Apprenticeships in the spotlight

Apprenticeships in the spotlight

Left to right – Select Committee witnesses: Alex Jackman, Forum of Private Business Denis Hird, JTL Training and Graham Hoyle, AELP

Employer contributions and the ‘rebadging’ of former Train to Gain provision were both heavily debated at the first evidence session of the BIS Select Committee inquiry into apprenticeships.

The two hour session, held at Portcullis House in Westminster last Thursday, covered a wide range of issues about the funding, delivery and quality of the apprenticeship programme.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Alex Jackman, senior policy adviser at the Forum of Private Business (FPB) and Denis Hird, chief executive of JTL Training, were called on by the committee to explain some of the growing issues in the sector.

Mr Hoyle said on the panel the issue of who paid for an apprenticeship was “a nettle yet to be fully grasped” and any changes in the funding system would need to consider the returns of all three beneficiaries; the learner, the employer and central government.

Mr Hoyle said: “The one we haven’t tackled yet is – what is it therefore the employers are paying if they’re getting a return?

“My own view is that they should be paying for the basic skill competencies.”

Mr Hird agreed that employer contributions were an issue that needed to be addressed both by the further education sector and central government.

“We need to understand what apprenticeships are, what is company training, what is company induction, what should be funded, what shouldn’t be funded and what employers contribute to,” Mr Hird said.

Earlier in the session Mr Hoyle said the apprenticeship programme should be owned by employers because it was in fact businesses, not government, who were paying for the majority of the delivery.

“We need to revisit who is paying for what within apprenticeships,”  Mr Hoyle said.

“The prime contributors and payers at present time are employers – although we don’t put it in that way – with a contribution from the government.”

However, the AELP chief executive maintained that it should be the government’s responsibility to fund the educational elements of the apprenticeship framework to learners of all ages.

Mr Hoyle said: “My own view is that the government should be making sure that individuals are continued to be funded to get them up to a basic level of English, maths, literacy, numeracy and functional skills, so they can play a part in the labour market and get the transferable skills they need to move to the next employer.

“I believe the state have a reasonable responsibility to complete the education of those people.”

Members of the BIS Select Committee, led by Adrian Bailey MP, said they were worried government funding was being used to deliver training which would have otherwise been paid for by the employer.

David Ward, MP for Bradford East and a member of the BIS Select Committee, said: “I am a little bit worried about some of these apprentices, these older apprentices.

“The criticism that is there, which we referred to earlier, is that it’s just ongoing personal development and it’s not professional development.

We need to revisit who is paying for what within apprenticeships”

“If it’s personal development, it should just be happening anyway and why badge that with this apprenticeship title? That’s the thing I’m unsure about.”

Mr Ward then asked the panel to respond to the accusation that the record growth in apprenticeships could be attributed mostly to the conversion of Train to Gain delivery.

Mr Hird admitted that the ‘rebadging’ of Train to Gain courses, especially in the retail sector, had damaged the apprenticeship brand.

“I think what has been unfortunate is large volumes in the supermarket chain where they’ve badged up some of their induction programmes as apprenticeships to rack up the statistics,” Mr Hird said.

“Whilst I think that is good and I think the chap from Asda, who is actually an ex-work colleague of mine, he said whilst they had put 25,000 through he hadn’t created one extra job.”

Mr Jackman told FE Week it was unfair to blame large employers for taking advantage of government schemes which would help support their daily operations.

Speaking after the evidence session, the senior policy adviser highlighted the work of Barclays, a high street bank set to launch a new apprenticeship scheme in April for 1,000 people not in employment, education or training (NEET).

Perhaps most importantly, Mr Jackman said Barclays would be running the scheme without any government contributions.

Mr Jackman said: “At the end of the process the view being taken by Barclays is – if they move onto other banks, that is something they have contributed to the industry, but if they stay within Barclays themselves, then that’s something they’ve contributed towards their own business.”

Earlier in the session Mr Hoyle was quick to defend the negative remarks about Train to Gain, describing the scheme as being “rubbished too easily” during its existence.

The AELP chief executive said: “Train to Gain, despite much of what was written, was a very successful scheme at actually upskilling the adult workforce.

“That’s the view of myself, my members and the employers that worked with it.”

Mr Jackman also defended short duration apprenticeships during the evidence session, suggesting they be rebranded as “basic” or “entry” level apprenticeships.

After the session Mr Jackman told FE Week: “I think there is a mismatch at present between what a lot of employers consider to be an apprenticeship and what the government might consider to be an apprenticeship.

“But that is not to say that either of them are wrong.

“I think as long as you can ensure quality within courses which match up to what an apprenticeship is considered to be.

“As long as you ensure money isn’t being sucked away from SMEs, then I see no reason why some shorter apprenticeships should not be counted as such.”

Q&A with Denis Hird, CEO of JTL Training

You mentioned to the committee that you were disappointed with the 25,000 apprenticeship places created at Asda. Can you expand upon that?

First of all, I’m not being critical of Asda. There was huge pressure on the National Apprenticeship Service to raise the number of apprenticeships and so therefore if you look at how Asda is introducing young people into their business – they have a training programme, which I’m pretty sure is a good one knowing Asda – and that it’s been branded as an apprenticeship. And that’s to save money. I can’t blame Asda for doing that because it has met the targets. And that’s all good! Good for young people, good for Asda.

But what I think David Smith, the HR director of Asda was saying on national TV was that they would have spent the money and they were going to employ that 25,000. So in actual fact they haven’t created any extra jobs through that process.

Is there a concern that employers would have provided the training even if the apprenticeship funding hadn’t been available?

Absolutely. But you can’t blame Asda for taking the money and you can’t blame the National Apprenticeship Service because it lifted the statistics by 25,000. From our point of view, what it does is, it says that that short programme of training – and it’ll be very good and we need people to do those very good jobs that they do – is that it potentially erodes at the brand of our four year and two month programme at the top end of our electrotechnical and building services frameworks.

I’m not saying it is wrong, I’m saying it needs to be looked at in a different way about what is an apprenticeship and what isn’t, what are the various levels and what is the best use of government funding.

Would asking large employers to make a financial contribution to training help ensure there were new jobs and additional training?

I think that large employers can play a major role in giving opportunities for apprenticeships in work for young people. I think that the funding bodies, in particular the Skills Funding Agency, with advice as well from the National Apprenticeship Service, can work with those employers at what the best and most appropriate way is to use government funding in part of the strategic funding and plans for those large employers.

That’s a discussion that they should have. I don’t have a view other than it’s good news if it’s going to bring more people into apprenticeships and into jobs.