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Group Training Organisations could remedy national skills gap

Could Group Training Organisations remedy the National Skills gap?

Group Training Associations (GTAs) could be the answer for solving national skills gaps, according to the Institute of Education’s Lorna Unwin.

GTAs and Apprenticeship Training Associations (ATAs), which have thus far gone unnoticed by the government in its push for economic growth, are already well established in the Midlands and in the north of England. However, a review by the independent Commission of Enquiry has found GTAs could facilitate economic recovery if they were to raise their profiles in other areas of the UK.

Currently GTAs offer higher level skills and apprenticeships, and other training to meet the skills required by local and larger businesses. Unwin suggests GTAs should expand by moving into different sectors to provide more employers and workforces with the correct guidance and training.

In order to increase their profile and range of services, GTAs will require greater government funding, which will prove difficult to obtain with such fierce competition from FE colleges and universities for the budget for education.

One problem GTAs have faced in recent years is the subcontracting of their vocational services by FE colleges, which retain between 15 and 40 per cent of their funding from the Skills Funding Agency as a management fee. The Commission is looking to discourage this arrangement and is calling on the government to set up a level playing field for FE colleges and GTAs.

While GTAs have been up and running for almost 50 years, securing funding for their expansion may raise questions as to why their services have not already delivered on their proposed contribution to economic growth. Given the extra money, GTAs will be required to show exactly what difference they will make to the economy, as well as the benefits of their particular services, in relation to the wide variety of FE colleges and higher education institutions already available.

The Commission’s report states that additional funds would enable GTAs to upgrade their facilities and offer vocational qualifications outside of their usual apprenticeship programmes, up to Higher National Diploma standard. This, however, casts doubt upon the ability of FE colleges to provide the appropriate services, which would negate the need for more public spending on apprenticeships from GTAs.

The Commission recommends giving existing GTAs the authority to set up new ones in the same or related sector. It also advises GTAs to review their code of ethics and define themselves in a market where they could be easily associated with Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs), which only offer training up to Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeships and do not demonstrate the same level of expertise.

The problem faced by many would-be apprentices is that vocational courses are already too expensive, and unless GTAs offer much lower course prices they are not going to make any immediate difference to potential applicants. There is only the possibility that, in the long term, competition for students could drive prices down, but this, judging by the state of university fees, is an uncertainty.

Skills Minister John Hayes responded to the report by saying:

“GTAs have a proven track record of going the extra mile to meet the specific training needs of SME apprentices,” and congratulated the research for finding a method which ‘might be expanded to benefit other sectors and regions,’ but did not comment as to how or when it might become a reality for GTAs and a working solution to economic growth.”

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