Speakers at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) autumn conference in Leeds addressed a number of issues, including rising apprenticeship numbers and FE loans. Association chief executive Graham Hoyle explains.

The autumn conference of AELP traditionally addresses the immediate challenges facing training organisations in the employment and skills sectors and the event in Leeds was no exception.

We face major challenges, but we are hardly in a position of doom and gloom.

Our concern has been that loans might seriously affect the take-up of adult apprenticeships and, in particular, higher apprenticeships”

The government announced this month that we had hit the 500,000 landmark in apprenticeship places in England, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that providers, as well as employers and learners, have benefited from this growth while the economy and other sectors have been in recession.

Providers who are good at employer engagement, and who offer high quality provision, are the ones who should rightly benefit most from increased public investment.

Since Lord Leitch advocated a demand-led skills system in 2006, there has been movement towards a more employer-responsive framework and AELP would not be happy if poor performers who cannot show adequate employer demand were still protected by the funding system.

As institutions of varying levels of performance seek to protect their volumes by contracting out provision, this brings us on to the issue of sub-contracting and the need for good standards in supply chain management.

Training providers of all sizes want subcontracting to continue for bona fide reasons, such as enabling them to spread their provision into a new region, but it has to be on fair and reasonable terms.

In recent weeks, AELP’s Paul Warner has been locked in a room with officials from the Association of Colleges to make this happen; a common accord should be published for consultation by the end of November.

Doug Richard is now putting the finishing touches to his review of apprenticeships and we are hopeful that he will share our view that two million apprenticeships is a perfectly reasonable goal.

Our recent position paper (How to develop, strengthen, improve and increase the number of apprenticeships — downloadable from the AELP website) sets out the steps needed to achieve it.

The conference heard a presentation from the Skills Funding Agency on 24-plus advanced learning loans. Our concern has been that loans might seriously affect the take-up of adult apprenticeships and, in particular, higher apprenticeships, which the government is especially keen to promote.

The situation will be made worse if ministers don’t act quickly to resolve the issue of VAT being added to the fees of independent provider provision, which the loans have to cover.
A completely unjust 20 per cent mark-up will result in many of my members walking away, leaving gaps that will not be filled.

We also covered progress towards greater links between skills and employability programmes, which have grown with the arrival of the youth contract.

The Education Funding Agency explained how its funding was becoming more flexible to enable providers to secure more sustainable job opportunities for young people not in work or training.

And the Department for Work and Pensions presentation addressed the role of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) in relation to the work programme – AELP members need assurances that more JCP districts are becoming better at making referrals to providers.

On supporting the unemployed back into work, providers are accessing the adult skills budget (ASB) to offer learners pre-employment training.

Smart providers are linking up with work programme contractors to ensure individuals receive joined-up support and increase their chances of sustainable employment.

As the Chancellor’s autumn statement approaches, AELP is calling for the ASB to remain a solid source of funding for skills provision for the unemployed as well as for apprenticeships.