Let’s be more positive about ITPs

The vast majority of independent training providers deliver great results for apprentices, writes Bob Watmore

The front page lead of last week’s FE Week was understandably sensational about some aspects of the recent register of apprenticeship training providers announcements – namely those experienced providers which didn’t make the list and the inexperienced ones that did.

While mistakes and anomalies should certainly be highlighted, focusing on these alone prevents balance. We should also be celebrating the experienced providers that have rightly achieved RoATP status and which will be critical to the three million apprenticeship starts targeted to be achieved by 2020.

There are many good providers across the country with long histories of delivering employers’ needs to a high standard. This is particularly true of the engineering and manufacturing sector in which I work. Although the sector faces a significant ongoing skill shortage, exacerbated by an ageing workforce and a reliance on the skills of EU nationals that may be under threat from Brexit, it provides a myriad of modern opportunities for technical STEM-based apprenticeships at advanced, higher and degree level. It also results in well paid jobs, whose visible contribution to the UK’s GDP is easily measured in manufactured and exported goods.

Focusing on mistakes alone prevents balance

But according to FE Week’s own statistics, the vast majority of colleges subcontract their apprenticeship delivery, often to independent training providers, and they have therefore been caught out by not taking their RoATP submissions seriously in their own right.

In the recent round of apprenticeship delivery procurement, colleges didn’t have to submit a financial status as part of the invitation to tender. As ITPs with charitable status we have to provide such financial information as surety to government procurement officers. Our ability to pass this financial test should give buyers confidence in our ability to successfully deliver high apprenticeship achievement rates.

Sadly I too regularly hear complaints from employers about some colleges’ poor apprenticeship delivery. Complaints include regular deference to full-time student courses, such that part-time apprentices suffer unreasonably large class sizes, doubling up on engineering equipment during skills training, unsuitably qualified training staff working outside their own vocational areas, and implications of qualifications achieved without the barest employer engagement on rigour, depth of skill and knowledge.

Of course, I know there is some outstanding college-based apprenticeship delivery, and these often tend to be those with very close ties to original equipment manufacturers. But the three million challenge requires massive penetration into the SME and micro-business supply chain market, as most OEMs are already doing all they can.

I concede that poor ITP provision, such as the cases FE Week has found, don’t do the sector any favours

Independent training providers in the GTA England network are at the forefront of this penetration and need (and deserve) the level of recognition that will assure employers of quality provision. This is the sentiment Robert Halfon was alluding to, when he spoke of employers being able to have confidence in quality providers, on unveiling the RoATP.

My experience in the sector is broad and varied: as a senior project manager at Jaguar Land Rover for over 20 years, I had some responsibility for young engineers’ development, and having worked at a large college in Leicester, and now at an ITP, I am a firm believer in the benefits of the ITP sector, especially related to achieving this growth in apprenticeships now.

Nevertheless, I concede that poor ITP provision, such as the cases FE Week has found, don’t do the sector any favours and I support the important work the paper does to shine a  light on these.

However, as an avid reader who regularly circulates its articles to my staff, I am keen that they – and the many other employees countrywide at successful sector skills groups, as well as employers, providers and learning institutions – should feel part of a major success story, not part of the problem.

Let’s all work together to keep our eyes on the most important focus: every apprentice’s journey is critical, as it will be the only one they will take.


Bob Watmore is training and assessment manager at Derwent Training Association

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