I’d imagine a straw poll of the recent ITT for Non Levy would reveal that most think it has been an ocean-going cock-up. However, there has been a silver lining and that has been the success of subcontracting. While subcontracting has a few vocal detractors, I have been an unwavering fan. This is because I believe that subcontracting has been the single most effective method of bringing new entrants into the training market. It has enabled new providers to enjoy the support and sometimes protection of a larger and more experienced prime. Where done well that prime has nurtured the subcontractor, developing their capacity and expertise in order to make them compliant, robust and successful.
This is my third riposte to Mr Roger Francis following his FE News article Goodbye Sub-Contracting, Hello Partnerships. Mr Francis and I come from diametrically opposing camps on this and many other issues but I felt that this article in particular dealt a low blow to many honourable and established providers. The author, who works for a subcontractor to two primes, might be speaking from bitter experience. Still, if I worked for either prime I’d be upset by the comment that lead providers often use subcontracting ‘as a license to print money, with extortionate charges being levied in return for very little worthwhile support.’
I would like to respond to the article by Roger Francis entitled Provider Funding Cuts – They Are Dead Parrots. Welcome To The New World . I couldn’t help feeling that the article laboured under the false impression that a free-market approach to apprenticeships is guaranteed to work. For me, this is a fundamental flaw that has skewed the debate towards one based upon theory rather than experience.
Remember going on holiday before the Euro. You’d change your Sterling into Pesetas and feel like you were a millionaire!. Then you’d discover that 1 peseta wouldn’t by you the hole in a Polo Mint. Well, I have been reminded of those halcyon days during recent meetings with employers as they prepare for The Apprentice Levy in April 2017. Perhaps, for the first time ever, the conversation has focused on the ‘price’ of an apprenticeship. The lack of knowledge among employers about the cost of delivering an apprenticeship has been alarming. One employer thought that an apprenticeship cost £200-£300! So, this disconnect creates an obstacle when tackling The Apprentice Levy, because unless you know the ‘cost’ of an apprenticeship, it is difficult to appreciate how far your levy account will go.
Invariably these days news items about apprenticeships are accompanied by the stock image of a young person in overalls, typically in high tech engineering, maintaining some complex piece of machinery. A recent article in the Daily Mail cites a Managing Director bemoaning the state of the employment market for high skilled Apprentices. The article relates to engineering and other highly skilled technical roles. I was struck by the article's tone of frustration that not enough help was being given to businesses who work in the upper reaches of our multifaceted economy.Putting aside the political leanings of the newspaper in question, I was prompted to pose the following hypothesis. Should apprenticeships (and funding) be targeted at the most talented and able employers/learners? In this scenario the employer in question is searching for applicants who have already got advanced levels of skills and education. Or, alternatively should the funding be used to alleviate skills-poverty and help those who are trapped in low skilled, repetitive roles with little or no prospects.
Recently Roger Francis of Creative Learning Partners articulated an argument for an end to subcontracting. While there are undoubtedly some sharp practices creating salacious headlines, we are in danger of moving from an era of banker-bashing to prime-prodding based on a minority of miscreants.