New apprenticeship system to get ‘substantial upgrade’

An online system for rubber-stamping apprenticeships is in line for a “substantial upgrade” after less than a year.

Students, providers and employers have been using the Apprenticeship Certificates England (ACE) system run by The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils since January.

The system, which cost £120,000 to develop, processes applications for apprenticeship approval and has already issued more than 94,000 certificates, with approvals from a pool of 25 Sector Skills Councils (SSCs).

But slow download speeds and inconsistent requests for information have hampered site users.

Our members have been reporting teething problems with the system”

Alliance interim chief officer Richard Beamish said measures were now in place to solve the problems — and more would follow.

“There have been some issues although fewer than one might expect with such a new and complex system,” he said.

“We have already increased server capacity and are in the process of a substantial upgrade to ensure that they do not recur. We also are currently working to simplify the certification process for providers and introducing consistency in evidence requirements across all certification bodies.”

The issues prompted a meeting last week between the alliance, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), and the Association of Colleges (AoC). The Skills Funding Agency and National Apprenticeships Service were also expected.

Terry Fennell, AELP’s head of delivery, said: “Our members have been reporting teething problems with the system but it’s important to stress these aren’t major.

“The one thing that would really help is some SSCs  turning around provider requests for certificates more quickly. Some are definitely better than others.

“We also need to get the message out that there is only one universal application form that has to be used from now on. It will be mandatory from January, but AELP would encourage providers to start using it now.”

The new system was launched at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills by ex-FE minister John Hayes who, at the click of a button, printed the first two certificates.

Hopes that it would make the process of certifying apprenticeships easier have not been dashed by the early problems, although Mr Beamish said it would be naive to suggest there were no issues or disagreements.

“We are aware that some have suffered from slow download speeds.

“While scanning and uploading remains important, we are working with awarding organisations, training providers and employers to speed up the certification process further.

“We are pleased with progress but we are not complacent. The system has been running since January and is being expanded to cope with current and anticipated future demand.”