Current policy sees people put onto training courses or employment placements to meet Government targets. Many of these short courses are about putting in a prescribed number of hours - not gaining real skills. Their main function seems to be to boost Government statistics, rather than to truly improve the employability of young people. This is creating a legion of young people with no motivation to engage with education and training opportunities, as they can't see the value in doing so.
If £90 billion of public money is being invested in training schemes every year, why not actually make these schemes work to inspire people to progress and to improve British economic prospects?
As it stands, too much emphasis on the process of meeting targets is failing to measure what really matters: the benefit of investing in skills development. As long as the concentration remains on process, the opportunities created and money spent on those not in education, employment or training will be wasted.
Of course, making the system more straightforward and delivering what is best for businesses and learners has to be at the heart of any workable approach. A starting point would be a radical slimming-down of the regulatory system - both for qualifications and providers - which would allow for greater flexibility and responsiveness. Training providers should be accountable for the results of their programmes to improve delivery and encourage innovation. Regulation should only be used to maintain the standards of the outcomes of training, and not to prescribe the process by which it is delivered.
We also need to get out of the mindset of thinking that focusing only on 18-24 year-olds is the solution - it's not. Skills policy should embrace the entire workforce from 16 to 65. To achieve this we need to place the learner at the heart of the system giving them the skills that will help them find worthwhile employment and foster their careers. Every learner should have an entitlement to some funding - either directly, or through their employers - and should be inspired to choose training, development and qualifications that improve their employability and career prospects. And they should be able to draw down this entitlement when they are ready and motivated to use it wisely.
We need to prove that qualifications actually help people to get ahead in the world of work, such as the 30,000 skills-based qualifications that the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) awards to learners each year. We have to show a return on investment for learners and employers.
Offering ‘free' and ineffective qualifications to meet Government targets does not benefit anybody; it only contributes to a further generation of young people not in education, employment or training and is a waste of money at a time when public finances are under severe pressure.
The issue of skills and the UK economy is, of course, a broad one and requires a holistic approach. We must acknowledge and encourage access to professional and career development through training and education at all stages, from students just starting out to seasoned professionals looking to keep their skills fresh.
With the focus of skills and training under the spotlight, now is a great opportunity to develop and employ a skills policy that focuses on what matters most. We need to stop wasting talent, aspiration and money on schemes that don't benefit employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Britain needs a system that is capable of harnessing talent and restoring a strong workforce by providing people with access to the skills and training that businesses need.
Jane Scott Paul is chief executive of AAT