via both formal and informal means, with a view to creating a more dynamic labour market in which people can aspire to reach new skill levels (to attract inward investment) while freeing up lower level positions for new market entrants.
“Our concern is that much of the new employment is actually under-employment - in two senses, with graduates 'trading-down' to jobs requiring lower level skills, hence pushing out others; and in the sense that many people are not working full-time when they want to and need to”, writes Stannard.
"Our recent work with UKCES showed the central importance of using local labour market intelligence in an ever changing skills system where LEPS and local partnership working is at the forefront of economic regeneration, economic growth and prosperity for all."
Now more than ever, then, investing in professional development seems crucial to ensuring that employment is sustained and skill gaps reduced for the long-term benefit of both the job market and the economy as a whole.
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