College to close former Pearson in Practice centres

West Nottinghamshire College has announced plans to shut almost half of the training centres it bought under last year’s Pearson in Practice deal.

The college, which struck the deal with Pearson last spring for an undisclosed amount and now runs it under the name Vision Workforce Skills, wants to close centres in Romford, Newcastle, Bristol and Southampton.

It claims they are all losing money, along with an admin centre in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, which it also plans to shut.

The closures could mean redundancy for 21 full-time and one part-time member of staff, but college vice principal and Vision Workforce Skills managing director Graham Howe has vowed to keep the centres open until all current apprentices had completed their classroom-based training.

Mr Howe said the decision was being taken to “future-proof” the rest of the former Pearson firm, which he said was capable of turning a profit. He said: “We have found it difficult to achieve the right numbers in some of the centres. First and foremost we need to create enough opportunities with employers, and we have not created enough in each of these regions.

“Clearly in terms of our original business plan we were very ambitious. I wouldn’t say we were over-ambitious because we are aiming to keep six of the centres open, but we have to look at the fact that, for four of the centres, we have not got enough business.”

Mr Howe said the current deficit in the running of the company stood at £1.5m, which he said could be turned into a surplus of £2m on an annual turnover of £11m without the pressure from the four centres.

Pearson in Practice was previously called Zenos. The renaming, in 2012, followed criticism of the apprenticeship scheme delivered by Zenos in the Panorama programme The Great Apprentice Scandal, broadcast on BBC One.

The ICT apprenticeships delivered by Zenos, which had been acquired by Pearson in 2010 when it paid £99.3m for vocational training company Melorio, were said to be entirely classroom-based and could not guarantee learners a job at the end.

And Mr Howe said a subsequent change in government preference towards employer-led apprenticeships was a concept the original company had struggled with, and that Vision Workforce Skills had changed the format of the apprenticeships to be more employment-focused, but said this had not translated into success at all 10 of its centres.

He said: “We acquired what was a very large training provider. It had two parts. One part delivered training to employers in the workplace and that side has been very successful and will probably become bigger than it used to be under Pearson in Practice.

“The other side was the IT apprenticeships, which were programme-led and learners were not necessarily employed at the end of the apprenticeship.”

He said the 72 apprentices enrolled at the centres, along with any others recruited this month, would be able to fully complete their 12 weeks of classroom-based learning before any closures took place and would continue to be supported in the workplace.

But consultation on the future of 21 full-time jobs was ongoing.

He said: “I think it is fair to say of the situation they are in that if a reasonable alternative is not found, then it is going to mean compulsory redundancies. While redundancies are always regrettable, any action we are taking is to future-proof the business, and we are committed to ensuring all existing learners complete their training.”