Jane Hickie

AELP (@AELPUK) National Conference 2021- “Skills reforms will be more effective without extra bureaucracy being imposed”

Britain’s training providers will today express support for the government’s employer centred approach to reforming skills training but will warn against new legislation imposing costly bureaucracy that could stall efforts to improve workforce productivity.

At its annual conference, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) will say that it will be local young people and adults needing to retrain after the pandemic whose prospects could suffer if training capacity is reduced because of these additional costs.

AELP will highlight concern that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill contains an unexpected set of conditions required of independent training providers (ITPs) to be on a new government list of approved providers.  The new list is additional to the existing register of apprenticeship training providers. 

No consultation has taken place prior to the conditions being included in primary legislation and AELP believes that this should happen before any new requirements for providers are introduced via regulation.  As an example of why consultation is needed, the Bill’s conditions stipulate that providers should take out a potentially expensive form of insurance cover which doesn’t currently exist in the sector. 

The government’s own impact assessment of the Skills Bill states that the new provider list could impose ‘significant’ extra costs on providers, many of whom are SMEs delivering training in towns and rural areas not served by a local college. 

The publication of the Bill, which receives its second reading in the Lords on 15 June, comes only a short time after Conservative manifesto writer Rachel Wolf wrote that Britain’s skills apparatus was already burdened with too much bureaucracy. 

Proposed local skills improvement plans also require scrutiny

The Skills Bill will approve the introduction of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) across England which will each be led by a local employer representative body.  AELP is pleased that employers will take on the leadership role but it is concerned that once established, LSIPs might behave like ‘closed shops’ in determining what training in each area should receive government support.

AELP would be even more concerned if central government started channelling skills funding through LSIPs when the direction of travel over the last ten years has been to fund employers’ apprenticeships via a digital service and adult education more through individual loans as part of an employer and learner demand-led skills system. 

The LSIP proposals also appear to duplicate skills planning arrangements already in place in combined authority areas under the metro mayors.  AELP will be urging Parliamentarians to fully scrutinise the Bill’s provisions in respect of the proposals.

Training providers supporting the economic recovery and levelling up

Despite concerns about the Skills Bill, training leaders at the AELP conference will be in optimistic mood in supporting businesses, apprentices and other learners out of lockdown and on to a sustained economic recovery.  Providers are also keen to use every penny of funding available to help young people and unemployed adults back into work, mindful that there are 2.1m people still on furlough whose jobs might be at risk.

AELP chief executive Jane Hickie said:

“The Plan for Jobs investment in traineeships and the employer incentives for apprenticeships were welcome and the Budget’s increase for the incentives is having a positive impact.

“This puts providers in a good position to support businesses and people affected by the pandemic.  What we don’t need is for them to be saddled with unnecessary and costly bureaucracy which is threatened by the new legislation.  A major rethink is required.

“The debates in this week’s AELP conference will focus on how we ensure that future skills training secures sustainable employment and improvements in productivity while retaining a drive towards levelling up.  With government funding tight, we cannot afford to let employers and learners down.” 

A packed AELP national conference – 7-10 June online

Skills minister Gillian Keegan, shadow spokesperson Toby Perkins and Commons education committee chair Robert Halfon will be offering their views on supporting the recovery and the latest sector reforms in the AELP conference, sponsored by Learning Curve Group and NOCN.

The future of apprenticeships, traineeships, adult education and devolved skills programmes will get a full airing and sector leaders will give their verdict on the government’s catch-up funding announcement.

Employers, learners, regulators, and providers will be represented across the plenary sessions, roundtable discussions, and workshops. As well as providers and service providers sharing best practice, ESFA, Ofsted, IfATE, and Ofqual will be looking ahead in the workshops on how the sector can be best prepared for post-lockdown delivery and the new academic year.

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