PUBLIC SECT0R: Agencies taken on to save DTI skill shortage scheme

The Department of Trade and Industry has launched a fresh PR push

to save the Government's flagship employment training scheme.



The University for Industry(UfI) scheme has failed to make its mark

since its creation in 1999, with just 140,000 people signing up.



The Government now wants to extend the scheme's reach and has set a

target for one million people a year to be learning through the UfI's

learndirect scheme by 2003. It also wants 2.5 million people a year to

be using learndirect's information and advice services on learning and

careers.



The scheme is seen as key to breach a huge skills gap in the employment

market. UK adult illiteracy rates are among the worst in the European

Union - up to seven million people of working age lack the literacy and

numeracy skills of an average 11-year-old.



Three public affairs agencies have been appointed as part of the PR

push.



Their work includes liaising with local authorities, human resources

officers and the business community. Also, liaison with schools is seen

as crucial to the campaign, in order to reach a key audience -

badly-skilled parents.



Citigate Public Affairs will handle UK-wide public affairs, Strategy

Wales will handle PA and media relations for Wales and Weber Shandwick

Worldwide will provide PA and media support in Northern Ireland.



Grayling, which has helped build UfI's communications strategy since it

was set up in 1999, has also been recruited.



It will handle a media relations campaign next month to promote the

learndirect helpline.



Each has been hired on a retained basis following competitive pitches

run by the COI Communications, and will report to Elizabeth Underwood,

UfI communications manager.



Underwood said: 'We have an ambitious target, and PR and public affairs

will play a central part in our marketing activity over the next two

years, helping us communicate with a diverse range of consumer,

employer, partner and opinion-former audiences.'



The UfI communications department has an in-house corporate

communications team of six, and is headed by Phil Wade, marketing and

communications director.



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