Free vocational training for adults criticised

Employers and learners should pay more towards apprenticeships, according to Graham Hoyle.

Mr Hoyle, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), says the government should only be paying for the basic skills, and employers should think of apprenticeships as a valuable investment.

“The government has to articulate what it is that they’re prepared to pay for, say basic skills, and then they should publish their contributions towards it,” Mr Hoyle said. “So what does that leave you with? It leaves you the rest to be paid for by the employer and or individual.”

Mr Hoyle (left) later added that the industry had got it wrong for “the last decade or more.”

“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 mid-1990s,” Mr Hoyle said. “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!”

Mick Fletcher, Policy Advisor for the 157 Group, said that “in broad terms” Mr Hoyle’s comments are correct.

He said: “It’s entirely due to providers responding to the financial incentives and the targets that government agencies have set. I don’t blame providers and I don’t blame firms.

“It’s starting to look too much like a government funded programme, as opposed to government encouragement of an employer funded programme.”

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) disagrees with Mr Hoyle and says that employers are already paying enough towards the cost of apprenticeships.

“Employers already invest heavily in apprenticeships and bear a lot of the costs which include on-the-job training, allocated staff time to supervise apprentices and wage costs”, a spokesperson from CBI said. “The extra funding Government has made available for apprenticeships is welcome, and has supported firms to take on and train more people.”

The ‘Independent Review of Fees and Co-Funding in Further Education in England’, written by Christopher Banks in July 2010 argued that changes to the current funding system were needed.

The review states: “The current system has failed to prioritise, explain and secure the co-investment contributions from those adults and employers who can and should contribute to the costs of learning.”

“A culture has been generated in which colleges and training providers, individual learners and employers have all come to expect that training will be “free” to them, and fully funded by the Government.”

Teresa Frith, Senior Skills Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said there was no simple fix for apprenticeship funding.

“Employers could argue that they shouldn’t be paying for literacy and numeracy skills or knowledge and skills that the apprentice will rarely use in their current role. With the current economic situation, it is unrealistic to expect a significant increase in employer contributions to training.

“There are no simple solutions to the question of how to pay for their training.”

Apprentices could be forced to pay for their training under an FE loans system recently proposed by government.

“We’re sceptical about the Government’s plan to get apprentices themselves to pay with the help of loans and we’re concerned that the new large employer pilot schemes could result in corners being cut,” Frith said.

Mr Fletcher added that he didn’t think apprentices should be required to pay for their training. “Young people contribute to the programme through taking lower wages. As apprentices that’s been the traditional balance of responsibility and I’m not inclined to at this stage to say that young people should be paying employers for the privilege of being trained,” Mr Fletcher said.

UPDATE: Today, at the Institute of Career Guidance Annual Conference,  FE Week also asked the Minster for FE, John Hayes, whether or not he thought large employers like Morrisons and Asda should be contributing cash towards apprenticeships.

He said: “It’s right that large employers should make a contribution to the scheme, it’s absolutely right. What I said in opposition is that it was time for a debate about who pays for what. This is what individuals pay, which is why we’re talking about changing some of the funding assumptions around provisionals, and what the government should pay, and that’s where it can put it’s money to maximum effect, as well as what employers pay. It’s perfectly appropriate to have that debate.”