FE colleges have access to capital and bailout funding, but independent providers are largely ignored, writes Iain Elliott
At HETA and GTA England we don’t do politics, just training. But we do welcome MPs of all political persuasions to visit, because it helps us inform the skills and training debate and raise awareness of what we do.
If we can help to shape government policy that’s great. It’s important that people get out of Westminster and listen to learners and employers.
The latest politician to call in was Toby Perkins, shadow minister for skills and education. He toured our headquarters in Hull and chatted to learners and apprentices working on fabrication and welding, mechanical and electrical engineering.
He wanted to know about their journey from school to traineeships and apprenticeships, and about how we help them get jobs. He spoke to employers about how to use their leftover apprenticeship levy. He asked a lot of questions and listened intently.
Mr Perkins was impressed with learner attitudes, modern facilities that showcase attractive career opportunities and the strength of our relationships with employers dating back to 1967. This was when HETA was launched as an independent learning provider (ITP) in a rundown property near Hull’s fish docks.
We’ve moved twice since then, most recently in 2018 to a site that we transformed with a £4 million investment helped by grant funding from the now defunct Humber LEP and support from Hull City Council.
Give the ITP network fair and focused access to strategic funding
Using reserves and borrowings, we’ve committed even more than that to a newbuild at Stallingborough, near Grimsby. We are aiming to open it in August 2023 to replace the nearby facilities which we’ve leased for over 15 years.
We’ve also got a centre at Scunthorpe that is less than ten years old, and everything we do is consistent with the principles we adopted 55 years ago, working as members of the Group Training Association – GTA England – to deliver exactly the sort of training that businesses want. We are employer-led and we always will be.
But there has to be a level playing field. While FE colleges have had access to capital and bailout funding, the ITP and GTA network is largely ignored.
Our new centre is a key element of a £42 million regional investment programme that is regenerating 189 hectares of land to create attractive new locations for business and industry.
We know from our work with GTA England and with hundreds of employers that the demand for the facility is there and will increase.
During 2021 we received more than 800 applications for 210 learner places. Numbers this year are similar but we haven’t been able to access any capital funding from the government for the project, and we feel as though we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.
In short: give the ITP and GTA network fair and focused access to strategic funding and we’ll deliver the government targets for skills growth.
We also spoke to Mr Perkins about the enormous amount of effort we put into visiting schools and inviting students into our training centres, but there’s a view among our team and among employers that parents and their children don’t know enough about their post-16 options.
We would like to get to the situation where, at 16, we have more discerning customers.
Katie, an apprentice who is employed by a major local business and learning mechanical and electrical engineering, told Mr Perkins she worked in admin and knew nothing about STEM until she went to Rwanda with her Girlguiding group and experienced building houses.
It’s great that she found her vocation, but she’s now 27 and it really shouldn’t have taken that long.
We’re working to get the message across to the real decision-makers – the young people and their families – that apprenticeships are a fantastic post-16 opportunity.
And our message to the government is that there’s never been a more important time to invest in training.
By the way – there’s an open invitation for all policy makers and influencers to come to Humberside!