Britain considers 'college' of new skills for those laid off

The Brisith government is considering a plan to launch an "open technical college" that would provide television courses in new skills and teaching materials for thousands of workers faced with layoffs.

Planned by Employment Minister James Prior, the project is primarily aimed at helping people in employment who may need to switch jobs in the future or prepare for alternatve careers. Exact details of the training program have yet to be worked out, but the basic proposal is to start a central open technical college that would supply television courses and videotaped lectures to regional instruction centers.

The cost of launching and operating the technical instruction program would be several hundred thousand pounds. Senior civil servants in the Department of Employment have been examining various proposals to help workers prepare for alternative jobs, and much has been learned from Britain's Open University system of providing a variety of televised courses for thousands of home-based students.

Mr. Prior is said to be particularly in favor of an open technical college for teaching new skills because it is cheaper to run that some existing training programs. (The Employment Department has recently closed a number of centers that have been providing courses over many years for unemployed workers looking for new skills.)

With unemployment expected to rise well beyond 2 million by Christmas, the government is coming under strong pressure to provide alternative work programs or training for those joining the dole queues. Trade union officials have offered little comment about the open technical college -- the project has yet to receive the British Cabinet's backing -- but organized workers' groups are increasingly restive about large-scale layoffs and tend to see new government proposals on retraining as "gimmicks."

Yet the employment minister has made it plain that the new technical college proposal is no answer to the real problem of unemployment. And there is no guarantee that the thousands of workers whose jobs may become obsolete within the next year will be interested enough to attend local educational institutions linked by television to the main instruction center.

But many unemployed youngsters could benefit from a suggestion that some form of apprentice training could be organized by the central college for job-seeking teen-agers throughout the United Kingdom who are eager to learn trades.

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