UKCES publish tender documents for Employer Ownership of Skills pilot

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has released the application forms and guidance document for the Employer Ownership of Skills pilot.

The tender documents, released last Tuesday, outline how businesses can bid for up to £250 million of direct government funding over the next two years.

The first round of provision, worth £50 million, will pay for projects which deliver skills development and vocational training, such as apprenticeships, from August 2012 to the end of July 2014.

Skills minister John Hayes said: “The government recognises that it is businesses themselves that are best placed to judge what skills they need to grow.

“That is why we are stepping back and empowering companies by giving them direct access to funding and the freedom to create training programmes, including apprenticeships that directly address skills gaps.

“I encourage firms to seize this opportunity to bring us innovative and powerful ideas that will help their businesses to grow and create a more prosperous economy.”

The guidance document published by UKCES asks employers to explain the “package” of activities which they hope to offer, but does not suggest which skills should be developed.

“It is an opportunity for employers to propose where and how Government and employers can co-invest most intelligently,” the guidance document states.

Successful bids from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) will receive a minimum investment of £250,000 from the government.

For larger firms with the manpower spare to go through this process it might not be a problem, but for smaller firms which don’t have that luxury this looks like a minefield they will want to avoid.”

Large employers and enterprises, or those bidding as part of a consortium, will receive at least £1 million in comparison.

The guidance document states that bids should have a particular emphasis on “ensuring a substantial and meaningful learning experience” for young people aged 16 to 18.

It later adds that proposals should include apprenticeships as a ‘core element’ alongside additional recruitment schemes such as work experience.

The application form, also published today, says submissions will need to demonstrate how the additional training will be designed and led by employers, as well as how it addresses the skills needs of an industry, sector, supply chain or locality.

The form also says bids will need to show how the proposed project will “contribute to the long term growth or performance” of employers which are involved.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) say the application process appears to be “a particularly long winded process”.

An FPB spokesperson said: “Employers are already drowning under mountains of paperwork so more complicated form filling on this scale will no doubt turn off many employers.

“This is also a bidding process – so no guarantee of success at the end – this is unlikely to make it look any more attractive.

“For larger firms with the manpower spare to go through this process it might not be a problem, but for smaller firms which don’t have that luxury this looks like a minefield they will want to avoid.”

The guidance document says employers will need to show that their proposal will provide additional activity and development, rather than training which would have occurred regardless.

The document adds that funding will also need to provide a “step change” in the size, quality and relevance of vocational training and skills progression.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The FSB fully supports the concept of employer ownership of skills, but we do have some reservations about how the needs and interests of small and micro businesses will be served in the current prospectus – the promotional document inviting companies to put in a bid.

“The short time between the release of the prospectus and the deadline for submissions will make it difficult for small businesses to get together and develop innovative proposals.

“The need for a single employer to sign and lead the bid, rather than a group of employers, will probably mean that small businesses will probably have to participate alongside much larger companies who will drive the agenda.”

The pilot cannot be used to fund the development of skills which will only benefit one specific employer, or company-specific training such as induction processes.

Other training excluded from the first round of bidding includes driving lessons and piloting skills, as well as one off training sessions designed to meet employers’ legal requirements, such as first aid, food safety or health and safety.

The Employer Ownership of Skills pilot is also not designed to fund learning or further training delivered through higher education.

Bids for the first round of funding need to be submitted by April 26, 2012.

(The application forms for the pilot can be downloaded here and here.)
(The guidance document can be downloaded here.)