From education to employment

Transition requires a joined-up approach

Trevor Luker is managing director of Pearson Work Based Learning

I recently led a workshop at the AOC conference in Birmingham on the transition from Train to Gain to Apprenticeships. What struck me in that session, and in conversations I have had with management teams throughout the year – is that the sector has done far too little to prepare for the huge change that is about to take place.

The implications are stark – from September next year there will be no Train to Gain funding, yet too many management teams have done little to address the disappearance of that funding stream, or restructure their offer to recognise the move to an Apprenticeship dominated work-based learning environment. The writing has been on the wall for the Train to Gain programme for a good 12 months, so it is surprising how many colleges we are encountering that are still adopting the ostrich technique towards this inevitable change.

As ever, there will be winners and losers in the process and in my opinion, the main difference between the two poles will be how effectively FE colleges and learning providers engage with employers and communicate the benefits of the Apprenticeship approach.

The coalition government’s target is to have 500,000 people on Apprenticeship programmes by the end of this parliamentary term in 2015. That is a significant shift. The previous government had the same target in place, but expected to hit it in 2020. It’s an oft-used word these days, but in this context, developing strategic ‘partnerships’ with employers is becoming more important than ever before.

This is not the type of transition that senior management can leave to heads of department in the belief that the switch to Apprenticeships will have no effect on budgets or income. What I feel is required is a senior-management led, organisation-wide approach to reviewing current provision, analysing and understanding what lies ahead, and designing and implementing a medium- to long-term plan that moves the whole organisation into a position from which it can thrive in the new environment.

To succeed, learning providers at every level will have to play an active role in changing the culture of employers. Implementing Apprenticeships requires a greater commitment to work-based learning than Train to Gain, and there will need to be detailed conversations conducted around the country not just about Apprenticeships, but also the merits of adopting a balanced strategic approach to workforce development.

Employers of all sizes need to be convinced about the ROI benefits of implementing Apprenticeships. The transition from Train to Gain to Apprenticeships can work financially for learning providers, but historic figures suggest that initial take-up could be slower and lower than is required for the system as a whole. Many colleges and learning providers appear to be underestimating or ignoring completely the impact of this net funding scenario on their bottom line.

Just 11 of every 1,000 English employees are currently participating in an Apprenticeship, which is well below the take-up for Train to Gain places in this country and also significantly lower than the European average for Apprenticeships. The numbers in Germany (43 per 1,000), Austria (39) and Switzerland (43) put this into context and illustrate the challenge facing providers.

We understand that this is a tough time to be making wholesale structural changes, but this has to happen. If colleges and learning providers have not got their houses in order by April, when the funding window opens, they face the prospect of their revenue streams falling off a cliff.

In Pearson Work Based Learning we’ve invested a lot of time and hard work in training our account management team to offer help and advice to support our customers through this transition because we genuinely believe, that moving forward Apprenticeships will be at the heart of everything we do.

The emphasis this government is putting on work-based learning is crucial for skills development in UK plc. If we’re successful, British business will be able to compete more effectively on a global platform and ultimately, that benefits every single person who lives and/or works in this country.

Reward rarely comes without hard work and as is always the case in transitional periods, the work based learning environment will become more competitive, as every college and learning provider fights to retain and then gain market share. Burying your head in the sand really isn’t the answer.

Trevor Luker is managing director of Pearson Work Based Learning

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