AELP call for retraining scheme rethink to avoid another “expensive skills white elephant”

The National Retraining Scheme should be relaunched as a ‘traineeship for adults,’ according to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

The national membership organisation recommended the creation of a form of adult traineeship for unemployed and employed participants in a policy submission ahead of a Department for Education presentation at the AELP autumn conference next week (October 29).

It said “a vital rethink is necessary” to avoid another “expensive skills white elephant” – and claimed the Employer Ownership of Skills pilot (EOP) saw “£350m of taxpayers’ money completely wasted” from 2012-2017.

An evaluation report published by the DfE last year found that EOP failed to have any impact at all.

AELP CEO Mark Dawe said: “We believe that the NRS represents good policy intent and is much needed, but the implementation has been piecemeal and it lacks a clear and coherent plan and strategy. 

“The scheme must be more than just a digital information-sharing platform if we are seriously going to tackle the adverse consequences of automation.” 

The £100m scheme aims to help adults retrain into better jobs and be ready for future changes to the economy.

During its testing phase the NRS will be rolled out to eligible adults in six areas in England in 2020.

It will support adults aged 24 and over who are already in work, do not have a qualification at degree level and are paid below a certain wage level.

In contrast, traineeships are currently available to 16 to 24-year-olds and are designed to get participants ready for an apprenticeship or job. The courses include a work placement and can last between six weeks and six months.

Mr Dawe believes a form of an adult traineeship which helps adults with no or lower levels of qualifications is needed. 

“Despite the initial injection of £100m, there remains a lack of investment in core delivery and provider participation funding,” Mr Dawe added.

The AELP labelled the NRS “challenged and “slowly rolled-out,” and claimed the recent shaping of the scheme into an information-sharing platform “simply duplicates existing government-backed job signposting initiatives.”

It called for the implementation of a scheme with “clearly defined set of outcome and progression measures,” and for providers to be “financially incentivised to support participants to both complete and progress.” 

The organisation also warned the encouragement of more demand for adult learning could “lead to further waste if mistakes with apprenticeship and adult education budget funding are repeated.” 

In AELP’s view all adult funding should be accessible to all types of providers to reduce “unjustifiable subcontracting fees.”

Other recommendations included relaxing NRS learner eligibility requirements to better address risk from automation, allowing scheme participants to top up their skills and having these formally recognised, discouraging the government from commissioning new resources where high quality tools already exist and better utilising providers with well-established track records of employer engagement.

The AELP also states more consideration should be given to the “potential legal minefield” of employees being informed that their jobs might disappear with automation, with involvement of providers, to ensure participation is not held back.

The policy proposal states this will also be beneficial for employers who will not “want to lose staff who have acquired new and attractive skills on the NRS.” 

In response to the recommendations Education Minister Michelle Donelan said: “We very much value the AELP’s feedback and will continue to engage them and providers in developing the full National Retraining Scheme.

“We will continue to listen to those adults already using Get Help to Retrain to make sure that the service helps adults to discover new opportunities and develop the skills they need to land a new job.”

The Department for Education will speak at the AELP Autumn Conference 2019 on October 29.