From education to employment

NAW: Ensuring part-time workers don’t get left behind

Sue Pittock OBE is CEO of Remit Training

With major employers moving towards more flexible and part-time working, Sue explains that the apprenticeship system needs to adjust accordingly.

National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2023) is always a time for celebration and at Remit Training we love to celebrate with our learners and employers. We have a week’s worth of events and apprenticeship celebration to look forward to, but being a national provider we get two bites of the cherry. Our local MP and MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw have accepted invitations to meet the apprentices at our purpose-built automotive academy over the border during Scottish Apprenticeship Week next month.

It is always a good opportunity for MPs and ministers to witness first hand and discuss the value of apprenticeships with our employers such as Scania GB, Volvo Group, Volta Trucks, MAN and Renault Trucks to name a few. We are proud to demonstrate the  investment which we as an independent training provider are putting into facilities, kit and teaching expertise.

We acknowledge and thank Toby Perkins, Shadow Minister for Skills and Further Education, for his recent mention in the House of Commons regarding a previous visit to our “superb automotive academy”. Cutting edge facilities are essential if we are to ensure our programmes stay relevant for employers and, most critically, prepare our learners to thrive in fast evolving industries.

Our dedicated workshops catering for Electric & Hybrid not to mention Hydrogen vehicle technology are a great example of the technical and future facing units not currently covered by the apprenticeship standards. These value added items are essential as technology is changing so fast. 

After a steady recovery in apprenticeship starts across most sectors since lockdowns ended, official data is now confirming a drop-off in employer demand as a result of the stalling economy and rising operating costs. Starts overall are down by 6.1% in overall apprenticeship participation across the sector but more concerning is the slump in starts at level 2 which have also declined at level 3. In contrast, starts at level 6 and 7 have increased by 14% so far this year.

Remit is a great believer in the levy, but we are worried that the funding system is not working as it should be for younger more inexperienced candidates. Echoed by MPs in the Commons debate on 24 January, Remit knows apprenticeship and early careers options at these levels are essential in providing meaningful employment opportunities for young people who are looking for an alternative to further or higher education pathways. Therefore understanding employer and candidate behaviours that are driving these statistics is key.

Employers’ changing labour strategies

Working alongside our valued partners both pre and post pandemic, Remit has significantly grown its apprenticeship offer across other key sectors and our employer customers include household names in automotive, digital and IT, business/management, retail and food and drink. The really interesting development as a consequence of the pandemic is how some major employers particularly in hospitality, manufacturing and retail have had to review their labour strategies. Flexible and part-time workforces provides the flexibility they need to optimise operational continuity and reduce risk.

This does however pose a real challenge in terms of promoting and accommodating participation in apprenticeships. While part-time apprenticeships are a well-established feature of work-based learning, more often than not, learner experience and achievement suffers. Extended lengths of programme duration can be highly demotivating for apprentices, exacerbated by their full-time counterparts completing and moving on in a much shorter timeframe.

Social and peer comradery and support amongst cohorts is an essential motivation factor in individual development and one we actively promote at Remit. This presents its own challenges for employers in attracting candidates and providing equal learning opportunities, not to mention the financial unsustainability providers face with doubled or elongated lengths of stay and additional pastoral and encouragement required on already limited funding.

Funding issues need addressing

We and our employers are fully committed to providing high quality training to our apprentices but increased costs, including offering competitive salaries to tutors, make the achievement of this harder. The delay between the initial announcement in early November and the launch of the IfATE review of selected funded rates for a temporary uplift was too long but at least the review is now underway.  In our view, the selection for this purpose of 20 high-volume apprenticeships in skills shortage occupations and priority sectors was too restrictive and the government needs to revisit this, especially as rising interest rates and the inflation rate, still at 9.2%, add to our growing costs.

The government deserves credit for listening carefully to what Remit and other training providers had to say about the draft apprenticeship funding rules for 2022-23. We now ask equal consideration to be given to addressing the current and escalating challenges facing apprenticeship participation and propose trailblazers to thought lead and test initiatives that may combat them. Addressing the remaining 80% of apprenticeship population which is not in scope for an inflation increase needs further thought and action. Finding a solution for part-time workers so they can maintain their timely achievement would go far in bridging critical gaps.

Apprenticeship Accountability Framework

With the economy in the doldrums, we also need to start having a conversation now with the DfE and ESFA on the rules for 2023-24 to avoid placing a further dampener on employer demand.  Furthermore this has to be seen in the context of the arrival of the Apprenticeship Accountability Framework.  Many providers are not convinced that it has been properly tested and they worry that the performance thresholds will not be motivational to providers or see quality improve if some of the measures are out of reach. 

It is also difficult to escape the conclusion that the digital Apprenticeship Service isn’t working for many small businesses, especially those looking to recruit only one or two apprentices at a time.  This should be the subject of another conversation.

In the Commons debate last month, skills minister Robert Halfon reiterated his passion for social justice and for improving quality. Every day I see that being played out at Remit’s academies and National Apprenticeship Week is an opportunity to highlight the value of apprenticeships but also remind ourselves that more can be achieved to realise the minister’s goals.

sue pittock
By Sue Pittock OBE, chief executive of Remit Training 

Related Articles