The story so far… The premise is that, without world class skills, UK businesses will find it increasingly difficult to innovate and compete. The Treasury tackled this problem by establishing the Leitch Review to identify the optimal skills mix to maximise economic growth by 2020. The resulting report published a set of targets for workforce learning levels and, in June this year, the former CBI chief and now the Government’s first ‘Skills Envoy’, Sir Digby Jones launched the controversial Skills Pledge promised by the Leitch Review.


This month sees The Public Sector Skills Conference, held at London’s QEII Conference Centre. The event has been prompted by the three-year deadline to improve the abilities of the entire public sector workforce. According to Sir Digby: “You’ve got three years to start training. If you don’t do it, do it. If you do do it, do it better.”


The Leitch Review notes that the average French worker (even when s/he is on strike?) produces 20 per cent more per hour than the average UK worker, the average German worker 13 per cent more and the average US worker 18 per cent more – although, to be fair, these figures are contested. And the UK’s Learning and Skills Council calculates that functional illiteracy and innumeracy costs the UK £10bn a year in lost revenue.


The challenge of developing world-class skill levels is becoming ever more difficult. China and India have vast numbers of highly educated workers and turn out 4m graduates a year, compared with the UK’s 250,000. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stresses that, as emerging economies start to deliver high skills at moderate cost, the OECD countries must reform their skills policies. Supporting this, a recent study from the Economic and Social Research Centre (ESRC) has found that the proportion of UK jobs requiring NVQ level 4 and above has increased by ten per cent over the last 20 years. The proportion of jobs not requiring any qualifications fell by 11 per cent over the same period.

Comment: Some people believe that, for development to become a central part of UK business, we require a change of national culture toward learning with both a carrot and stick approach being adopted by Government. The Leitch Report seems to point the way – and a move towards mandatory continuous professional development (CPD) could be a positive step towards achieving this. The argument is:


  • To build world-class skills in the UK, employers need to encourage a ‘bottom-up pull’ from employees to continually learn, develop and adapt to a changing world.


  • This fosters greater employee responsibility for learning and development (L&D) and encourages a learning culture among the population as a whole.


  • Leadership, management skills and the interface between employee and line manager are crucial to fostering this culture.


  • Performance management and measurement are vital to forming the organisational bond between learning, skills, reward and business outcomes.


  • Organisations need the tools and approaches in place to link L&D strategies with those of the business and HR.

This sort of change would transform the importance of personal development but how likely is this to happen?


According to a CIPD fact sheet, ‘Training: A Short History’, UK government legislation on skills can be traced to the Statute of Artificers of 1563. This Statute gave way to a more ‘laissez-faire’ state approach to developing skills in the 19th century, with evolution of the craft trades unions introducing rigorous apprenticeship and membership models of training and recruitment. For some 450 years, there has been a continual ‘pendulum swing’ between voluntarism and state intervention. In all that time, we don’t seem to have learnt our lessons and ‘got it right’. Could that be because, as a nation, we don’t really care about skills levels? Maybe, on a personal level, we’re really concentrating on getting an income and maintaining a lifestyle – a strategy in which acquiring skills is a by-product, not an end in itself.