Traineeships were firmly among the top agenda issues for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers during opening speeches at its packed national conference in London.

Day one of the two-day conference, entitled Strictly Skills and Employment, focused on employers, providers and apprentices, while day two offered insight from government agencies and politicians.

Speakers, including the association’s outgoing chief executive Graham Hoyle, incoming chief executive Stewart Segal and association chair Martin Dunford, were introduced to an audience of more than 250, by conference chair Chris Humphries, University of West London chair.

Mr Hoyle took questions from the floor at Hammersmith’s Novotel, after what was to be his last speech before retirement.

When asked how about the risks of apprenticeships being “cannibalised” by traineeships — an unpaid scheme designed to prepare 16 to 18-year-olds for work and due in September — he said: “This is a real challenge for us.

“I have heard from one major employer who sees this as an opportunity to put apprentices through traineeships first. That’s missing the point … We absolutely have to avoid that.”

He added: “We’ve got to make sure apprenticeship-funded providers — that’s Skills Funding Agency [SFA] funded providers — are given every opportunity to deliver Education Funding Agency-funded traineeships. This is a big topical issue for now.”

The biggest challenge facing the organisation was ensuring traineeships were delivered to 19 to 24-year-olds, Mr Dunford told delegates.

The country needs a good preparatory programme for young unemployed people”

“The country needs a good preparatory programme for young unemployed people. We have to make sure we have high ambitions for traineeships — that’s the most important thing for us,” he said.

Mr Segal, due to take the reins from Mr Hoyle next month, highlighted that apprenticeships should be an “all-age” programme and employers wanted “less change, longer contracts and one funding system for all”.

“Providers have to work really hard to persuade employers to get on-board with apprenticeships. They need to know we have a long-term commitment to the programme,” he said.

“We have to balance the need to drive change and improvement with the need for certainty and confidence in the system itself.

“Employers constantly tell us the one thing they want is not to keep constantly changing the system, so when we’re driving change, we have to take an active role — only we know what it means on the ground.”

He laid out the challenges the association and its members had to take on over the next year to “have a real go” at making “big differences to people’s life chances”.

Mr Segal said: “We need to step up to the plate and set our ambitions high. And our planning advisers need longer than the next funding change.

“Can we significantly increase apprenticeships over next three years? Can we get more learners to levels three? Can we make traineeships as successful as apprenticeships? And can we make a success of study programmes?”

He said his main priorities for the next year were achieving the smooth transition from school to work and from unemployment to employment.

But, he added: “There’s a big initiative around careers in school and I don’t know that I’d give it back to schools — they’ve already got responsibility. It’s about what we’re going to do with schools. Let us work with employers and we’ll do that bit.

“We’ve got to make traineeships work. Perhaps we should be setting what the standards of them will be? We shouldn’t wait for the SFA to do that.

“I look forward to working with you all so we can make a difference to skills and employability to the UK.”

Delegates took part in workshops, including sessions on the new Education and Learning Foundation, formerly known as the FE Guild, with Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel and on funding with Dr Susan Pember, FE consultant and former head of FE and skills investment at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The event, sponsored by awarding body OCR, saw exhibitors from many training bodies offering delegates information on their services.

Featured image caption: Chris Humprhies chairs the AELP conference  Stewart Segal, incoming chief executive of AELP and Martin Dunford, chair of AELP

Hoyle’s last stand

Graham Hoyle gives his last speech at the AELP National Conference 2013

This year’s Association of Employment and Learning Providers conference will be the last for Graham Hoyle OBE as the body’s chief executive.

He retires in August having built up the organisation from scratch when it was formed in 2002 to a proactive body that puts forward programme and policy proposals in the skills and employment arena.

“I am pleased that my final national conference with the association reinforces the perception that we are an organisation that is always looking ahead,” said Mr Hoyle.

“The publication of our summary manifesto shows that our members are passionate about delivering skills and employment programmes which not only support economic development but also contribute to social cohesion in communities all over the country.”

His retirement follows a career that includes 20 years with the Employment Service before a move in the mid-1980s to the Training Agency, first as area manager for Devon and Cornwall, then for Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

In the 1990s, he became chief executive of the Gloucestershire Training and Enterprise Council (TEC). He was then behind the creation of the Gloucestershire Development Agency and the 5 County West of England Development Agency.

Mr Hoyle, a grandfather, was also chair of the TEC National Council’s Education and Training Committee, before the AELP came knocking in 2002. His contribution to the skills sector was recognised in 2008 with an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to training.

“In 2002-03, my first year as chief executive of the association, there were 167,700 apprenticeship starts. Last year 620,600 people started training on the programme – an increase of 370 per cent in a decade.

“I believe the association and its member providers can take a large amount of the credit for this, especially in terms of securing employer engagement in the programme.

“It’s a fantastic achievement but my message is simple — we can and need to grow those apprenticeship numbers well into seven figures to compete with other developed economies.”
Mr Hoyle was 66 years old when his retirement was announced in March. Around two months later, his successor, Stewart Segal — a former chief executive of a major national training provider — was unveiled.

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