From education to employment

FE sector rallies to address Apprenticeship criticisms

The Further Education sector has rallied to support the value of Apprenticeships, in response to a BBC1 Panorama television programme last night that criticised their delivery from some providers in the UK.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “No young person or adult should experience poor provision under the apprenticeship programme and AELP has always fostered a culture of good quality among its member providers. This explains why we have always been so keen to work closely with Ofsted and quality improvement services such as LSIS, as well as with the NAS and SFA who are responsible for the flagship skills programme.

“None of the sub-contractors featured in the Panorama programme are AELP members, but we believe that while it is a legitimate business practice, sub-contracting is an issue which requires action now. The AELP position is that lead contractors, whether they are colleges or independent providers, should not only be fully responsible for the quality of their own directly-delivered apprenticeship provision but they should also be strongly accountable for the provision of their sub-contractors.  After all, they are sometimes taking significant ‘management fees’ in the process which is public money. We welcome the new SFA pilot which may encourage those that wish it to become directly contracted with the agency so that the lines of accountability are more clearly drawn.

“Panorama concentrated understandably on young apprentices but it needs to be clearly understood that apprenticeships, when relaunched in 1994, were not designed to be exclusively a form of job creation for young people. They are an employer-owned programme principally aimed at improving the skills of the British workforce.  Nevertheless official data continues to show that despite a flat-lining economy which is proving to be very challenging in terms of employer recruitment, apprenticeship provision for young people is not suffering at the expense of the growth in adult apprenticeships. In fact, the figures show double-digit percentage growth in starts and jobs for young apprentices and we believe that there are now approximately 750,000 young people and adults on the programme in proper jobs.

“76.4% of apprentices in England successfully complete their programmes, which is a success rate that compares very well with the best in Europe. Therefore while it is right to focus on improving the quality of training still further, a proportionate and measured response is required from policymakers to the recent media coverage on apprenticeships.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “The vast majority of apprenticeship provision is of high quality and where we have seen poor, or questionable, provision it is at the fringes. The apprenticeship model is fundamentally a good one, as we have seen in the UK and other countries, and AoC agrees with John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, that the focus must continue to be on quality. Apprenticeships delivered by our member Colleges are done so with integrity, are of a high standard and are verified by Ofsted. Colleges are not-for-profit organisations which serve their communities for the long-term; it is not in their interests to provide poor quality education.

“When there is significant investment and growth in a nationwide training scheme there will inevitably be a few sophisticated operators who try to play the system. If there are legitimate questions raised about the quality of any employer or training provider, then they need to be thoroughly investigated by the relevant Government agencies. It is imperative that the strong reputation of apprenticeships is maintained; to do that any element of poor quality, however marginal, needs to be eradicated.

“As regards subcontracting, the majority of these relationships will lead to quality provision and work well for students, Colleges, communities and the subcontractors. Colleges accept their responsibility as contractors and know that the quality of the work that the subcontractor delivers must be as good as if they were delivering it themselves. In the longer term, Colleges work with subcontractors in order to engage niche expertise; a subcontractor may well have a history of working with a particular set of employers and an expert set of specialist staff. In the shorter term, Colleges have engaged with subcontractors in order to meet Government deadlines for moving provision away from Train to Gain and into apprenticeships – the speed with which that needed to happen required outside help.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of 28 influential colleges in England, said: “Colleges deliver high quality apprenticeships which provide young people with the skills and experience needed to progress into skilled employment. The Government and FE Minister John Hayes is right to champion their cause as they enable learners to both learn and earn at the same time and they should be taken up more widely.

“Last year we published our policy paper entitled Expanding apprenticeships – colleges are key to employability; reinforcing how local colleges work with individual trainees and employers at every stage of their journey – from pre-apprenticeship programmes to higher-level apprenticeships that are equivalent to a degree. In our paper we highlighted the return on investment that apprenticeships offer for employers and called for even greater investment. We must remember that colleges are community assets and not seeking to make profits, it is not in their interests to provide poor quality education.”

Marilyn Hawkins, chair of the 157 Group, added: “It is crucial that we do not undermine the true value and worth of apprenticeships and all that they offer to learners. In our Apprenticeships case studies launched last May there is a wonderful selection of best practise examples of employer, college and apprentice partnerships and it is this we should be highlighting to encourage greater investment from employers.”

Susan Evans, business development director of the Semta Sector Skills Council, said: “Hats off to FE News for campaigning for higher quality apprenticeships. Semta is wholly supportive of recent government announcements aimed at improving the quality of training and workplace learning.

“Engineering Apprenticeships remain of the length and highest quality that Panorama singled out for praise and are vital to both upskilling and ensuring new talent for engineering and manufacturing industries.

“We know that businesses in our sectors will need 82,000 new engineers, scientists and technicians between now and 2016 so it’s important that young people and their advisors get the message about high quality apprenticeships and the benefits of careers in industry. Semta is working with employers, colleges and universities to ensure that engineering and manufacturing apprenticeship frameworks continue to provide employers with the practical skills they need and also to provide pathways to foundation degree and up to Masters levels.

“Our ambition is to increase the number of SMEs in our sectors that take on an apprentice from 11 per cent to 20 per cent by 2016 so we recently launched the not-for-profit Semta Apprenticeship Service where we can manage the whole apprenticeship process for an employer, from advertising roles, assessing specific training needs, and filtering high calibre applicants, through to securing funding, working with recognised training providers and ensuring the quality of programmes. The Semta Apprenticeship Service was recently described by Ofsted as outstanding in providing value for money.”

Alison Birkinshaw, chair of the national FE Reputation Strategy Group and principal of York College, said: “Real Apprenticeships, which offer a mix of on and off the job training and specialist skill development alongside literacy and numeracy, can and do make a real difference to the lives of young people.

“Many colleges have significant expertise in offering high quality apprenticeships across a range of disciplines. It is not generally known that Apprenticeships in Accountancy provide a real alternative route to chartered accountant status without the individual having to study at a university. Apprentice electricians, plumbers or joiners, brickwork students or stonemasons are trained thoroughly in their craft alongside those more experienced than themselves and are able to carve out their own future.

“All businesses can benefit from employing an apprentice, whether they are the NHS, a large international company or a small garage serving the local community. There is a real opportunity now for government, colleges and training providers, working in partnership with businesses and employers to learn from best practice to improve the Apprenticeship offer and make sure it continues to offer life changing employment and training for a wide range of people.”

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), said: “IfL is the professional body for teachers and trainers in further education and skills, and this year we have over 15,000 members working as teachers or trainer assessors in work-based learning. The work they do is central to apprentices’ effective learning of new skills. Trainers and assessors need to be experts in their vocational and occupational area and experts in teaching and learning too. Teaching and training is a professional role, not an amateur one.

“To ensure that young people and adult apprentices do not waste time, drop out or fail because they are not learning enough or fast enough, it is essential that they are taught by highly skilled, professional trainers. IfL’s professional body membership grades are linked to the members’ teaching and training qualifications, with the most senior grade of fellow being the most highly qualified. IfL also expects each member to carry out at least 30 hours of professional development a year, to stay up to date, and monitors this.

“IfL is very disturbed by the recommendation in Lord Lingfield’s recent interim report on professionalism in further education and skills that initial teacher training should be optional. We fundamentally disagree. This is not right for adult learners or young people – they and their parents need to feel confident that their teachers and trainers are qualified to do the job. They should certainly ask the college or training provider whether all their trainers and assessors (including subcontractors) are qualified, and perhaps whether they are IfL members too. Good employers support their trainers to become qualified and ensure that they have the time needed to deliver high-quality on and off-the-job learning to each apprentice, based on their strong commitment to excellence, not cutting corners.

“IfL’s code of professional practice for members offers protection to the public. Any concerns about individuals who are thought to be fraudulent, for example, in their assessments, should be reported to their employer and to IfL. If the person is an IfL member – and it is in employers’ interests that their trainers and assessors are members – IfL will investigate and can issue sanctions. IfL also publishes a list of those who are found to be in serious breach of the professional code, which prospective employers and others can check.

“High-quality apprenticeships help young people and adults develop the skills that employers and entrepreneurs need, and are crucial for our economic revival and growth. IfL is working to support trainers and assessors in membership to be qualified and the very best they can be, for their apprentices’ success.”

Chris Jones, chief executive & director general of City & Guilds, said:  “It was disappointing that Panorama chose to present such a one-sided view of apprenticeships. Rather than talk positively about their role in job creation, improving skills levels and supporting business growth, the BBC helped to reinforce the negative perceptions of apprenticeships.

“There is clearly evidence of poor practice among certain training providers but there is also a much greater number of committed organisations who work together to make the apprenticeship programme a success.

“As the awarding organisation that works with partners to deliver the largest numbers of apprenticeships in the UK, we are dedicated to high quality provision that improves lives and business performance and we are proud of the many exceptional apprenticeships that are being delivered through our customers.

“We are also confident about the return on investment provided by quality apprenticeships to the UK economy, the employer and the individual – as demonstrated by our recent report on the Economic Value of Apprenticeships, published as part of our Million Extra campaign.”

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