In recent years one of the central ‘big ideas’ emerging from policy development has been the employer ownership of the skills agenda – i.e. moving from the traditional supply led model to one where power is shifted to employers by devolvement of funding in order for vocational education and training to become demand led. In return employers will reciprocate by designing new and better forms of provision and invest more of their own money in skills development. This has been labelled as ‘a something for something deal’ .
This agenda is not new. For many years policy-makers have been claiming that they want to give employers greater control over the publicly funded education and training system, often via making it more ‘demand-led’ or ‘employer-led’. For instance, at the turn of the millennium, in their report ‘Managers and Leaders: Raising Our Game’, the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML) highlighted the ongoing issue of attempting to provide more fit for purpose management and leadership development, particularly in small firms. The Council noted that whilst demand had increased considerably for management and leadership learning, much of this activity did not involve small firms employing less than 50. One of the key barriers that needed to be addressed in order to implement a demand led approach was for learning and skills providers to ‘join entrepreneurs in their world’ .
Again, in 2006, the Leitch Review recommended that employers should be given almost total control over the national skills budget and the design of vocational courses that are paid for by state money. In reviewing the country’s skill requirements needed to support economic growth and productivity, Lord Leitch suggested that all publicly funded, adult vocational skills training in England should go through “demand-led” routes that will put businesses in the driving seat.
Despite the rhetoric and attempts to implement a more responsive learning and skills system for meeting the needs of employers, there is evidence that many businesses are still failing to fully grasp the opportunities. The current trends in apprenticeship registrations and use of the Apprenticeship levy are a good example here.
In addition, there still appears to be a number of challenges for smaller, particularly micro-businesses in engaging with a more demand-led system. One of the key barriers to unlocking the potential in these businesses is a recognition that the owners themselves do and can act as developers within the business and that they possess knowledge, experience and skills that would be useful to develop in other business owners. Another challenge is that for external providers to fully understand the needs of micro businesses by ‘joining entrepreneurs in their world’ they also require professional development.
In terms of approaches to address these two barriers, SFEDI are currently part of an Erasmus Plus Project (Me2Me) which will provide a route for:
- Micro business owners to engage in peer to peer learning and enhance their skills as creators of demand-led learning and skills curriculum
- Vocational education and training providers to access CPD opportunities to more fully understand the life-world of the micro-business owner manager
- Over the next two years, the project will be developing:
- A learning portal including access to peer to peer networks
- An enterprise curriculum and learning resources available to micro-business owner managers through digital technologies
- A new in-service professional development training programme for vocational education and training professionals
A briefing paper which will provide a comparative study of peer to peer learning amongst micro-businesses across the partner countries and associated policy and practice implications.
To date, an initial needs analysis has been completed with a sample of business owners of micro-businesses and vocational education and training professionals in the eight partner countries. This has identified a series of indicative content areas to underpin the development of the curriculum and learning materials.
If you are interested in learning more about the project and the outputs to date, please visit: https://www.me2meproject.eu. If you are a micro-business owner manager and/or a vocational education and training professional who knows of examples of good practice in peer to peer learning or demand led provision please do get in touch. Also, if you would like to explore ways to be involved in the project please contact Leigh Sear at SFEDI (email@example.com).