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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain plans to spend an extra half a billion pounds a year to improve skills training, the government said on Sunday, seeking to address the country’s nagging productivity problems as it prepares to leave the European Union.
Weak productivity growth has hindered Britain's recovery from the financial crisis, and many employers say the problem is largely due to a shortage of workers with sufficient training.
With Britain seeking to impose more controls on workers from the EU once it leaves the bloc, the government is looking with increasing urgency to bridge the skills gap.
The extra spending on developing the skills of 16- to 19-year-olds will be announced in finance minister Philip Hammond’s annual budget statement on Wednesday. It will be rolled out from the 2019-20 financial year, reaching 500 million pounds ($615 million) a year from 2022.
The move will take total spending on academic and technical education for the age group to nearly 6 billion pounds. The current system of technical education, which is made up of around 13,000 separate qualifications, will be reformed and replaced with 15 schemes.
"Investing in technical education is essential to enhancing national productivity," said David Sainsbury, former chair of supermarket Sainsbury's, who last year made recommendations to reform technical education in England following a review.
Hammond will implement Sainsbury's proposals in full when he unveils the budget, the finance ministry said.
The government said it would increase the amount of training for 16-19 year olds on technical schemes by more than 50 percent to over 900 hours a year.
Hammond highlighted productivity as a priority in a budgetary update last November, borrowing 23 billion pounds to invest more in housing, transport and digital infrastructure and research over the next five years.
Prime Minister Theresa May has also outlined an industrial strategy to tackle weak productivity, though lawmakers last week criticized it for lacking long-term thinking.
The Confederation of British Industry, an employers group, said that businesses would be "delighted" with the forthcoming investment in skills training.
"There has never been a more important time to address the UK’s skills shortages," CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Mark Trevelyan