Call for re-evaluation of apprenticeships following Panorama programme

Call for re-evaluation of apprenticeships following Panorama programme

Image: Apprenticeships England founders Lindsay McCurdy (left) and Peter Cobrin (right) read FE Week

The largest independent group of people engaged in apprenticeships has called for a “root and branch re-evaluation” into how apprenticeships are regulated and administered by government.

A statement by Apprenticeships England, a movement with more than 5,000 members which originated on the social networking site LinkedIn, says: “It is far too easy for cowboy operations to flourish under this regime, often with the active connivance or at best the turning of a blind eye by ‘reputable’ institutions including some colleges.

“We call for a root and branch re-evaluation of the way apprenticeships are regulated and administered.”

The statement, issued by group founders Peter Cobrin and Lindsay McCurdy this morning, criticises the government’s management of the apprenticeship programme following the Panorama show “The Great Apprenticeship Scandal”.

“The current apprenticeship programme has been tarnished/damaged by confusion over policy, definition and administration from Government,” the statement reads.

“This was directly responsible for two of the items featured on Panorama last night – the Zenos training programme which only now does John Hayes disown as “not an apprenticeship”, and concerns over “excessive profits” made by some training providers thanks to a payment regime designed, implemented and administered by government and its agencies, the Skills Funding Agency and National Apprenticeship Service.”

The joint response later says the monitoring of training providers is “unfit for purpose” and also erratically administered, leading to a lack of confidence from within the further education sector.

The real question is what will the government do next, if anything.

The Panorama programme, which was broadcast on BBC One last night, interviewed a number of young people which had been let down by poor quality vocational training.

Kyle Emery, who enrolled on a painting and decorating apprenticeship delivered by Forward Thinking Training Solutions, said the scheme had virtually no training and was ultimately a vehicle for cheap labour.

“All it was, was here’s some paint and here’s a brush, crack on and don’t make a mess,” he said.

Other private training providers including Zenos and Elmfield Training were questioned by reporter Shelley Jofre for delivering apprenticeships within a short time frame or with large profit margins.

Mr Cobrin told FE Week however he believes the Panorama programme will have “little impact” because it focuses too heavily on historical case studies.

“There wasn’t any shock or scandal,” Mr Cobrin said.

“Everything they revealed, we knew about. The colleges turning a blind eye, the training providers milking the system, it was nothing new.”

He added: “The real question is what will the government do next, if anything.”

The Panorama programme featured the relationship between Morrisons supermarket, which has enrolled 40 per cent of its workforce on an apprenticeship, with the private training provider Elmfield Training.

The show highlighted how Gerard Syddall, company director and 95 per cent shareholder of Elmfield Training, used pre-tax profits of more than £12 million in the financial year ending September 2010 to pay himself dividends of almost £3 million.

Neil Lakeland, marketing manager at Hadlow College, tweeted: “Can’t believe the CEO of Elmfield Training got a £3m bonus for a Grade 3 satisfactory. Who needs bankers! #bbcpanorama”

Mr Syddall is said to be one of the speakers at the “Making Apprenticeships Work Even Better” conference, organised by Apprenticeships England and to be chaired by Nick Linford, managing editor of FE Week, in Leeds on July 7.

It follows a successful first conference, entitled “Making Apprenticeships Work”, held by the group in March.