From education to employment

How the Comprehensive Spending Review will impact independent providers

For independent providers, the headline from last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review was that the government is replacing Train to Gain with an expanded adult apprenticeships programme. £250m will be added to the programme’s current £548m annual budget to fund an extra 75,000 adult apprenticeship places.

The Association of Learning Providers has naturally welcomed the expansion of apprenticeships because we believe that apprenticeships represent the flagship skills programme which can make the most difference to helping businesses lead us out of recession.

Anyone who has been following Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies for the past two years will know that the end of Train to Gain was not unexpected. We have made the point that some continued investment in other work based adult skills training is necessary to help sustain the recovery. Therefore it is encouraging that basic skills provision will continue to receive support, while the government is also looking to set up an SME-focused training programme. It will be interesting to see though how much of the £757 million Train to Gain budget will be allocated to this and how much will be returned to the Treasury.

The CSR outcome should be seen in conjunction with the recent BIS consultations on skills strategy and funding. The overlying theme across all public services is that providers are required to deliver more for less. ALP’s members can do this but this requires the government to open up the further education market entirely in the same way that it is for the rest of the education system. After all, this would be wholly consistent with the Secretary of State’s own call for open markets in the BIS growth strategy.

Training for the unemployed?

Only three months after Vince Cable sent the 2010-11 grant letter to the SFA listing skills training for the unemployed as a priority, there was no specific mention of this in the CSR. BIS has referred to support for basic skills provision for ‘those left behind first time around’, but linkages to helping the unemployed were conspicuous by their absence.

With the DWP proposing to leave it entirely up to its providers to decide whether training should be offered from their Work Programme black boxes, pre-employment training will be left to the market and integrated employment and skills commissioning remains a far-off dream. ALP is pleased that private and third sector providers have been earmarked to play a major role in helping people back to work, but it is important that ministers recognise the importance of skills training in enabling individuals to land and hold on to new jobs and to progress within them.

Paying for training

Another major challenge in the current fiscal and economic climate is who pays for training. Individual learners going for level 3 qualifications or above may be encouraged to take out loans while the new lifelong learning accounts will also be a valuable asset to encouraging the acquisition of new skills. The really tough task will be persuading employers to contribute more and it is interesting to hear John Hayes say that he has a non-dogmatic approach on how we might solve this; for example we could look at sector-wide training levies, such as the one that exists in the film industry.

Helping young people

The abolition of the educational maintenance allowance is potentially a cruel blow to the thousands of disadvantaged young people that our members help every year to find employment via training unless the promised replacement of targeted support is applied to them. Many of these young people on the Entry to Employment and other forms of foundation learning come from broken homes with no access to financial support other than what the state provides. So when ministers talk about some continued support, these are the ones that need targeting.

ALP is working closely with the government to develop a coherent package of pre-apprenticeship provision which could transform the career prospects of many young people. The encouraging aspect of what has been a very difficult spending review is that when it comes to securing Britain’s economic and social future, it has been recognised that it is a false economy to cut back too much on investment in skills.

Graham Hoyle OBE is chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers

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