Government attempts to recruit people onto “flexible” apprenticeships with multiple employers are falling flat after a pilot barely hit one per cent of its target.
An 18-month “portable flexi-job apprenticeship” trial was launched in April 2022 to help employers take on apprentices in sectors which typically employ people on short-term contracts, or where self-employment is common.
It was targeted at those industries that cannot offer a long enough placement with a single employer to meet the government’s minimum 12-month duration requirement for apprenticeships, like TV and film.
Ahead of the launch, the Department for Education said it was looking for 40 training providers to recruit up to 2,000 apprentices through the scheme.
However, data obtained by FE Week shows that just 16 providers signed up and only 18 apprentices have been started through the trial to date. The pilot is set to end in December, at which point DfE will evaluate its effectiveness.
Multiple providers involved blamed low take-up on a lack of employer appetite as well as confidentiality concerns.
This “portable” pilot, where apprentices find their own series of employers with the support of a single training provider, is one of two delivery models for flexi-job apprenticeships being tried by DfE.
The other involves new “flexi-job apprenticeship agencies” which act as the employer and arrange placements with host businesses for the apprentice.
The DfE said it is “continuing to work with employers including the creative sector who originally requested the flexibility to drive employer engagement and boost starts”.
‘Employers have to have buy in’
The portable pilot runs across 37 apprenticeship standards in the creative, digital, healthcare and construction sectors.
Employers commit to a minimum three-month apprenticeship contract. The apprentice then takes on sequential employment contracts with other businesses to meet the government’s 12-month minimum duration rule.
But a third of the 16 providers involved told FE Week they’re yet to start any apprentices through this flexi-job model.
Blue Lion Training Academy chief executive Harj Danjal said: “We have not taken on a single apprentice through the flexi-apprenticeship scheme, as the employer has requested the traditional route.”
London South East Colleges echoed this. “Employers are taking on learners full time rather than opting for the portable route,” a spokesperson said.
Some employers told providers in the pilot there were concerns over confidentiality if apprentices came to work for a short period of time.
Dimple Khagram, founder of Purple Beard Ltd, told FE Week privacy concerns were affecting her provider’s efforts in running flexi-job apprenticeships in the digital sector.
“We applied for the DevOps engineer [standard]. I think around GDPR and confidentiality, it gets complex. So if an apprentice is moving from employer to employer, obviously, people are worried,” she said.
“If you’re a software developer for example, or a DevOps engineer, you could be working for one IT company and then on to the next. It’s a bit concerning for them.”
Another provider, Chesterfield College Group, said it hadn’t advertised the scheme at all due to “delays” with an employer’s construction site.
“Our application was linked to a construction skills hub development in partnership with the Devonshire Group and University of Derby alongside the involvement of the site’s employers/suppliers,” a college spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately, due to delays with access to the site we’ve not actually advertised or ran any apprenticeships as part of the programme at all yet.”
The providers are still trying to drum up interest from employers ahead of the December end-date for the trial.
Khagram said: “From a training providers perspective, the employers have to have buy in. We are speaking to employers, but if you don’t have interest, we don’t have interest.”
Last flexi-job apprenticeship agencies signed up
Alongside the portable flexi-job apprenticeship pilot, the Department for Education has been rolling out flexi-job apprenticeship agencies since February 2022.
Organisations on this register recruit and employ apprentices and arrange placements with host businesses across a variety of sectors for the duration of an apprenticeship.
The multi-million-pound scheme initially aims to recruit up to 1,500 apprentices through this pathway.
However, since its launch, multiple agencies have pulled out of the scheme due to low employer demand, and also because it was too expensive to deliver.
There are now 45 agencies on the register, which closed this month with no plans to reopen.
The final flexi-job apprenticeship agencies to be added are:
- Clink Events
- Denbre Ltd T/A Joe Brennan Training (JBT)
- FDM Group Ltd
- Flex Legal Ltd
- Manchester Athena Ltd
- Manpower UK Ltd
- NSAR Ltd
- Randstad Solutions Ltd
- Toolstation Ltd
- Trendy Pooches (Heswall) Ltd
- Twin Training International Ltd
Few agencies have been able to recruit more than a handful of apprentices to date.
There were 280 starts in the first three quarters of 2022/23 onto flexi-job apprenticeships, over half of which were delivered by training provider Let Me Play Limited (114 starts across 10 standards).
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are seeing continuing demand from a range of sectors and employers to join the flexi-job apprenticeship register. We are pleased with the progress of the pilot with starts now significantly higher and growing each month, with positive feedback from employers.”