Broker offered 3aaa staff £200 for apprentice referrals – but admits it was a 'bad idea'

A broker has admitted it was a “bad idea” to offer cash to former staff of Aspire Achieve Advance in exchange for referrals of apprentices affected by the collapse.

The now-defunct apprenticeship giant, better known as 3aaa, ceased trading on October 11 when the government pulled its skills contracts following a second investigation into success-rate inflation – the findings of which have now been passed to the police.

Shortly after the demise, a recruitment firm called 360 Apprenticeships, based in Manchester, contacted a handful of staff who lost their jobs to offer a payment of up to £200 per apprentice referral.

It was not our proudest hour as a business start-up

“If you know of any learners that need assistance moving to a grade one training provider – please let me know,” one message, seen by FE Week said.

“Let me know if you feel this quick fix would be beneficial?”

However, 360 Apprenticeships, which incorporated in March 2016 and currently has four employees, claimed to quickly realised this was inappropriate.

“That shouldn’t have gone out,” said Aaron Rochford, the firm’s owner.

“It was done in haste really a couple of days after it all came out. We brainstormed it, contacted three people, but then we got our head bitten off by one ex-3aaa guy and realised this was not a bright idea.”

He added that his company didn’t “gain anything” from the offers and admitted it was a “bad idea” and “not our proudest hour as a business start-up”.

360 Apprenticeships is an apprenticeship recruitment firm working with various training providers, but is not regulated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Mr Rochford said the company has “over 10 years of recruitment experience between the team” and with “30 plus five star reviews, the small amount of people who have used the service only have fantastic praise”.

The broker’s website claims it is “not for profit” even though it charges providers for employer and apprentice referrals. When FE Week raised this with Mr Rochford he claimed this was a “mistake” and said the website would be fixed to reflect it is a for profit organisation.

This is the latest example of unscrupulous poaching of 3aaa staff and apprentices that has been found by FE Week.

Last week this newspaper revealed that multiple training providers have been “misrepresenting their position” to people affected by the collapse.

Tactics include alleged false claims that the ESFA and 3aaa have asked the providers to take on hundreds of people affected.

Questions have been raised about how these providers were able to obtain private email addresses of staff, apprentices and employers – leading to concerns that general data protection regulation laws have been breached.

The ESFA’s director of apprenticeships, Keith Smith, is aware of the poaching and warned providers that they could have their own funding pulled because of it.

“There’s no place for people to come in and misrepresent to people who are feeling very vulnerable at this stage, employers and apprentices,” he said.

The 3aaa scandal put around 500 people out of work and left up to 4,500 apprentices without a training provider.

There is said to be £17 million of on-programme payments due for apprentices affected – a huge prize for anyone that can win transfers.