Group Training Associations ‘the answer to skills gap’

A dying breed of business link-ups offering their own apprenticeships could hold the key to bridging the country’s skills gap, an inquiry has concluded.

Group Training Associations (GTAs) came under the spotlight of an independent commission headed by Professor Lorna Unwin, from the Institute of Education.

Her report has called for more use to be made of GTAs, almost 50 years after the not-for-profit organisations were introduced.

At their height there were around 150 associations, but that figure has fallen more than 70 per cent with historic contractions of the manufacturing sector. Those remaining are mainly in the north of England and the Midlands.

“These associations should be central to the Government’s plans for economic growth, rebalancing the economy, increasing the stocks of technician and higher level skills, and the expansion and improvement of apprenticeships,” said Prof Unwin.

“They play a strategic role . . . by monitoring and meeting the challenge posed by skills gaps and shortages.

“Their focus on specific areas of skill means that they have a great depth of knowledge and capacity to develop occupational expertise.”

Mark Maudsley, chief executive of umbrella group GTA England, welcomed the report and said: “Our board fully endorses the commission’s report and its recommendations were accepted by GTA England members at a members’ day meeting in July.”

The associations deliver intermediate and advanced apprenticeships with a high level of technical content, typically lasting two to four years and involving substantial off-the-job training.

They also deliver other forms of high quality training at level three and above.

Prof Unwin further recommended that GTAs should move into sectors that have not previously benefited from their involvement.

However, the commission’s report also noted that associations and GTA England  would need government support. They operate within a “fiercely competitive marketplace”, the report said, where they did not have access to the capital funds available to FE colleges.

It also noted some colleges that subcontract the delivery of vocational education to GTAs hold back between 15 and 40 per cent of the funds they received from the Skills Funding Agency as a management fee.

A fairer funding system would enable GTAs to deliver vocational qualifications – outside apprenticeships – up to and including Higher National Diplomas, she said.

She added: “It would also provide capital funding to sustain and upgrade GTA facilities and equipment.”

In many cases, some associations set up centres to meet the need for such training, while some have collaborated with FE colleges and other training providers.

Other members of the commission included figures from the Prospects Learning Foundation, Wider Healthcare Teams Education, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Rolls-Royce, TUC, Edge Foundation and ATG Training.