Survey says employers must pay

Majority of colleges and training providers support minimum fee for apprenticeships

A minimum employer fee for apprentices aged 19 or above has been supported by professionals in the further education (FE) sector, according to a new survey.

The research, conducted by Lsect, funding consultancy and publisher of FE Week, shows that of those who had a view, 60 per cent of respondents said they thought it would be a “quite good” or “very good” idea if the government introduced a minimum fee for 19+ apprenticeships.

Allan Lewis, managing director of Education and Training Associates Ltd, said: “It will create a level playing field and encourage greater commitment from employers towards the programme and its delivery.

“Hopefully it would lead to increased support to learners and increased monitoring of their progress by employers to achieve the outcomes.”

The survey had 194 respondents including senior managers of private training providers, union representatives, as well as MIS managers, principals and vice principals from FE colleges.

Mick Fletcher, a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Education and consultant, said: “There is little evidence of employer contributions in cash or kind.

“If employers want to ‘own’ skills they should pay their share, not seek to redirect taxpayers’ money to cover their own costs.”

The minimum fee could involve a variable but standard level of funding contribution, set by government, which colleges and training providers would have to collect from employers for any new apprentice aged 19 and above.

The fee could also be collected from the employer after the college or training provider has drawn down funding from its Skills Funding Agency (SFA) allocation.

Nick Linford, managing editor of FE Week, says it is “implausible” to expect that high quality training could be delivered without charging the employer.

Speaking at an evidence session held by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee for their inquiry into apprenticeships last week, he said: “I think the only way to go, really, is down the route of minimum fees.

“If the government expects to get high quality the only way is for the employer to contribute and I think the government plays a huge role in changing the culture of employers to put their hand in their pocket and pay for it.

“Employers will expect a lot more when they pay for it and you know they’ll want it and use it well when they’re paying for it.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) added during an earlier evidence session: “We need to get to grips with the employer contribution.”

Minimum employer fees were addressed in the “Independent review of fees and co-funding in Further Education in England” carried out by Christopher Banks CBE in July 2010.

“Any failure to collect the minimum fee would be reported and could lead to “clawback” of funding by the Government in an annual reconciliation process,” it states.

“In this way, the minimum fee approach would act as a stronger fees target system, where there is a real penalty for colleges and training providers, in terms of losing funding through clawback, if they fail to bring in the minimum fee.”

The Lsect survey also showed that of those who expressed a view about the issue, 40 per cent had reservations about introducing a minimum employer fee.

Breda Leyne, learning and development consultant at Cogito Development Projects, said: “Although I agree employers might value something they have paid for better in truth the need now is to get young people into some kind of work environment and that might need to have employers incentivised.”

The survey also asked professionals what they thought of the 12 month minimum duration introduced for apprentices aged 16 to 18.

Almost 90 per cent of respondents who had a view said the prescribed length of time was a “quite good” or “very good” idea, while just over 10 per cent thought it was a bad idea.

The survey also asked respondents what they thought of the rapid increase in apprentices aged 25 and above.

Of those who had a view, 54 per cent said they were not supportive of the growth in adult apprenticeships.

Click here for a more in-depth look at the survey results.