Sub-contracting woes: ‘My story is not unique’

Sub-contracting woes: ‘My story  is not unique’

Krissy Charles-Jones is determined that the subcontracting of apprenticeships has to change.

The chief executive of Bright International Training told the Apprenticeships England conference last week about the impact on her business when her prime contractor pulled the funding of a cohort of learners on a pilot programme.

“This left us in a difficult position. We had delivered the course, paid registration fees, we had paid our staff and the learners were about to finish. In fact about half of them had already been offered jobs within the sector on the provision that they achieved this qualification.

“This is not new, my story is not unique. I have worked in the sector for over a decade. I have seen subcontractors go to the wall because of situations like mine and it is not acceptable.”

The conference, organised by Peter Cobrin and Lindsay McCurdy of the popular LinkedIn group ‘Apprenticeships England’, is the second this year. Held at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, more than 150 representatives from colleges and providers debated: “how we can continue to make apprenticeships even better.”

I have seen subcontractors go to the wall because of situations like mine and it is not acceptable.

Charles-Jones was one of six sector representatives to take part in the morning’s panel debate. The other panellists included Professor Jill Brunt, director of education at Pearson, Barry Brooks, director for education and Skills Strategy at Tribal, Scott Upton, vice-principal of Sandwell College and Ged Syddall, CEO of Elmfield Training.

Charles-Jones also outlined her frustrations with the response she received from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). The agency told her that “there was nothing they could do”, but she approached someone higher in the organisation and her company was eventually partnered with an alternative prime provider.

“My advice to anybody in my situation is not to give up; you have to fight your corner, go as high as you have to within the SFA. Before you agree to work with a prime, make sure you do your own due diligence. Check their Ofsted report, other publicly available information and speak to other providers about their experience. Do not put all your eggs in one basket; put them in three of four. The SFA have to change their policies when it comes to subcontracting – from the minimum value a contract has to be before declaration to a guarantee of support from the SFA when things go wrong. At the moment it’s just not acceptable; the SFA are responsible for what happens to our learners.”

Panellists also raised concerns about management fees between prime providers and sub-contractors. Recent analysis from FE Week suggested that lead providers charged more than £175 million in management fees to sub-contractors during the previous academic year.

Colleges have not been fully undertaking their responsibility in growing apprenticeships and instead subcontracting it to others.

Making, what is thought to be one of his first public appearances at a sector conference following his evidence session at the BIS select committee earlier this year, Ged Syddall used the conference to announce that his organisation would no longer charge a “top-slice” to third sector and social enterprises from next year; a move well received by a representative of the organisation Deaf Apprentice.

The scheme, which will run as a pilot for the next academic year, will allow Elmfield to support the third sector and social enterprises in their work with apprentices.

Syddall added: “I am passionate about the current localism agenda and I believe that it is the third sector and social enterprises that truly underpin this. Therefore by piloting such a scheme as an organisation we can help to drive this agenda.”

Scott Upton added: “Top-slicing is an area which needs to be looked at more thoroughly by the government and SFA. In my opinion, withdrawing these funds which can be anything up to 30 per cent, ultimately impacts on the quality of the education received by the learner.”

Chairing the debate, Nick Linford, managing editor of FE Week, referred to a line in the recently published SFA Annual Account that said, “The reasons for the large increase in subcontracting over the last year has been not only due to the expected growth, but because colleges have not been fully undertaking their responsibility in growing apprenticeships and instead subcontracting it to others.”

There was also some amusement when Scott Upton asked a series of questions about the current system. When the audience were asked whether “there was any real value in the online Apprenticeships Vacancy Matching Service”, not one person raised his or her hand in support of the service, leading to Upton making the statement, “why don’t they close the thing down, it costs money and resources to run and we spend great time uploading vacancies online. The money saved by its closure could be put towards expanding the successful advertising campaign which NAS have run.”

I am passionate about the current localism agenda and I believe that it is the third sector and social enterprises that truly underpin this.

Peter Corbin and Lindsay McCurdy spoke to FE Week about the event’s future as they will now being going their seperate ways. McCurdy said that she would run her next conference in October, but with more of an employer focus and as Apprenticeships England (AE) Ltd.

Peter Cobrin added; “Lindsay’s energy and knowledge is absolutely perfect for the area of employer engagement, which she now wishes to focus her time on. As for me, I will continue, through the Apprenticeships England CIC, the campaigning element.”