AELP members respond to Richard Review with ‘anger’

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) today responded to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships. See their response in full below:

The Richard review of apprenticeships has now hit the streets and unlike most reviews asserts that it has to be accepted on an all or nothing basis.  That condition alone makes it impossible for AELP and its members to accept this composite set of proposals.

Our rejection, however, is not based solely on this ultimatum.

It starts with the cover, of both the main and summary documents, which displays in a sort of pictorial way, a stereotypical view of traditional basic craft occupations as the depiction of apprenticeships.  This is a hugely damaging picture which both ignores the current reality regarding apprenticeships and dangerously misinforms everyone about the future breadth and use of apprenticeships across the whole of the service sector and indeed new high-tech sectors, including the emerging media, performing arts and ‘green’ environmental sectors.

Understandably the greatest anger immediately articulated by apprenticeship providers was focused on the insulting and unfounded assertion that the work of their highly qualified, experienced and skilled independent assessors, who have a very good knowledge of the industry, needed additionally to be independently assessed!  An assertion which, with apprenticeship success rates nationally at 75% and above cannot be substantiated.

One of Doug Richard’s core proposals was, as expected, that future apprenticeship funding should be directed solely to employers for them to find a provider of choice.  A route also proposed by large employers via UKCES; a route that will decimate SME involvement.  AELP have always accepted that this option should be available to employers, but as an option not a sole, no choice diktat.  It is an option that has been available for many years through the LSC’s NES, which was however taken up by only a very few large companies, with most still preferring the contract to deliver the high quality, complex, training service which is not their own core business to be held by proven training providers.

The greatest anger immediately articulated by apprenticeship providers was focused on the insulting and unfounded assertion that the work of their highly qualified, experienced and skilled independent assessors, who have a very good knowledge of the industry, needed additionally to be independently assessed!”

But it is not the large companies that everyone seems to be concerned about.  It’s the SMEs!  By all means give them the option.  AELP’s apprenticeship providers, who currently deliver half a million apprenticeships and work with 350,000 employers, mostly SMEs, are persuaded that they will not take it up.

As to the other proposals (which AELP will respond to in detail over the next few weeks) most of them build upon existing AELP policy, and more to the point existing provider practice; most are certainly not radical and, in the most part are not even new.  We are particularly disappointed at the clear lack of understanding of how the apprenticeship programme currently works.  Apprenticeships naturally need to be continuously developed and improved – yes, by employers not the government – using the high level of expertise and professionalism found in the vast majority of providers; many with a track record of fifty years in the apprenticeship delivery business

And one more thing; whatever the report asserts, apprenticeships are not and never have been supply side driven, nor indeed supply side designed.  Providers are only engaged when an employer has decided to recruit a worker and utilise an employer designed framework – they are already operating in an entirely demand-led, employer driven market place.  And while there are many examples of effective college delivery, it is not merely “in some instances partnering and hosting small and specialist niche providers”, but in reality 75% plus of apprenticeships are actually delivered by independent providers.

There are suggestions in the review which AELP might agree with, but for the most part they exist already, build upon existing arrangements or confirm and support arguments that we and others have already made.  It was good to see Doug Richard ultimately agreeing with AELP’s strongly held belief that apprenticeships must be available for ‘all-age’ employees and that they should not be restricted to level 3 and above.  It was also good to see the confirmation of our vigorously argued demand for a comprehensive ‘preparatory training’ programme to extend and replace the myriad of well-meaning government funded schemes currently on offer.

Independent advice and guidance must be available to all whilst at school, without schools operating any kind of veto for the protection of their 6th forms and schools have just got to better at preparing all young people for the world of work, especially in getting their English and maths achievements up to first base.  AELP’s proposals for output related funding for schools in this regard really need to be explored.

Overall, therefore, some of the big things are wrong and much of the rest demonstrate a lack of understanding of existing arrangements; arrangements that have seen a doubling of apprenticeships over the last couple of years whilst continuing to increase successful completion rates to above international comparisons and attracting hugely impressive satisfaction rates from both employers (92%) and apprentices (89%) alike.  Current apprenticeship delivery is not ‘broke’, in need of continuous improvement – of course.

AELP will be developing a detailed response to all of the suggestions made in this review over the next few weeks in order to inform the imminent ministerial review of the Holt review, the Richard review, the Heseltine review, and the Select Committee’s review.

Meanwhile, we will suggest policy makers consider the proposals that can be found in AELP’s recent policy paper, which was made available as part of this review.