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PBR: Ex-CBI chief takes on skills. By Claire Savage

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6th Dec 2006
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Former CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones is the man with tasked with warning employers that they are in the "last chance saloon" when it comes to boosting staff skills.

The unpaid role of "skills envoy" comes in the wake of Lord Leitch's final report on skills. It will see Sir Digby trying to persuade public and private sector employers to raise staff training to Level Two by 2010.

The appointment, announced in the chancellor' Gordon Brown's pre-budget report, came alongside commitments to ensure that by 2010:

  • 90% of adults would reach at least the equivalent of 5 GCSEs.
  • A doubling, from 2 to 4 million, in the number of adults achieving A-level equivalent skills.
  • Over 5 million more people with high-level professional and graduate skills.

Other pledges included:

  • A new 'earn to learn' programme for people to gain graduate qualifications whilst still working part time;
  • 'Summer universities' along with work experience and coaching to motivate young people to stay on in education after 16;
  • Support to 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education or employment, to help them into training and then into work.
  • Consultation on £2,000 bursaries for looked after children to encourage them to go to university; and also on a new path for entry to university in which students volunteer in return for a reduction in tuition fees.

Commenting on his appointment as skills envoy, Sir Digby said he felt "privileged" in his new task.

However he warned that employers had just a few years to get their house in order and ensure that staff had numeracy and literacy skills, or face government intervention.

Sir Digby said: "This really is the last chance saloon for employers regarding training. The Leitch Report is the conclusion of some marvellous work where one of the consequences is that if training at the workplace does not make a step change in the next three years, an avalanche of regulation and red tape will descend which cannot be in the interest of anyone.

“I shall be working with employers, trade unionists, educationalists and the media. From ensuring that school-leavers are literate and numerate, to helping adults who are inadequately skilled, I look forward to helping equip Britain to compete in the 21st century.”

The government is now to consider how to implement Lord Leitch's recommendations, including allocating resources in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

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