Graham Hoyle, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers talks to FE Week

How do you feel about condensed apprenticeships, such as those being delivered in 12 weeks?

An apprenticeship is quite clear. One, they’re employed.  Two, an apprenticeship must be a delivery of a complete, sector designed framework which is cleared by the Sector Skills Council (SSC).

It has to have the individual qualifications within the framework, properly accredited by an accredited awarding body, and it should not be transferred.

As far as I’m concerned, if something fits those boxes, it’s okay. If a sector said within their design of a framework that the timeframe was acceptable, fit for purpose and what they wanted, theoretically I would go with it.

However, I do believe very strongly that an apprenticeship is work based learning, it is competence based and a competence which we’re talking about in my view is not the clearance of a snapshot assessment on a day.

When is it Train to Gain, and when is it called an apprenticeship?

Train to Gain is not a term that anybody uses, nor can we use it. I don’t. I simply don’t know what that provision is.

There’s an apprenticeship, there’s pre-apprenticeship, and there’s access to apprenticeships. My members say that Train to Gain doesn’t exist and hasn’t existed. The legacy was finished during the last financial year, and my members have now got a flexible adult budget which includes apprenticeships where there is significant pressure, which we do not resist, to maintain and expand the number of apprenticeships.

We’re happy with that, it’s our core business. In addition however, it allows them to do other training which is on the government agenda, through NVQs, through access to, or pre apprenticeships. I don’t have a title for that.

So if the SSC says that the start and end date of an apprenticeship is okay… it’s okay?

I’m saying that fundamentally I think it’s for the sector to say what the normal expectation is. I think the framework ought to give an indication of normality. I would still not have it rigid, because it takes us into another rather controversial area, and how to apply that.

So let’s take apprentices aged 25 or above. Where people are being taken in by employees from another part, you’ve got the employee, who has developed skills through a variety of methods, over a variety of time and completed significant elements of a full framework.

Then you have the employer, the government and providers who are now in a position to say that it can be mutually beneficial for them to complete the whole darn thing.

To complete the framework, there is a belief that there’s an advantage in doing that. The trouble is, however, that you can’t have a pre-determined time scale which is appropriate for a 16 year old starting from scratch, and a 35 year-old who is two thirds of the way through their experience.

So who should specify the time for completion? The SSC?

It’s got to be the employer. The SSC, in my view, should have an indicative norm for the completion of the whole framework. The problem is if someone starts from scratch and then develops the framework in 12 weeks… then I would say that needs to be reviewed.

Also, there ought to be scope for the norm to be broken in exceptional circumstances. But if an SSC has said their norm is 12 months, I would have thought they might just have something to say about someone doing it in three.

How do you feel about the contract City & Guilds has with ASDA?

That’s an interesting drawing about the role and the remit of City & Guilds, because it moves them away from an awarding body and into a delivery. I can understand the synergy but it’s a very… I think there are some very interesting questions about conflicts of interest there. The individual qualification within the framework is properly accredited by an accredited awarding body. Now, although I stick by that, I have to say it’s an interesting concept within that definition.

I am not envisaging that the awarding body and the provider, or employer, are the same. I’m not saying it can’t happen or shouldn’t happen, but at the moment I am not envisaging that and it’s the way it’s been.

There are some questions which would need to be cleared – and I’m not saying they haven’t been cleared. I think if an awarding body are delivering training which they then credit, then I just want to be reassured about the independence and the objectivity about the apprenticeship. And that’s not to say it can’t be done.

Do you think the ASDA contract should have been tendered for?

That’s a good question. When does public money stop becoming public money?  At what point down the chain of public expenditure does it actually pass into the private sector? That’s a good question to ask, because at the moment, I want to know that.

If an employer wishes to have a direct contract I believe they ought to do. We’re worried about direct contracts to employers as a mandatory, but we’re not against it as an option. It’s a market mechanism, we understand the market, both the good and the bad, so we’re saying if an employer wishes to have a direct contract, we don’t actually object to that.

They can then decide to deliver it totally in-house, as a very small number of employers have the capacity to do. Very, very few have taken up that option, or they take them up and sub-contact it out to a provider. So our provider gets it from here, gets it from there. We can live with it.

Who should pay?

Everybody who’s been in this game for the last decade or more has got it wrong. What we have got wrong since the introduction of modern apprenticeships in 1994, is once we opened modern apprenticeships to government investment, what inadvertently happened was they quite reasonably wanted to keep the control over their investment.

And that’s right and proper. But what happened is, you moved apprenticeships out of the ownership and development of employers, and made it a government programme.

Now no-one ever said those words, but the perception is we developed a government programme to which employers had to contribute. Which means when times get tough as they are now, the debate is all about how we actually get employers to contribute more.

Now this is the wrong, wrong base point. It’s always been employer designed, employer funded, and maybe with a contribution from the individual.

That’s the way it’s always been until the middle 90s. We should never have lost that picture, and we should be promoting apprenticeships to employers as an investment which they cannot afford not to make.

We ought to be going straight to employers, and saying this is an investment in your bottom line productivity, profitability, and here are the predicted returns from the database. Oh and by the way, the government will actually contribute towards it!