Employees at Skills Training UK have described feeling “broken” as bosses confirm they will only be paid for seven days this month.
This comes on the day the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has demanded that ministers take urgent action to prevent “total collapse” of the training system in the wake of multiple providers exiting the publicly funded training sector.
Skills Training UK is not yet officially in liquidation, but staff were told on Friday not to come back to work.
In an update today, seen by FE Week, staff were told that managers were unsuccessful in obtaining an overdraft to cover July’s payroll in full. Only a partial payment was granted meaning staff will only be paid for seven days this month. This reduced payment will still be subject to deduction like tax and pension contributions.
While they wait for the appointment of a liquidator, employees can’t make a claim for unpaid wages, notice pay or redundancy pay. Meanwhile, staff are also worried learners could miss out on getting their qualifications this August as they’re not at work to liaise with awarding organisations.
Stunned staff, some in tears, told FE Week they had been “left drowning” and out of the loop at a time when living costs are spiralling and after they have worked at the provider for years.
“We’re just broken, some of us have children and mortgages, it’s completely crazy. Management went completely quiet on us.”
More than 200 staff members will be made redundant if the provider does go under. In an update issued on its website, Skills Training UK said it expects to appoint liquidators on August 2, and that all delivery to all learners has stopped.
There are also concerns that learners will not receive the qualifications they were studying for, as staff have been locked out of their computers and systems and are not able to communicate with the learners or awarding organisations such as Pearson. As emails were shut down, staff could not tell learners that the provider is about to shut its doors.
“They’ve abandoned them,” one staff member said. “Some of the learners that I started working with a year ago have behavioural issues, and now they are going to get nothing after a year’s work. And there’s no one to be held accountable.”
Skills Training UK declined to comment.
AELP has meanwhile warned the sector “risks total collapse” thanks to a “perfect storm” of rising costs, reduced adult education budget (AEB) contracts, the end to the traineeship programme last year and real-terms cuts to apprenticeship funding bands.
It has called for an across-the-board uplift of 10 per cent in funding for all apprenticeship standards and a minimum government spend of £5,000 per year across all apprenticeships to keep apprenticeship providers afloat, alongside an increase to the maximum contribution above the current £27,000.
Nichola Hay, chair of AELP, warned any collapse of the skills system would “have a huge impact on learners and employers, as providers withdraw from the market and their choice is drastically reduced”.
“At a time where skills are vital in our country’s plan for growth and stability, we need a quick government response to save the skills sector, including an immediate 10 per cent across the board rise in funding for all apprenticeship standards, alongside a long-term plan to stabilise the skills system,” she added. A national skills strategy would help to stabilise the sector by “identifying and properly funding the country’s skills needs.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it was “committed” to supporting high-quality delivery of apprenticeships across all levels and sectors of the economy.
“Over the last year we have reviewed the funding of more than 50 standards, with 75 per cent receiving an increase of around 20 per cent,” they added. They also highlighted a plan to introduce immediate funding increases to ten apprenticeship standards, which they announced last month.
Earlier this month, Skills Training UK was one of several big-name training providers that missed out on a national adult education budget (AEB) contract in the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s most recent procurement. The provider does though hold a devolved contract in London worth £525,000, and other devolved contracts in South Yorkshire.
It also scooped spots on three lots of the DfE’s bootcamps contracts which were tendered out last September.
FE Week updated this article with a statement released on Skills Training UK’s website regarding the expected appointment of liquidators, which was issued on July 25.
Skills Training UK then appointed Matthew Roe and Richard Hawes as joint liquidators from Teneo Financial Advisory on August 3.
The liquidators said they are are “assisting former employees of Skills Training UK Limited to claim any entitlements available from the redundancy payment service”.