Before we look at shaping the future, I’d firstly like to look at the past by sharing some history behind the Australian Group Training model. Group Training in the Australian landscape involves organisations legally employing apprentices across many occupational sectors and, in turn, placing them with a host employer. The Group Training Company essentially manages all the associated paperwork, payroll, taxation requirements, effectively cutting bureaucracy out of the employment of an apprentice.
Group Training evolved in the early 1980’s when industry leaders in the construction and automotive sector developed industry groups to drive this unique and flexible apprenticeship employment model for their sector. The concept was largely developed in response to the needs of small businesses when these individuals found staffing difficult given the unpredictable nature of their operations and work patterns.
By 1990 there were close to 90 Group Training companies employing around 11,000 apprentices. Today in Australia, there is more than 180 Group Training Companies legally employing in excess of 50,000 apprentices, making the Group Training network the single largest employer of apprentices.
In England, this Group Training concept is known as an Apprenticeship Training Agency or ATA. The full capacity of the model is yet to be demonstrated in England having only been piloted since 2009. It must be understood that this agency model is a business that grows very organically as it seeds apprentice commencements, but should not be underestimated as for the opportunity it presents to small businesses that traditionally haven’t employed an apprentice. Another major function of the agency model which should not be overlooked is the structured support to apprentice learners.
Apprentices employed through the agency model have the ability to be placed with multiple host employers during their apprenticeship, which enhances learning experience and develops deeper applied knowledge and skills. If we explore completion rates of an agency employed apprentices in Australia, typically we find successful completion rates are quite higher than traditionally direct employed apprentices. This is due to the quality structured recruitment process that agencies and Group Training provide, particularly for the small business sector that have limited resources and are unfamiliar with recruitment procedures.
The other key element that supports successful completion rates for agency employed apprentices is the solid pastoral care framework that apprentices and host employers receive. The Apprenticeship Training Agency is effectively an impartial third party that monitors the workplace performance of the apprentice, host employer and training provider or college attached to the relationship.
Smaller businesses in England that we currently work with have embraced the employment model, seeing it as the way to assist with the procurement of an apprentice and reducing the associated burdens that are perceived with apprenticeships.
Although there are similarities between England and Australia’s employment and apprenticeship systems, there are naturally many variations. The Australian apprenticeship programme is heavily subsidised by Government, providing employers and Group Training Companies with incentives; in addition to funding associated training costs. Government incentives can assist in reducing some wage associated costs, including training downtime for employers and, if applied in an ethical manner, can reward good employer behaviour.
In light of recent media coverage on quality of apprenticeships we feel confident the agency model can, and will, provide a long-term solid structured safety net to all stakeholders. If we revisit the Australian Group Training model, many organisations are required to operate with eight National Standards for Group Training Organisations, which essentially underpins the operation and are audited by Government State or Territory Training Authorities (STAs). STA’s are responsible for compliance, audit evaluation, including an independent audit program to ensure compliance with the National Standards for Group Training Organisations.
We are optimistic as to the future of apprenticeship training agencies in England and strongly feel that, as the model matures, it will demonstrate success for all parties; apprentices, host employers and local communities.
Ashley Langdon, Chief Executive Officer,