Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, MindLeaders HR and Learning Services director
At our recent Functional Skills Forum, the disturbing fact was presented that nearly one quarter of working adults have numeracy skills below those expected of an 11 year old starting at secondary school. Even more worrying is the fact that the figure has got worse since the last survey in 2003. All of this despite huge focus on the problem by successive governments and millions of pounds of funding allocated to solve it. Knowing those facts, it is hardly surprising that in 2010, about 377,000 UK jobs were taken up by foreign workers. Clearly we have a cohort of adults in the UK who simply do not have the basic skills required to compete effectively in the jobs market and we have to tackle this crisis as a matter of urgency.
So what has gone wrong? It’s doubtful that there is one single factor and whilst it is very easy to put the blame on the school system, we have to accept that work-based learning Maths and English programmes have not produced the results that were originally intended. In particular, the Key Skills element of Apprenticeship programmes has had no impact whatsoever and was strongly criticised in the Wolf Report. This makes you wonder whether those people who are staging a rearguard attempt to retain Key Skills and to further delay the introduction of Functional Skills, genuinely have the interests of learners at heart, or are just looking for the easy life (and easy funding) associated with the simple MCQ exam at the heart of the Key Skills assessment process.
To be fair to the present government, once they set their minds on something, they seem determined to stick to it notwithstanding any short-term dips in popularity and they have consistently evangelised the need to raise Maths and English levels in the entire adult working population to a minimum GCSE ‘A-C’ Level. That is a huge commitment and it will require appropriate funding if work-based training providers are going to provide effective solutions.
However, there are early signs that this strategy may pay dividends. Speaking at the Forum, Sandra Kelly who heads up the Apprenticeship programme at our partners, Whitbread and who has championed a successful Functional Skills pilot scheme, emphasised very clear differences between Apprentices studying Key Skills and their counterparts on the Functional Skills programme. The latter had not only developed far more effective Maths and English skills which they could adapt to different situations, they were more confident in their work and more motivated to succeed.
We are delighted that our Functional Skills solution is clearly having a positive impact on the skills crisis in the UK. Of course, there’s a long way to go yet, but there is every indication that Functional Skills could be the key which finally unlocks the potential in our work force and equips them properly for a future career rather than a dead end job.