James Hart, Managing Director, The Education & Skills Consultancy

As announcements slowly drip feed the industry which shape the way in which supply chains and funding streams will work from August 2017 existing contract holders who have built successful supply chains to deliver their ever growing contracts face some very real dilemmas.

The sector is no stranger to changing rules and regulations which directly affect the way in which we operate but the current situation we find ourselves in means that there is a temptation from some contract holders to realise as much revenue as possible from their existing contracts.

Some see the current supply chain as Pilot fish, feeding on the small pieces of food that the hosts discard as they plough through the vast oceans of funding and learners, but these organisations can be so much more. Could we about to see the resurgence of the Independent Training Provider?

The changes to the Apprenticeship funding mechanism, the lowering of the lower limit on direct contracts for Learner Loans and a shift to a model which has to be even more employer responsive indicate that small enterprising organisations who can forge really strong links with local employers could be the real winners.

Let's not get too sentimental about the rosy days where each town and city hosted 10 or 12 organisations delivering roughly the same qualifications in a fairly haphazard manner with sometimes questionable quality.

The new crop of Independent Training Providers need to be sector focused, in harmony with Local Enterprise Partnership goals and flexible in delivery styles.

By focusing on key sectors these providers will be able to bring together sector specialists and knowledge to support the employers they will be working closely with.

This will enable them to blend funded provision with commercial opportunities to support employers as they grow and develop their company, ensuring that their employees are developing the right skills not just those that can be funded.

This should bring about the opportunity to work in partnership with other providers to deliver the full range of skills interventions an employer may need.

As devolution creeps steadily through the land Local Enterprise Partnerships will become increasingly focused on delivering initiatives to support local growth but there will be times when the pet projects of elected mayors don't always align with those of employers.

In these instances Independent Training Providers will be able to offer some innovative solutions and act quickly to ensure that employers get what they need to fill the local skills gap.

The changes in how vocational training is being delivered will really help Independent Training Providers to be able to cost effectively deliver training interventions, communicate with learners & employers and gather evidence of learning.

E-learning platforms, E-portfolios and decent Management Information Systems are no longer just for the million pound turnover organisations anymore.

With affordable licence packages a small provider can give employers and learners exactly the same online experience as the largest college.

With any change there is also the danger that some people will find a loop hole and drive a bus straight through it.

There are already murmurings of subcontracts being morphed into contracts for service for Learner Loans and marketing companies boasting about how many employers they could grab for you.

As we see changes being implemented we need to see the governance to back those changes up to ensure that the quality of delivery is driven up as the market opens up.

Let's hope that FE doesn't turn into the Wild West, we've had enough of cowboys in this sector.

James Hart is managing director of The Education & Skills Consultancy

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