Basic Skills Network

In the past few years there have been a number of reports which have brought about important changes and initiatives concerned with raising literacy and numeracy skills. These changes signal the growing importance of basic skills and key skills both to the individual and to the economy as a whole. In this assignment I will start by looking at the basic skills problem. Evidence shows that lack of basic or key skills has major implications for an individual in terms of social exclusion.

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Moreover, lack of basic skills is a major barrier to employment, training or progression at work and if we are to compete on a global level, we need to have a highly skilled, adaptable workforce. Employability is of significant concern for 2 reasons, firstly, because of its importance to the government’s widening participation strategy and secondly, it is essential for national economic and social wellbeing, thus the concern with employability is inherently linked to the concern with lack of basic skills.

I will look at what we mean by employability and how skills associated with employability affect an individual’s chance of finding and keeping work. Furthermore, the change in the structure of employment and the changing work climate has produced a real need for a more able and better skilled workforce and I will discuss how the government’s push for improving basic skills is at the forefront of efforts to meet these demands. I will look at initiatives that have been set up to increase employability, not just for the unemployed but for those adults already in the workforce, half of whom are estimated to have below average basic skills.

I will then draw conclusions on what I have discussed. Background to Basic Skills Class, educational and employment experience and gender continue to influence the gap between the well and poorly educated. In 1997 Helena Kennedy provided a landmark report which looked at what needed to be done in Britain to close this learning divide and made recommendations on how learner participation might be increased and improved. The report argued that education and training should reach out to excluded groups, ie, those that do not normally participate.

These socially excluded groups are characterised by a lack of education, employment and community involvement and failure to acquire basic skills. The report highlighted the fact that further education needed to play a vital role in order to bring about change. In response to the Kennedy report the UK Government published a Green Paper ‘The Learning Age’ (1998) which saw learning as the “key to prosperity” and called for a “well-educated, well-equipped and adaptable labour force” to ensure that people can return to learning throughout their lives.

This vision of ‘lifelong learning’ had been the subject of debate a year earlier when the report ‘Learning for the Twenty First Century’ (1997) reported: “The country needs to develop a new learning culture, a culture of lifelong learning for all. It is essential to help… all of its people meet the challenge they now face as they move towards the twenty-first century”. The Moser Report, ‘A Fresh Start’ (1999) first identified that approximately 7 million adults in Britain have inadequate levels of literacy and/or numeracy.

The Basic Skills Agency define these basic skills as “the ability to read, write and speak English/ Welsh and use mathematics at a level necessary to function and progress at work and in society in general”. The effect of this lack of ‘basic skills’ is two-fold. Firstly there is the knock-on effect on the economy; in order to compete internationally we need a well-educated, flexible workforce. Secondly, on an individual level, if someone is struggling with basic skills then their range of employment and personal options is reduced drastically.

The needs of the individual and society in general are linked and the it is recognised that the’7 million’ problem needs to be addressed if we are to thrive as an economy and at the same time live in a fair, egalitarian society. The cost of failing to deal with the problem is significant – to the individual, the economy and employers. People with poor literacy, numeracy and language skills tend to be on lower incomes or are unemployed, are more prone to ill health and at far more risk of social exclusion.

When taking into account the effect of lower incomes, reduced productivity, poorer health and the consequence of benefits and welfare services, the Skills and Learning Intelligence Module at the University of Exeter found the combined cost to the economy to be in the region of i?? 10 billion pounds per year (Adult Basic Skills in the Workplace, 2002). The Dearing Report ‘Higher Education in a Learning Society’ (1997) made explicit the requirements and expectations of the government, bringing the skills debate to the fore. It promoted the development of key skills and significance of work experience.

Since then, however, the discussion has further developed to include the issues of employability and work related learning. What is Employability? There are various interpretations of the term employability. If there is some disagreement about what employability is, at least it is a bit clearer what employability is not; ie, it is not the same as employment. Employment refers to having a job, whilst employability, or being employable, refers to the qualities needed to maintain employment and progress in the workplace (Lees, 2002).

Fundamentally then, employability is about learning – learning how to learn – and employability is not a product, but a process (LTSN Generic Centre). Knight and Yorke (2003) define employability as “a set of achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen careers” and Lees (2002) concludes that employability is a difficult concept to define “much more complex than the relatively restrictive key skills agenda focused on by Dearing”.

However, other studies point out that traditional definifitions of employability “concentrate overmuch on the attributes and motivations of the individual, at the expense of a consideration of some of the wider environmental factors that impinge on the individual’s ability to take up employment”(Report of the Taskforce on Employability and Long Term Unemployment, p. 21, 2002). I think this wider definition is important because the issue of employability is not just one of knowledge, skills, motivation and personal attributes but also one of the the barriers to work, such as travel or childcare.

The Taskforce identify a range of interconnected factors such as personal attributes, managing in the labour market, personal circumstances and structural aspects, all of which widen the definition of employability. If basic skills are the building blocks for further learning and more advanced skills, they can be fundamental to other forms of learning and development that is relevant to the workplace and the labour market in general.

Lack of basic skills therefore will be a barrier to any form of progression in the workplace or the labour market more generally. Hence, they will directly affect employability. The Changing Labour Market Changes such as rise of flexible working patterns, rise in part-time employment and rising female employment (especially in service industries) have seen the development of a much more flexible labour market in which employment patterns change quite quickly, the knock-on effect of which has important economic and social implications.

The labour market is constantly evolving and this has implications for everybody involved in the world of work. Because the nature of the economy changes it is expected that structural changes in the pattern of employment take place but one of the main long term structural changes in recent years has been the shift from manufacturing to services industries. There has been a long decline in manufacturing employment in the economy and an increase in service sector employment.

Technological change has meant that many jobs that, in the past, required few skills are themselves becoming more demanding in skill terms, the result of which is that those people who are poorly skilled or whose skills are redundant in a modern economy will keep experience difficulties in finding and keeping work. Therefore, much of the reason behind the current need for better basic skills lies in changes in the workplace itself.

Jaine Chisholm-Caunt, Director for the Workplace Basic Skills Network explained this: “We do not have so many low-skilled jobs any more. Take a person who has been working in manufacturing for 30-40 years and who left school with no qualifications… over that period the job has changed. Computers have been brought in, new kinds of quality standards which mean the employee may have to get NVQs as a minimum qualification. That person might now have to hold team meetings and communicate with clients… ” (New Statesman, 2004).