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chairman, Learning and Performance Institute @DonaldHTaylor

Donald H Taylor D

uring the time of the Raj, the British were worried about the number of cobras in Delhi.

So the government decided to offer a bounty for each dead snake presented to the authorities. Large numbers of dead cobras were duly brought to the Civil Service, who paid up. With time, the snake population dwindled, and so did the payments. In response, enterprising locals began breeding and slaying the snakes as a reliable source of income. When the

Employers and providers will find ways to re-badge existing training schemes as apprenticeships

authorities became of aware of this, they cancelled the programme. Te now worthless captive snakes were released, and the cobra population soared to greater heights than ever. Good ideas too often founder

on this law of unintended con- sequences. Not always, but often enough that law-makers should temper their grand ideals with a clear perspective on human nature. In workplace learning, the most

egregious recent waste of taxpayers’ money was the Individual Learning Account (ILA),1

which offered

individuals £150 to spend on train- ing of their choice. Launched in September 2000, the scheme was abandoned just over a year later. Te ideas of the ILA were sound.

Te money would get people back into learning and the best training providers would flourish. But, rushed to launch and inadequately man- aged, the scheme was a godsend to the unscrupulous. Tey could sign up learners and, with a little fancy footwork on the forms, claim the £150 per person without needing to

As the apprenticeship levy comes into force next year, Don asks whether it might fall victim to the law of unintended consequences

bother with any training. Te result: up to £97 million wasted in fraud. Nobody is suggesting that the

current government’s training levy, due to come into effect in April 2017, will suffer similar criminality. Almost cer- tainly, however, it will be subject to the law of unintended consequences. Te most likely immediate effect will be substitution – employers and provid- ers will find ways to re-badge existing training schemes as apprenticeships. Te levy then becomes a government subsidy for existing corporate training, neither encouraging apprenticeships nor boosting the UK’s overall effort in workplace development. Tis is one reason CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn has asked the government to rethink its plans, which, she says, are rushed and poorly thought through.2 In addition, a levy almost

always promotes one mode of training delivery at the expense of another. Until recently, France’s training levy was reclaimed entirely via class- room training. Tis led to a proliferation of mediocre classroom suppliers. Teir role: to reclaim for em- ployers what they had paid out in the levy, regardless of whether the training was actually effective. As with the cobras of

the Raj, once money enters the room, predictability leaves and unintended con- sequences are almost inev- itable. Let us hope that the new levy is an exception.

Donald H Taylor is a 25-year veteran of the learning, skills and human capital industries.

References 1 2

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