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Following a recent assessment of the UK’s modern language skills, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on modern languages has called for a "national recovery programme" to address the persistent lack of adequate skills among the UK workforce. already reported on this notable gap following a British Council Report released last year, which indicated that 75% of the British population is not able to hold a conversation in any of the 10 languages deemed most important for the country. What the APPG evaluation does is add new impetus to this finding by giving a clear value to this gap in terms of lost revenues for the UK. That value is £50 billion a year.

Unsurprisingly, the release of this figure was accompanied by a plea to all party leaders to take "clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills". The evidence gathered suggests that action is needed on every level, in the sense that it is does not only concern the "high-flyers" in the business world who work for multinational companies and are regularly required to deal with foreign colleagues and clients. On the contrary, it revealed that in 2011 the languages deficit caused over 27% of admin and clerical jobs to go unfilled to.
To make matters worse, recently released university application figures show a 5% decrease in language candidates, making a further dent in what are already low numbers of individuals taking advantage of the language learning opportunities available.

The Government claims its reforms are "driving a languages revival" in schools, with the Department of Education spending £350,000 to help primary and secondary school teachers improve their language teaching skills. Perhaps only time will tell whether this will produce the linguistically talented professionals that are needed to help the UK economy fill critical positions and take advantage of important export opportunities, as well as guarantee effective diplomacy and maintain its international standing. In the meantime, the APPG is asking for all parties’ acknowledgement of the problem in their next election manifestos, backed up by specific policy commitments to reverse current trends and make language a priority in the skills landscape.

Nick Boles appointed new Skills MinisterFollowing David Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle, Nick Boles has been appointed Minister of State for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities.

Taking over from Matthew Hancock, who was promoted to Minister for Business, Enterprise and Energy, Boles has a joint brief with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE). Consequently, his role involves a number of responsibilities that span the areas of competence of these two departments, including:

  • further education
  • lifelong learning and informal adult learning
  • adult skills, Skills Funding agency and skills strategy
  • apprenticeships and workplace training reforms
  • qualifications reform programme
  • small business, enterprise & access to finance
  • business support

His role will also cover the oversight of equal marriage implementation.

NIACE, which has called for increased integration between the DfE and BIS in its recently published manifesto, welcomed the appointment, stating:

"We welcome Nick Boles to his new role and look forward to working with him on the skills and lifelong learning agenda at a critical time for the economy and society. We must ensure we have a skills system fit for the 21st Century which will lead to prosperity for all. We are pleased that he will retain briefs in both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. This will lead to closer working relationships between the two departments, something we have called for in our manifesto."

"We hope today’s reshuffle will lead to government departments – particularly BIS, DfE and DWP – working closer together. As we have stated in our manifesto, people having access to the learning they both want and need is crucial for the future well-being of our economy and society. This includes a range of training opportunities at work to meet skills gaps and skills shortages, families learning together to raise children’s attainment at school and people out of work having secure pathways to sustainable and fulfilling careers."

New EU Skills Passport for Hospitality & Tourism IndustryThe EU Commission has recently launched an online tool designed to facilitate contact between jobseekers and employers, with an initial focus on the Hospitality and Tourism sector.

On the jobseeker side, the so-called Skills Passport – which is hosted on the European Job Mobility portal – aims to make it easier for professionals to describe the skills that they possess, choosing competences from among a list and linking each to the work experience(s), education or training programme from which it was developed (optionally endorsed by diplomas or previous employers). On the employer side, it gives businesses access to a comprehensive selection of candidates possessing the skills they are after, helping them to quickly recruit the talent they need from all over Europe. Importantly, the system is standardised and multi-lingual, ensuring that is it easy for both parts to understand and use.

The Hospitality industry was chosen for the pilot scheme due to its highly international character, with overseas experience, language skills and mobility being key advantages for potential candidates. Other sectors are due to follow in the near future.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is running an open consultation to collect views on their proposals regarding the expansion of loans in the Further Education sector.

With the goal of simplifying the funding system, providing stronger initiatives to train and making learning accessible to as many people as possible, the consultation seeks to gather responses from potential learners as well as anyone involved in the provision of further education. The central issue is the perceived effectiveness of Advanced Learning Loans, which were introduced in April 2013 for those aged over 24 looking to study a level 3 or 4 qualification (apprenticeships were originally included but were subsequently removed in March 2014).

The BIS is now looking for feedback on their proposal to expand the scope of these loans to cover 19-23 year olds and level 2 qualifications, as well as a number of broader issues including:

  • If and how the administrative rules for the Advanced Learning Loan system can be simplified.
  • If and how an alternative financial product for Muslim leaners can be introduced.
  • The possibility of moving some qualifications – such as Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs) from Higher Education funding to Advanced Learning Loans.
  • The appropriateness of the information, advice and guidance provided about these loans.

The consultation will remain open until 21st August 2014.

The 2014 edition of Adult Learners’ Week is currently underway, with thousands of events & activities taking place around the country as part of this year’s broader Festival of Learning. Supported by a number of organisations and initiatives, including National Learning at Work Week, the festival is a 2-month initiative dedicated to inspiring people to try out different types of learning and celebrate its benefits.

As part of this important nationwide initiative, NIACE – the National Council for Continuing Adult Education – will be hosting a discussion with leading political figures to discuss its recently published manifesto. Described as "ground-breaking" and "radical", Skills for Prosperity: Building Sustainable Recovery for All outlines a new approach to reforming the learning and skills system, and will be launched tomorrow at NIACE’s Annual Learners’ Week Policy Conference in Westminster in the presence of, among others, the Minister for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock.

He and a number of other speakers will be responding to the recommendations outlined in the document, which include the following proposals:

  • Creating a Personal Skills Account for every adult, along with structured career reviews, to empower individuals to take control of their skills and put personalisation at the heart of a new skills system.
  • A "new localism" for skills and learning delivered through devolution and a strengthened individual-employer-Government partnership, as well as a new Whitehall Department responsible for education, skills, business and work.
  • An independent review of the country’s long-term skills and funding issues.

This manifesto comes in response to mounting evidence of skills gaps across the economy, as well as a lack of training that, according to the 2013 UKCES Employer Skills Survey – affects around 10 million people, equivalent to a third of the workforce. Indeed, NIACE’s own 2014 Participation Survey reveals a persisting inequality that sees participation in learning decline with age, socio-economic class and employment status, despite small overall advances being made over time. According to NIACE, this means that too many adults are still not participating in the learning that they and the economy need to ensure sustainable recovery.

The need to increase participation in learning across-the-board is supported by the results of a recent KPMG survey, which has found little evidence that a focus on high performers improves business performance. On the contrary, an increasing number of HR professionals are recognising that organisations need to develop holistic approaches to talent management that focus on the needs of all employees, regardless of their specific roles.

New research conducted by The Chartered Management Institute in collaboration with the Association of Business Schools (ABS) and Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has highlighted the need for employers to work more closely with business schools to produce the "business-ready" graduates they need.

Released yesterday, the extensive report – entitled 21st Century Leaders: Building practice into the curriculum to boost employability – is based on the findings of two nationwide surveys of employers and business schools, as well as a series of workshops conducted between late 2013 and early 2014 with employers and businesses of all sizes from a range of different sectors. Building on previous research that had identified the great potential for business schools to drive growth and innovation, the primary aim was to take an in-depth look at how business schools, employers and professional bodies can collaborate more effectively to develop leaders that are fit for a 21st century business environment.

What the findings reveal is that there is a rather significant mismatch between what businesses expect graduates to know & be able to do vis-à-vis the measures they are putting in place to ensure that they possess such skills.
More specifically, the research clearly showed that:

  • Employers want graduates who are immediately able to make a positive contribution to the business, i.e. with a "business-ready" mindset.
  • Employers want graduates want graduates with business skills as well as knowledge, i.e. not just an understanding of management theory, but practical skills in communication, people management , problem-solving etc.

Indeed, as much as 89% think embedding work experience in courses would make students more employable. At the same time, only 22% of businesses are actually currently offering internships or job placements to business school students. Which begs the question: how are students supposed to be ready for the working environment as soon as they graduate when most are not given the opportunity to experience what such an environment is like at any stage of their studies?

The problem may be due to low levels of interest and trust in business schools from employers, with many lacking awareness of how business schools have developed over the years and less than one fifth of employers looking to them for new recruits. (Interestingly, a much greater percentage - 45% - do instead claim to use them to train and develop existing staff, focusing on executive education rather than recruitment.) What the CMI has therefore recommended is the development of a much stronger relationship between employers and business schools that makes the schools more accessible to all kinds of organisations, including SMEs, while organisations play a bigger role in embedding the meaningful work experience in business and management courses. Crucially, professional bodies will have an equally important role to play in recognising and accrediting the practical management skills that employers want within the business school curriculum.

Only this combination can hope to be successful in producing the work-ready graduates that employers expect and need moving forwards. Having said this, it is important that they maintain realistic expectations and an open mind, recognising that the inherent talent and adaptability of many young people (whether business school graduates or not) can help them contribute to a business in a much more immediate manner than they may think.

The full report can be downloaded from the CMI website.

With the second part of a six-month public consultation set to close in August, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is on track to approve a three-year revalidation model for all nurses starting in December 2015.

Revalidation refers essentially to a check that nurses are still competent and meet the standards in the nursing and midwifery Code, much like solicitors must fufil the requirements outlined in their Competence Statement, for example. But while we recently reported on the SRA’s intention to abolish mandatory CPD for lawyers, the NMC – which regulates roughly 670,000 nurses and midwives in the UK – is proposing to increase the number of Continuing Professional Development hours required from 35 to 40. In addition, at least half of these hours would have to spent on “participatory learning”, including training courses, seminars and colleague shadowing.

The consultation is said to have come in response to concerns expressed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) regarding the amount of time nurses currently have available to collect evidence that their skills are up-to-date, with many completing PREP (the current post-registration method for education and practice) in their own time. RCN Head of Policy Howard Catton thus warned that employers will have to ‘play their part’ in terms of ensuring nurses have the time to attend courses and conferences they need to fulfil their CPD requirements.

Certainly necessary, but not an easy feat when considering the chronic shortages of nurses (20,000 according to a 2013 RCN report) plaguing the health service across the UK. This is the reason for which such large volumes of nurses have been recruited from overseas, particularly from Eastern Europe. The news on this front? That two hospitals in Lancashire are delivering extra training to help them understand local dialect, not just to settle in but to avoid any medical slip-ups related to misunderstandings caused by the Lancashire accent, as well as specific phrases.

We doubt it will count towards CPD, but it’s a rather bonny idea nonetheless.

SRA plans to scrap mandatory CPD for solicitorsLast week the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Board approved plans to scrap the current requirement for lawyers to complete a mandatory 16 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) every year.

The changes are part of the SRA’s continuing Training for Tomorrow programme, launched in late 2013 with the goal of reforming the way in which solicitors are educated and trained, focusing on three key issues: an effective competence framework, continuing competence and a new regulatory framework. In essence, the goal is to maintain high standards when it comes to what is expected of skilled legal professionals, while introducing more flexibility (and reducing regulation) in terms of how that skill level is achieved and maintained.

In terms of CPD, a consultation held in February asked for views and feedback relating to three different options:

  1. Revoking the CPD scheme and relying on the requirement to maintain a proper standard of legal practice, training and supervision.
  2. Replacing the CPD system with a mandatory development plan in which solicitors would identify and record their training needs, but without a pre-defined number of compulsory hours.
  3. Retaining the current requirement to complete a minimum number of hours but introducing the need for the training to concern current or anticipated legal practice, as well as recognise a broader spectrum of development activities.

Though yet to be approved by the Legal Services Board, option 1 was chosen as the winning proposal as a result of its greater flexibility, reduced regulatory requirements and focus on the actual effectiveness of training (rather than, in some cases at least, just the quantity). What this means is that, instead of having a set number of development hours to complete each year, solicitors and organisations will have access to a Competence Statement that provides a detailed outline of what a competent solicitor should know and be able to do. It will then be up to individuals and firms to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements outlined in this document by participating in the appropriate number and variety of training events. Importantly, this will also mean that training providers no longer need to be authorised by the SRA and that, in the words of the SRA’s Director of Education and Training, “firms and individuals can do the training they need, in the way which suits them best”.

In response to concerns that this will cause some firms to avoid offering appropriate CPD, the implementation phase of the proposals has been shifted to November 2016, with a so-called “transition period” will begin in February 2015. this year, reported on the Government’s intention to cut funding for a host of qualifications deemed to be of "low value", including (though not limited to) some arguably controversial programmes in areas such as balloon artistry, self-tanning and pole dancing instruction.

But we are not just interested in what public and private institutions have to say on the matter: we want to know what you the user – i.e. the person who ultimately chooses what career they want to pursue and what steps they want to take to get there – think about the whole thing. And that is why our latest user poll asked visitors whether they thought it was right for the Government to cut funding for low value qualifications, with three possible responses: yes, no and don’t know.

The results show that user sentiment is mixed. Slightly more than half of respondents (53%) indicated that they didn’t think the government should have cut funding, while the other 47% was split between applauding the move (28%) and being unsure (18%). This suggests that, for the most part, cuts to any form of training-related funding are frowned upon, regardless of the exact subject matter of the qualification or programme in question.

Perhaps what individuals take issue with the most is the Government’s presumption that they can decide what has value and what does not. And indeed even the National Council for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) was quick to point out, back in March when the news was released, that even training programmes that can seem to have little or no academic value can actually play a large role in individuals’ development. The argument is that it may take something a little out-of-the-box (the example they gave was belly dancing) to help people – and especially those who have been out of education for a long time – not just to develop new skills, but to find a more manageable re-entry point into education.

On the other hand, an equally large number of users seem to think that it is not necessarily the Government’s role to make this type of re-entry point more accessible. In this sense, it is not a question of whether or not these qualifications should exist – and thus not a judgement on their value – but rather an issue of whether public funding would be better spent on other types of learning. Or indeed, perhaps on something else altogether. But what exactly would that be?

And this is likely to be a key issue, because when it comes to Government spending it is often the case that funding is taken away from a certain initiative or area, but is not clear where exactly those funds will be re-directed. The result is that public opinion is often split on the matter, with a significant proportion of people "staying on the fence" because they quite simply don’t know how to feel about something that isn’t really that clear to them. Indeed, in an already complex framework of qualifications that seems to confuse a great many people, a little more clarity certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

Now on the agenda, a questions of a different sort: did your last training course meet your expectations? Vote in our new poll on the right-hand side of this page!

See the full results here >

HR jobs grow by 15% in Q1 2014The latest figures released by the Robert Walters European Jobs Index indicate that HR jobs in the UK are on the rise, having grown by 15% in Q1 of 2014 with respect to the same period last year.

The Index tracks job advertisement volumes across a number of European countries, including France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg, reporting on a quarterly basis. Within these countries, it looks at a number of different sectors with the goal of evaluating and comparing confidence levels across different professions and in the job market as a whole.
With this in mind, the Q1 data highlights generally positive trends in the UK, where vacancies saw a year-on-year growth or around 8% (3% with respect to Q3 2013). In terms of specific industries, HR and tax are leading the way with increases of 15%: well above the national average and highly positive considering the poor performance of other sectors such as IT (-6%) and supply chain (-9%).

According to Robert Walters HR director Colin Loth, the upward trend is largely due to ongoing financial growth, with companies seizing the opportunity to reinvest in human resources departments as their confidence in the ability to hire new talent increases. In addition, encouraging growth levels in the North West and outside of the financial services industry is a positive sign that the recovery is penetrating different areas of the economy, leading to more evenly spread, sustainable growth for the country as a whole.

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