Panorama will broadcast  ‘The Great Apprentice Scandal’ on BBC One at 8.30 tonight, and will focus on 16-18 IT apprenticeships delivered by Zenos (although not mentioned in their press release), Morrisons apprenticeships delivered by Elmfield Training and a number of apprenticeship subcontractors.

Read the Panorama press release below in full:

More than 1 in 10 of all apprenticeships created in England last year was with a single supermarket chain.  An investigation for BBC Panorama has found that nearly 4 in 10 of Morrison’s entire workforce are now classed as apprentices.

Norman Pickavance – Group HR Director at Morrison’s defends the high number, saying:

“Forty per cent of people are trying to get a basic qualification.  People who leave school without a qualification often feel that they don’t have access and don’t see the kind of skilled jobs or managerial positions as something they can aspire to”.

At a time of record unemployment, though, the programme asks whether that’s really an apprenticeship and if it’s a good use of taxpayers’ money.

Elmfield Training, the private company that accredits Morrisons’ apprentices has a government contract worth £37 million.  Elmfield made a profit of £12 million in 2010 and the company’s CEO, Ged Syddall, awarded himself a dividend of nearly £3 million.  Yet when the company was inspected by OFSTED recently, its training for Morrisons was rated as ‘satisfactory’, the second lowest rating possible.

The retail apprenticeship, which last year took an average of just six months to complete, has also been criticised by providers of more traditional apprenticeships.

Charlie Mullins – founder of Pimlico Plumbers – employs 18 apprentices out of a staff of 200. Their training takes a minimum of 3 years.  Mr Mullins says of short retail apprenticeships:

“I think all they’re really doing is undervaluing the word apprentice, and they’ve really just seen a loophole in the system that they can claim money on it.”

Nick Linford, Editor of FE Week, says: “We’ve seen record growth in apprenticeships.  Big headline numbers look great on paper but scratch under the surface and maybe we shouldn’t be calling them all apprenticeships.”

A huge rise in coalition government funding has seen the number of apprenticeships in England rise by 63% last year, to 450 000. Traditionally, FE colleges have been used to deliver off-the-job apprenticeship training.  Their teaching is subject to OFSTED inspections every 3 years.

Panorama however has discovered large number of training providers are able to slip through the inspection radar. As colleges struggle to find the capacity to cope with demand, there has been an increase in subcontracting to private training providers which are not subject to the same level of scrutiny. Panorama took a closer look at subcontractors with contracts worth more than £500,000 and found that £230,000,000 worth of work was given last year to companies who haven’t been inspected by OFSTED.

Forward Thinking Training Solutions, based in Basingstoke, is one such subcontractor that hasn’t been inspected.  The company was awarded £2.7 million in government contracts from 4 different colleges last year to train apprentices.  Although its background is in security training, Forward Thinking was contracted through Bournville College in Birmingham to deliver training for apprenticeships in painting and decorating.

18-year old Kyle Emery from Halesowen was one of 291 apprentices accepted onto the course last September.  Kyle says the training was virtually non-existent:

“Basically all it was, was ‘here’s some paint, here’s a brush, crack on, don’t make a mess’.  No one actually came in to teach us what we was doing.”

Kyle and all the other apprentices had their training cut short in January this year and Forward Thinking has now gone into administration.  Kyle says the apprenticeship was a waste of time.  He says:

“I should have either stopped on at college or got a proper job, not an apprenticeship.  The way I see it, it was just cheap labour”

Scott Upton, Vice Principal of Sandwell College in Birmingham, said a formal apprenticeship is the “gold standard of vocational training” and rushing candidates through an apprenticeship programme will devalue the entire system.

“When you get new entrants into the market wanting to put people through as quickly as possible without providing the highest quality, that’s got to be a cause for concern.”

At another firm, JML Dolman in Wolverhampton, Allan Middleton, who left the firm 5 weeks ago, was an internal verifier for apprentices.

Mr Middleton said he understood the company was being paid £9,000 for each apprenticeship completion award issued.

It was his job to verify the apprentices’ work had been done, which would allow JML Dolman to apply for more funding. He said he refused to do so but found evidence it was happening anyway.

In a statement, JML Dolman said there had been no deliberate attempt to deceive or mislead: “There were administrative failing which resulted in mistakes being made. These were genuine errors.

“As soon as these anomalies were identified…those responsible were dismissed and systems put in place to ensure there could be no recurrence of these problems.”

But a current employee has told the BBC that the problems still exist.

The whistleblower told the programme that paperwork obtained by Panorama that shows apprenticeships as complete, could not have been at the time they were signed because the firm did not employ an assessor then.

John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, says that the government will not tolerate subcontractors who’re delivering substandard apprenticeships.  He says:

“The crackdown on subcontractors that we are delivering will be relentless.  The character of subcontracting is something that I was sufficiently concerned about in order to insist that we tighten the screw.”