Our directors and senior managers have been in discussions with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, sector skills councils, employers and trade associations about implementing the Richard review.
What is emerging are the unforeseen consequences of handing employers direct financial and operational control of apprenticeships. Is the government only going to fund employers solely for training and testing, as the consultations suggest? This could remove the glue and wiring that training providers routinely use to make apprenticeships work if these ‘hidden’ activities are no longer funded.
For example, who will pick up an apprentice who leaves their employer for whatever reason during their apprenticeship?
Currently, 11 per cent of our apprentices change their employer during their apprenticeship. No funding or information will be available to the provider under the proposed funding systems to pick up these learners, so completion rates will decline by a further 11 per cent.
Who will check the eligibility of an employee for apprenticeship funding? This complex arena, especially with foreign nationals and overseas qualifications, is outside the expertise of most employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Will employers be expected to buy this service from a provider and will they pay if the employee is found to be ineligible for funding?
Who will provide the advocacy and pastoral care for young apprentices where sexual and racial harassment and initiation rites are still prevalent in certain sectors? Providers routinely mediate in these circumstances or in extreme circumstances remove the apprentice.
How will this be funded in future if government is only paying for actual training, or is the wellbeing and legal rights of the apprentice to be ignored? How will an employer react to being billed for exposing any failures in their equality procedures?
There is a continuing danger of some young apprentices being exploited and abused by unscrupulous or ignorant employers, especially SMEs without any HR resources. Providers often act as the unpaid HR specialists for SMEs, but without funding this will no longer happen.
More worrying are the health and safety issues whereby the provider will no longer have responsibility to check out the suitability of the premises or equipment for apprentices. Neither will they be in a position to ensure suitable induction to dangerous equipment or hazardous areas has taken place. Regrettably, the Health and Safety Executive and environmental inspectors usually arrive on the scene after tragedy has occurred and removing training providers from this role could increase the mortality rate of apprentices.
Again, who will check whether the employer has the necessary insurances and licences to operate in their sector, thus making the site ‘legal’ to operate apprenticeship programmes with government funding?
Who will ascertain the potential apprentice’s prior learning and experience, and how this affects the percentage of funding available, or monitor that the government is only paying for new skills and learning?
Who will decide whether the employer can offer the full apprenticeship programme to meet the criteria of the new standards or advise the employer and the potential apprentice which qualification is most suitable for them?
Where trailblazers have opted to use awarding bodies, are the awarding bodies geared up to deal with and approve more than 200,000 employer sites? Do employers, especially those without a training department, have the expertise and time to deal with awarding body approval, registration and certification?
Who will mentor the apprentice and their workplace supervisor throughout the programme, especially when the apprentice ‘wobbles’ as happens to the majority who are tempted to give up before completing?
The solution is to allow employers the choice of direct funding or through the training provider. Similarly, while the trailblazers are untested, the SASE (Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England) route or a trailblazer route should be available to each employer until comparisons can be made of which route provides the learner, the employer the better training and the country the better economic investment.