Funding obstinacy is killing off apprenticeships that are crucial to our economy

21 May 2023, 5:00

The HGV & Bus and Coach Standards Trailblazer Group has been working with IfATE to rectify a serious funding mishap in 2019 that reduced the funding band from £18,000 to £15,000 for the three-year HGV technician apprenticeship.

Like many other industries, we are operating in a very tight labour market. It takes nearly four years to qualify as an HGV mechanic and the job is not only safety critical but essential to our economy to keep our supply chains moving.

The core issue lies in IfATE erroneously categorising virtually every vehicle component, batteries and training rigs as capital funded items even though our trailblazer group has confirmed that the items do not last longer than the duration of the individual apprenticeship.

Contrary to IfATE’s view, most of the items are destroyed through constant use by the apprenticeship within a couple of years. Common sense says that if you strip down and rebuild something 12 times a day – when it was only designed to be stripped down once in its lifetime – it does not last very long. Yet no amount of evidence, engineering reports, photographs or even repeat invoices seem to be able convince officials.

According to IfATE, the required specialist buildings and training rigs such as engines and gearboxes are all ineligible cost items. Funding rules state that a provider can claim for premises if mandatory to run the course, but IfATE are refusing to add these costs. Instead, they say that the costs are covered by the 20 per cent non-teaching costs, which they themselves calculate. As a result, we are left with insufficient funding to pay for specialist training centres. 

Skimping on kit literally endangers the public. And the fact that the programme is a loss-maker has resulted in most providers exiting this provision altogether.

What is the point of trailblazers if IfATE insists it knows best?

The funding process is supposed to be transparent and fair. Our experience is that it is opaque, bureaucratic, and slow. I would go as far as to say it is not fit for purpose and is not providing good value for the taxpayer’s money.

The question we ask ourselves as a trailblazer group is what happens if the training providers do not want to or cannot provide this eye-wateringly expensive equipment. What happens to the day release local college courses that do not have a manufacturer who is willing or able to fund all the training equipment for their apprentices to learn on the right kit?

If those courses exist, the reality is that learners are more likely shown how to do things on cars only, or taught ‘in theory’ and left to do the practical back at the workplace. This is not good enough. It fails our apprentices, our businesses and our economy.

We have invited IfATE officials to come along to a training centre, but they have declined saying ‘they already know’. We have offered them to come to a meeting of our 50-strong trailblazer group to hear the views of the manufacturers, employers, training providers and EPA organisations, but they don’t feel they need to.

The sector route panel may be well-intentioned, but it has no heavy vehicle experience. More than that, the route is enormous and no one panel can really make good decisions in these circumstances.

This has been a very difficult process since the latest review began in October 2022, when it was supposed to be a simple costing exercise driven by an IfATE error. More than six months on, we are left asking ourselves what the point of a trailblazer/employer lead group is if IfATE do not trust and respect the industry and insists it knows best.  As wealth creators for the economy, we do not feel valued or listened to.

As we stare down the worst shortage of skilled technicians our industry has ever experienced, it is easy to conclude that apprenticeships, led and funded as they are, are no longer our go-to source of high-quality future talent.

After 30 years of supporting apprentices, that makes me extremely sad. Everyone else should be worried about the implications.

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  1. Tim Buchanan

    I couldn’t agree more, IFATE are working to a dogma that envisages a linear workplace where people ae trained for one narrow role only, when the reality is that workplaces are significantly more complicated than this as are the roles that we expect our apprentices to undertake. The example here highlights the the single minded approach that IFATE have to develop a system that is easy to audit but not fit for developing a highly trained and effective workforce.
    It is time that they were removed from the equation, they are not offering any value to the development of a more productive and competitive society.

  2. Funding methodologies are not designed by accident, they always have consequences and most are foreseeable, if you look beyond the complexity.

    It’s hard to see any positives in the IfATE position on this. They either designed the method or had it foisted upon them but refuse to challenge it and continue to say it’s transparent.

    It’s based on years old research (pre eye watering inflation), with components priced at 2019 levels and using it in a funding method is effectively applying a one size fits all approach.

    The research method calculated averages across the respondents and did mention that not all provider types were the same (no capital funding for ITP’s for instance). So using the mean or median costs from that research ensures that there is already an imbalance in how different provider types will fare.

    In terms of different standards, the same effect is inbuilt. There is a wide deviation from the mean or median average, so standards above average costs will be losers. It just so happens that longer duration and more complex to deliver standards tend to cost more to deliver, for entirely valid reasons.

    You don’t have to look much further than the 10 standards that pulled out of the exceptional funding band review. The funding band method favours shorter, less complex, cheaper standards.

    Happy days if you are wanting to increase starts volumes in a static budgetary environment.

    Not so happy days if you have acute skills shortages in economically or environmentally vital occupations.

    Presumably the options now on the table are:
    1. do something meaningful (fess up and fix it).
    2. do something that looks meaningful (hang IfATE out to dry and promise something for the future).
    3. do nothing and make it look meaningful (polish it).