Government attempts to bolster battered TECs

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The Independent Online
THE Government will this week attempt to strengthen the credibility of the country's 82 Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in the wake of their battering by the Employment Select Committee 10 days ago.

James Paice, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, will on Tuesday launch stricter guidelines for National Vocational Qualifications, the targets that almost all TEC trainees are aiming for. "NVQs are absolutely central to our training strategy and must be credible," he said. But he denied that the TEC system was a shambles.

Training programmes are to be policed by a force of 20 field workers from the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, he said. A review of the 650 NVQs will be aimed at raising standards and making the qualifications more attractive to prospective employers. Trainees will also be given greater rights to appeal through the NCVQ.

The moves, which were foreshadowed in a White Paper last May, come on the heels of criticism by the select committee that programmes paid for by the TECs in England and Wales were often inappropriate and sometimes amounted to little more than a way to provide cheap labour.

In one case reported to the committee by the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (Nacab), a young woman was sent to work at a shop in south-west England for four weeks. She earned less than £1 an hour for doing menial work and received no training.

The minister dismissed the Nacab cases, saying they were just anecdotal evidence. He also rejected claims by academics that the system of output funding - to be fully in place this spring - is fundamentally flawed.

After April, TECs and their subcontractors, the colleges and companies that run training programmes, will only be paid for graduates who remain out of the dole queue for three months. Critics say that gives them an incentive to cherry-pick trainees most likely to get jobs, and particularly those with work already lined up.

Mr Paice admitted the free-market system does not deal with that problem but said TECs will be required to increase the proportion of their clients with special needs - such as immigrants who speak poor English and people with physical handicaps.

A spokeswoman for Nacab said her organisation wants to study the guidance when it is released on Tuesday. "We'd welcome anything that improved monitoring of the standard of training available and that strengthened trainees' rights to decent conditions.''But she warned that the new guidance is only a partial solution to the TECs' problems; serious investment in high-quality programmes was still needed.

The TECs were set up in 1990 to replace central government training schemes. Their boards are drawn from local businesses in an effort to inject knowledge of market realities into their programmes.