Make NTO 'more independent'

26 February 2001

Pauline Covell talks to the new chairman of the Printing Industry National Training Organisation, John Bambery.

When managing director of Lancastrian Labels and financial director of EFTA John Bambery became chairman of the Printing Industry National Training Organisation (NTO) last November he set himself a radical agenda for his two year term.

"The printing sector organization set up to endorse training strategy and set training standards is like a quango in all but one respect. If it were funded like a quango there would be no problems, but it isn't," he said, describing the NTO's original brief.

So what should the NTO be doing and what should be its role for the industry? "Many people feel the NTO should deliver training, but it simply does not have the resources - all it can do on this front is to tap into government departments and find out what is available. So at the moment it will agree the setting of standards for NVQs and lobby government. At present it cannot be a training provider as it does not have the funds to provide."

Just how has this all come about? "The NVQ board is heavily weighted in favour of the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF). This is understandable, as prior to the NTO it was the main organization that set training strategy within the print industry and indeed delivered part of the training. It also ran the training grant scheme. But when the Government said that there should be independent NTOs, the BPIF put in a bid, and in its proposal at the time there were certain strings attached. One of these was that the chairman for the first two years was to come from the BPIF and after that rotate between another organization and the BPIF. EFTA is the first 'other organization' to take the chair. The BPIF also has more appointees on the board - not a majority, but it does give it clout. Having said all that, it does provide a significant amount of the NTO funding - some £0.25M - a position the BPIF, as well as the other representative bodies, would like to see changed," he explained.

"Part of my personal brief is to make the NTO less reliant upon the BPIF. To be honest there are many companies not in the federation and who don't want to see it forcing its will on the industry. It could put some people off supporting training," he claimed. "So we must make it more independent. To do that we should cap the BPIF funding. Other organizations such as EFTA, the screen printing industry and corrugated converters will have to accept that if they want a National Training Organisation for our industries they must fund it," he added.

John Bambery concedes that the method of funding is a controversial subject. "Some people say that there should be a compulsory industry wide levy. They see that as the only way forward. Others say the levy should be voluntary and, of course, there are others who don't want to see a levy in any shape or form."

What's the selling point to the industry? "The NTO lobbies government. And the Government needs the NTO. It needs us to set the standards for training. It needs a body that brings all the sides together. Many would say it doesn't go far enough, but we are back to being limited by funds," he answered.

What has EFTA's presence meant to the NTO? "We are primarily a catalyst at making it more independent; we are trying to open up the discussions. The impartiality of the NTO is going to be endorsed by my chairmanship." And just how strongly does the flexo process feature in the NTO's work? "Not very strongly at the moment," he admitted. "Understandably, as the BPIF set it all up, we tended to have litho very well represented, whilst packaging was on the sideline.

"That is changing now," he announced. "EFTA is arguing the case with the NTO to action an NVQ standard to suit flexo. And we are lobbying to allow EFTA training to be officially recognized. By official recognition it may open up the doors to government funding for those employers taking training seriously. We need to have a credible certificate for flexo training." Just when could we expect that to be achieved? "It could take the whole two years," he said honestly. "It has to get through a number of hurdles and finally has to have the Government Quality Assurance certificate."

He continued: "The basic training in the print business as a whole is carried out by colleges, but the NTO could have a role to play in specialist training. It could follow the EFTA model. Our short courses provide well delivered training, and I believe are better than day-release courses or evening college courses which last for several months and even years. I believe we have to get the colleges on board and persuade them to deliver training in short bursts rather than the longer courses. The EFTA four-day courses, for example, are extremely popular.

"We ought to look at making the EFTA training a model for the print industry overall."

Can training make a difference to the competitiveness of the UK printing industry as a whole? "Yes, it has made a difference, but unfortunately training is being put on the back burner. New entrants coming into the industry have almost dried up - it's a ridiculously low figure. A lot of companies have found it easier to poach skilled people from other companies. A small company will take a trainee on, but they are not telling anyone. Even by talking to the colleges you can see just how low the figures are. In other words, the age profile in the industry is getting higher and we are going to pay for that in the long run."

He concluded: "We have to improve the profile of the profession; we have to get out and talk to industry. We have to put in a concerted effort on training and the NTO is in the best position to do that. How we do it is debatable, but we must address the funding issue, look at associate membership status and obtain charitable status so that company and organization contributions may be tax deductible and finally debate the issue of levies either compulsory or voluntary."

It looks like an interesting two years.

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