Do we need night schools to solve the skills shortage or should we learn from India?

London mayoral candidate David Lammy MP said in June this year that changing the schedule for adult education courses and reviving night schools would have a large and beneficial impact on adult skills and work opportunities.

Lammy does have a point. Writing for The Guardian’s Comment if Free section, he refers to his own “rough survey” of England’s 366 further education colleges and found that only a handful were open past 10PM. How can workers improve their skills if they cannot train during work time and opportunities to study in the evenings are dwindling? Equally how can colleges stay open late with limited funding?

It’s a dilemma. UK industry is demanding increased skills, particularly in technology and engineering and yet we are not making it easy for those already in work to develop new skills.

It is interesting to note a number of comments under Lammy’s article that claimed businesses are reluctant to train in-house for fear that they are just training staff to leave. Is this really the case? If so, isn’t this the sort of ‘glass is half empty’ approach that probably got us into this problem in the first place?

Lammy makes an interesting observation. For those with academic promise, he writes, Britain remains one of the best countries in which to live, with a wealth of world-beating universities and well-paid professional jobs. But those walking a more vocational path would be better off being born in Germany, India or Australia - countries that recognise the need for skills investment and lifelong learning.

Let’s compare the situation in India. There was an interesting article by Tech Republic in August this year looking at why so many IT firms in India are retaining their employees. Demands for digital services from customers seems to be the root cause for this, with companies such as Tata Consultancy Services claiming to put a third of its workforce through digital technology training.

So how do you train 100,000 people in-house without it impacting your business? TCS has partnered with outside education institutions to help develop course content and delivery and is tailoring courses to meet specific requirements of its various staff. It is also using virtual labs and a cloud-based learning platform, but the delivery and content is not really the issue here. The fact it is doing it in the first place is surely the issue.

Why are we not doing this in the UK? In May this year the CBI released its education and skills survey, Inspiring Growth 2015. It told us what we know already - the UK is massively short on technical skills and there is no end in sight. If we really want to save UK jobs and provide opportunities for workers to develop into new areas, we surely have to look at how other countries are doing it. Lammy’s night school idea makes sense, but it is unworkable and demands too much public money. We have to find a way to increase in-house training, to help businesses develop the skills they need from within through funding and partnerships. Only then will we have any hope of tackling the skills shortages.

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    David Kay wrote on 10th Sep 2015

    There have been a number of blogs on this subject recently in different newsletters. The general synopsis appears to be that British companies aren't willing to invest in training unless it is for recognised professions such as accountancy or law. With staff now being expected to work longer hours the anticipation that evening classes will cover the gap is somewhat unlikely.

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