Further education is now a mixed economy in terms of creating a sustainable plan for future skills development and corresponding delivery.
Our work encompasses traditional 16-19 and adult learning, the latter infiltrated by loans together with a range of full-cost recovery work and, of course, the successful delivery of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are either exacerbated or strengthened by the issue of the levy - but whatever your view on that, the need for change has never been greater.
Even our traditional assessor-trainer model, used successfully for the embedding of core skills and actual apprenticeship delivery, will change. And the clarity needed in respect of franchised partnership in this area is currently as clear as mud. One might be forgiven for thinking that the apprenticeship agenda is in a quagmire at present, but whether or not you want to salve your conscience, we’re definitely not yet enjoying a fertile training landscape.
The reality behind all the key issues described above is that training is now incentivised via the levy, and organisations that have never tarnished their reputation with such lowly schemes as apprenticeships (excuse my sarcasm) are now seeing a new approach appearing on the horizon.
Suddenly the higher education sector, companies themselves and organisations who previously had franchise contracts are ‘going it alone.’ There has been a scheme to approve new organisations, but is this just a desk-based exercise or is it a complete evaluation of the ‘preparedness’ of an organisation to enter the apprenticeship agenda? I fear the former…
It is abundantly clear that levy-paying organisations will want to gain their 0.5% back by evaluating the current progress of their staff and re-investing their money. However some want to do it themselves, while others want the whole process done for them. Either way, the level of bureaucracy and management information systems will be significant.
It all sounds rather dynamic, but the logistical changes will be significant and suddenly the demand-versus-supply approach for apprentices will need major concentration.
I believe it will test partnerships and loyalty to the full, and if a company with a large levy payment suddenly has a ‘shopping list’ of needs which cannot be met in totality by an FE college or other provider they will have to employ a method of introducing another third party who can do the job.
The level of guidance we will need to give to employers is likely to be significant and, as ever, the bureaucracy and technical insight needed should not be underestimated - especially if we focus on our prime objective: the learner. Will the learner succeed, will the employer be impressed, and will the progression to employment occur?
What is the message so far to myself as a Principal? I suppose it’s multi-faceted, but essentially we must know and specialise in our markets if further education is to remain viable. We cannot be all things to all people, we must prioritise our key requirements for the future.
Dr Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare