The summer holidays over, a new contract year starting, let’s silence the press criticism of apprenticeships by producing outstanding performances from our learners, inspired by the stunning results of the UK WorldSkills team.
I started my holiday on a Wednesday, for HIT next day the dreaded Ofsted phone call came for a full inspection the following Monday. Co-incidence or Machiavellian intent?
It was surreal to watch the inspection unfold by the plethora of emails flying around my company while sunning on the beach.
Like all previous inspections we were again graded ‘good’ overall.
Implementation and delivery of apprenticeships is more complex than can be defined on a page or two
This was particular pleasing because we have doubled the size of the company in staff, offices and learner numbers since our last inspection in 2012.
The benefits of the inspection to the company is highly dependent on the calibre of the lead inspector and the quality and knowledge of the inspectors.
This inspection provided thoughtful advice, constructive criticism and a very well balanced and fair overview of HIT with several positive recommendations for our improvement.
Two reports produced this summer which have relevance to apprentices and skills training were from the Edge Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development producing interesting facts about graduate destinations and employment.
The reports highlighted the difficulties certain graduates, with non-vocational degrees had in finding employment and in more than 40 per cent of cases took a job not requiring a degree.
At HIT, the highest number of applicants for a hospitality and catering apprenticeship we turn away as they fail the eligibility criteria are graduates looking to enter our industry, not the much maligned ‘immigrants.’
However, inspirational the political intent of 50 per cent of school-leavers going to university was, the unintended consequences were the closing of our polytechnic education with the disappearance of HNDs and other technician qualifications the country so urgently needs now.
Let us hope the intended consequences of Trailblazer apprenticeship funded by a levy don’t produce unintended consequences and disasters.
Bad press about apprenticeships continues in the national press and disturbingly on apprenticeship-friendly websites.
Critics fail to realise apprentices are already employed and reflect the labour market.
Economic growth comes from the service sector, mainly level two where apprenticeships are needed both for the thousands of new entrants and to up-skill the existing workforce to increase their productivity levels.
Lazy research by the national press ignores customer satisfaction rates in excess of 90 per cent from both employers and learners participating on apprenticeship programmes from surveys conducted by Mori for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Most commercial organisations, and especially individual politicians, would love such high satisfaction ratings.
BIS’s response to quality issues is to introduce end-testing to Trailblazer apprenticeships. How can an end test replace quality measures currently in place which disappear with Trailblazers? Measures such as continuous assessment, awarding bodies quality assurance, schemes of work, contracted learner reviews, initial assessment, suitability of the employer (health and safety, employment procedures, willingness to release apprentices for off-job training)?
Without a prescribed programme of training linked to funding inputs, quality is in greater danger with these employer ‘freedoms’ in place.
The danger comes two or three years down the line when their quality is seen to drop.
BIS will introduce draconian measures to restore quality which will be more complex than the SASE standards currently in place.
As Skills Minister Nick Bowles realises, the number of trailblazer standards grow and grow and are not the simple short list promised to parliament.
Similarly implementation and delivery of apprenticeships is more complex than can be defined on a page or two. External checks are required throughout the programme to protect government funds, the integrity of the brand and the substance of the training and development offered to the individual apprentice.