BBC Radio 4 Apprentice programme sparks debate

A BBC Radio 4 programme has sparked concerns about the delivery of retail apprenticeships for learners already employed.

The show,  headlined ‘The apprentices’ and broadcast as part of the ‘In Business’  programme last Thursday (repeated on Sunday), spoke to a number of figures in the further education (FE) sector about the issues surrounding retail apprenticeships.

funding is being shamelessly used to fund the basic workplace training that the employers should be paying for anyway”

Prominent figures such as Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College London and Nick Linford, Managing Editor of FE Week spoke to Peter Day about the value of retail qualifications and their impact on the reputation of apprenticeships.

Christopher Winch, Professor of Educational Philosophy and Policy at King’s West College said that he found it hard to disagree with the comments made by Alison Wolf.

“There is a potential for damaging the brand,” he said.

“If you don’t think the qualification is a good one, then it’s not a good use of public money – full stop.”

Michael Woodgate, a consultant in the learning and skills sector said: “They (providers) must stop selling cheap and far from cheerful apprenticeships that achieve little apart from devaluing the whole concept.

“Outside a few key sectors, such as retail, where apprenticeship funding is being shamelessly used to fund the basic workplace training that the employers should be paying for anyway, apprenticeships are still disappointingly rare.”

Mr Winch added that large business, such as those found in the retail sector, were not being encouraged to contribute cash to the training schemes.

He said: “You need to be very careful, for example, that if a large supermarket is accepting public money to do 12 week apprenticeships that they’re not actually saving money by closing down expenditures that they would have otherwise included anyway to get these employees properly trained.”

Mick Fletcher, Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Education argues that the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) should be reminding providers that employers need to make a cash contribution to costs which are charged.

He said: “The SFA should introduce a new condition in its contracts reminding providers of the spirit of the guidance, which indicates that they should not claim for costs not actually incurred; and the assumption is that employers make a 50% contribution which should be the first place to which costs are charged.”

You can listen to ‘The Apprentices’ programme again here: www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/worldbiz  and contribute your thoughts below