Learning scheme to last for a lifetime

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ONE MILLION people will each receive pounds 150 towards education or training as part of Government plans to promote lifelong learning.

And a new "learning direct" hotline will offer advice to callers on courses on anything from basket weaving to brain surgery.

The aim is to improve the skills of Britain's workforce so that they match those of other countries.

But critics argue that the money on offer is derisory and that little extra training will take place unless employers are compelled by law to spend part of their pay bill on training.

Proposals outlined in yesterday's Green Paper promise individual learning accounts which might be targeted first at women returning to work after having children, single parents, the unemployed and workers wanting to update their basic skills.

People will be asked to add a minimum of pounds 25 to their accounts and employers will also be asked to contribute. Ministers are considering whether to offer tax incentives to encourage employers to invest in training.

Everyone with an account, which ministers intend to become as commonplace as a bank account, will have a smart card detailing their educational qualifications and the money they have accumulated.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said that future workers would need to constantly update their skills because there would be no such thing as a job for life.

Thirty-five learning centres in shopping malls, housing estates and a football club are already piloting the idea. The centres offer advice about courses and learning materials in places near where people live, work and shop. They also offer one-to-one tuition.

There was widespread welcome for the principles behind the Green Paper, but doubts about the effectiveness of its proposals.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB, says in today's Education+ section of The Independent that employers should be compelled by law to pay 2 per cent of their wages bill for training: "Reliance on voluntarism lies at the root of the UK's failure to match the skill levels and career opportunities abroad."

Sir Ron Dearing, author of advice to the Government on both post-16 and higher education, said the Government's heart was in the right place but the pounds 150 accounts "will not buy much."

And Stephen Dorrell, the Tory education spokesman, said: "The Government talks of up to one million learning accounts but these are to be funded by stealing pounds 150m from the Training and Enterprise Councils."

Mr Blunkett defended the decision not to compel employers to contribute to accounts. "They currently contribute pounds 10.5bn towards training their employees. What we have to do is to encourage employers, individuals and the Government to work together, each playing their part in equipping the country for tomorrow."

Education+, the Eye

What pounds 150 will buy you

What the pounds 175 (pounds 150 plus pounds 25 contribution) individual learning account would buy:

A three-day intensive course on the Internet pounds 55

An eight-week course on accounts for small businesses pounds 42

One year's evening class on accounts to A-level pounds 155

Five-week intensive legal and secretarial course pounds 175

A day's first aid training pounds 150