Wales Must Invest In Life Long Learning To Compete Globally

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Wales will only survive in a competitive global economy if it has a workforce with the confidence and skills to go on learning throughout their lifetime, a major conference for work based learning providers was told.

Sir Adrian Webb addresses the National Training Federation Wales conference.

“The skills that we give people now will not last a lifetime,” Sir Adrian Webb, Wales Employment and Skills Board chair, told delegates at the National Training Federation Wales’ annual conference held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.

“We really do need to go on investing in our adult workforce throughout their lifetime if we are going to meet the demands of the global economy. We can’t go on creating a workforce that lacks basic numeracy and literacy skills.”

Sir Adrian also called for a fundamental change to the culture that drives young people towards academic achievement and casts aside anyone who hasn’t been to university.

“We need not just to expand apprenticeships but to begin to fight the cultural skew that says that vocational, practical and non academic is not good enough,” he said. “Work based learning can be a powerful part of addressing the cultural skew.”

He also questioned why there wasn’t a business plan for higher education in Wales and stressed the importance of leadership and management skills to help drive forward the Welsh economy.

Speakers at the conference applauded massive improvements to the work based learning success rate in Wales over the past five years.

Chairman Arwyn Watkins told delegates that the projected work based learning success rate for 2008/2009 would be in excess of 70 per cent. From being a cause of concern in Estyn’s annual report 2003/2004, work based learning in Wales was now the envy of the rest of the UK.

“We are all striving for excellence and this cannot be diluted by continued investment in poor quality provision irrespective of provider type,” he said. “Transformation within work based learning has been constant since the establishment of NTfW not only in the reduction of contracted providers but more importantly in to a high quality delivery network.

“There is much more to be done but we cannot achieve this in isolation. I know we are a sector that just wants to get on and do the job but we have to consider how to be more efficient and effective not only within our own network but the wider education and skills community.”

The conference, ‘Delivering skills to survive and thrive’, was also addressed by John Griffiths, the Welsh Assembly Government’s Deputy Minister for Skills, who spoke about Skills that Work for Wales, WAG’s skills and employment strategy and a range of measures taken to assist companies and workers during the recession.

He said there was close integration between skills and WAG’s new economic development programme for Wales. He said the clear focus would be on achieving a high quality, cost effective education and training sector that provided comprehensive learning pathways that led learners into employment.

WAG remained committed to Modern Apprenticeships and Skill Build but was looking for more flexible programmes to meet the needs of employers, he added.

He also thanked the NTFW for its contribution to developing new policies and improving the quality and success of work based learning in Wales, pledging better engagement with the network on the 14-19 learning pathways agenda in future.

“We are keen to establish a more flexible and expansive skills system and want to hear what you have to say,” he told delegates. “Faced with constrained public spending, it is going to be even more important that we foster and sustain our partnership with the NTFW.

“We all want a successful and highly skilled Wales and a strong economy. We have to ensure that we all deliver for Wales the very best learning options that will equip young people and adults with qualifications that they need to meet increasing demands from employers.”

Deputy Skills Minister John Griffiths (right) with National Training Federation Wales chairman Arwyn Watkins and president Lord Ted Rowlands.

Other keynote speakers were Lord Ted Rowlands, NTfW’s president, Dennis Gunning, director of WAG’s Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning Group, Janet Barlow, Agored Cymru chief executive and Michelle Creed, Lifelong Learning UK’s director for Wales.

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