From education to employment

Apprenticeships – is it a Boom or Bust journey for Training Providers?

Dr Chris Payne, CEO ITS Group

It was spring of 2011, sat in a packed conference room, somewhere in London, where I vividly recall listening to Doug Richard as he set out his agenda when the DBIS launched the Apprenticeship review, and I paraphrase Mr Richard… “…Apprenticeships belong to employers, they do not need training providers (colleges, ITPs et al), as I believe employers have the capabilities to do it all [train apprentices] themselves…” D. Richard 2011.

For me that was the start of an unnecessary radical reform of an apprenticeship system, which may have had some bad press for isolated poor practice, but had no grounded evidence for wholesale change. On reflection there is nothing wrong or new in the idea of employers contributing to the development of their workforce. Comforting to know it was the same government party that dismantled ITB levy system in the mid eighties, whom are in power today re-introducing levy in 2017.

But why oh why did they have to break apprenticeships as a route to ask employers to accept the levy system.

Anecdotal evidence from the Richard’s review included statements that quoted employers saying “providers do not give me what I need”. But when you examine this closer Training Providers where attempting to give employers what they needed, despite the system, but what employers really meant is they wanted funded training, which wasn’t always accommodated by the apprenticeship framework [designed by employers].

Following the recent trailblazers, we are starting to feel a déjà vu situation, standards having been developed by a group of employers, now need to be accepted by the rest of the employers in each sector, offering an apprenticeship programme that meets the needs of every employer.

We [Employers and the sector alike] were distracted by the levy system, which can be seen as a reasonable ask of employers to invest in their people and organisation, but using the storyline that employers can completely own apprenticeship as a sweetener to implement an apprenticeship tax, was misleading and intentionally created chaos throughout.

The irony is we [the sector] had previously spent some ten years working with employers, government and awarding bodies to create a more flexible & responsive Qualifications and Credits Framework system (QCF 2012). With the intent of enabling providers and employers to co-design a training solution; pure employer-led to meet their WFD needs and, underpinned with a qualification for the individual, thus improving their social and career mobility.

Apprenticeship was the ideal vehicle to embrace this approach; it just needed common sense to form an evolution approach for apprenticeships, not a revolution, which is what we have finished with today, based on no grounded evidence of quality improvement, and a backward step with regard to being employer-led [evidenced by the number of apprentice starts since May 2017], other than attracting funding into the system [which hasn’t been fully utilised, as a result of simplifying the system (sorry couldn’t resist)].

I can write a book on the following topics which have now been exposed and questioned since the Richard [Apprenticeship] review:

  • 20% off Job doesn’t equal quality
  • Degree apprenticeship are not part time degrees
  • 3M Apprenticeship starts cannot be achieved by Higher Skills & Degree Apprenticeships alone, it [the target] needs to be the whole Apprenticeship Family.
  • (Most) Employers don’t have the ‘capacity, capability or will to own & deliver apprenticeship.
  • The new system is not ‘pure’ employer – led

and much more…

May be I will be invited by FE News to comment on the above another day, but for now let’s be ‘selfish’ and look at the [our] FE sector, which now includes in excess of 2000 organisations on ROATP, employing an estimated excess of c.500,000 highly skilled people, a sector which produces added value impact both for the national economy & local communities.

I’m sure some people will correct me and quote “…its market forces… …the best will survive and quality will win the day”. In any normal transformational change programme and open market, I would agree and some of you will know I have been an advocate of this evolutional approach during my 35 years in the FE world.

However, that’s the main challenge today, and for the future, it is not a ‘norm’, nor has it been a well executed change (improvement) programme. If training providers wait for IFA, ESFA and DFE to get it right, most (providers) will either leave the sector or stop delivering apprenticeships or dissolve into the ether, with no discrimination whether they are ‘good or bad’!

The challenge which employers face is trying to comprehend a world of levy, non-levy, Apprenticeship reforms; standards, complex contracts, ROATP, EPA so on…!

And so we return to the organisations who now take on the role of making this happen, yes Mr Doug Richard, it is Training Providers of all shapes and sizes, who will again accept the challenge of convincing all employers that standards designed by others are fit for purpose for their organisational needs, whilst demystifying the bureaucracy within the system. And demonstrating return on apprenticeships as a great human capital investment.

Training Providers now need to raise their game, work collaboratively, have a unified voice for the sector or find themselves in a world of boom or bust.

Dr Chris Payne, CEO ITS Group

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About Dr Chris Payne: He sas worked in the post 16 FE sector for more than 35 years, for Colleges, independent training providers and government agencies.

His career includes leading national training companies alongside providing an executive mentor service to senior management and leaders. All of which has been underpinned by his personal commitment to lifelong learning. He is best known for his strategic work and work based training (regionally and nationally) leading the modernisation of Apprenticeships in the early 90’s.

As a successful leader he continues to offer breadth & depth of knowledge & experience in the ever-evolving world of business and training. Lived in Nottinghamshire all his life, family man and has a highly competitive trait.

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