Apprenticeships, Training Providers

Scores of jobs set to be lost at England’s largest apprenticeship provider

'Strategic review' of Lifetime Training's cost base 'directs resources towards areas of highest demand'

'Strategic review' of Lifetime Training's cost base 'directs resources towards areas of highest demand'

27 Mar 2023, 15:43

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England’s largest apprenticeship provider is planning to cut around 60 jobs – months after the company was taken over by its lenders, FE Week can reveal.

Lifetime Training said the move, which will reduce its workforce of around 1,000 staff by 5 per cent, follows a “strategic review of its cost base”.

FE Week understands the number of learners in some sectors including care is down from where the provider assumed it would be and so now staffing needs to be adjusted.

The redundancy consultation also comes amid an Education and Skills Funding Agency audit that is exploring possible overclaimed funding, such as for additional learner support, which could result in clawback of over £13 million.

It also follows a recent switch in ownership: at the end of last year private equity firm Silverfleet Capital sold Lifetime Training to Alcentra – one of the provider’s lenders which specialises in credit management, private credit and structured credit strategies.

Lifetime Training chief executive Jon Graham told FE Week the provider’s strategic review of staffing costs is not linked to the ongoing ESFA audit, which has not yet concluded, nor does he anticipate any further redundancies going forward.

Graham said: “The review has assessed operational and support roles across the broader business to ensure we are directing our resources towards the areas of highest demand.

“The review will likely see c.5 per cent of roles impacted by redundancy, and staff will be redeployed wherever possible. We remain dedicated to supporting all affected employees during this transition and ensure we provide a seamless process for our valued team members.”

He added that because his provider is in period of collective consultation with those impacted, it would be “unfair to speculate on the exact number of jobs or the roles and sectors affected”.

The company expects “minimal disruption to the experience of our learners and employer partners during this transition”.

Lifetime Training, founded in 1995, has more than doubled its workforce over the past decade as it grew to being the largest provider of apprenticeships in the country, delivering to big-name employers including the NHS, KFC, McDonalds, Wetherspoons, B&Q and David Lloyd, as well as the civil service.

Covid-19 hit the company hard and forced it to make around 300 people redundant in 2020 due to falling apprenticeship starts caused by the pandemic and associated lockdowns.

Starts have been steadily recovering since then. The provider was delivering to around 20,000 apprentices when Ofsted visited in May 2022. But the resulting ‘requires improvement’ report criticised the firm’s focus on financial performance and starts over quality, as well as a lack of off-the-job training and poor achievement rates.

Lifetime Training has made several leadership changes over the past year, including bringing in Geoff Russell, who used to head up the Skills Funding Agency, as chair and Jon Graham as chief executive.

The firm’s latest accounts show that its turnover increased to £71.1 million compared to £59.9 million in 2020. But its EBITDAE (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and exceptional items) fell from £9.391 million in year ended July 31, 2020 to £2.249 million in the 18 month period ended January 31, 2022.

The accounts also reveal the company made a loss for the financial period of £9.2 million, compared to a profit of £6.8 million in 2020.

Graham said: “Lifetime remains a financially stable with a growing learner base. We are committed to delivering high-quality training and we continue to invest in key areas. The strategic review of our cost base ensures that we are directing our resources towards the areas of highest demand unlocking further growth.”

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  1. Potter

    Call me a cynic, but whenever I see non standard financial reporting frequency, it’s a warning sign.

    In this case, their last accounts were for an 18 month period and now it’s going to be another 18 month. More time for information not to be made public. Perfectly legal, but a conscious strategic decision nonetheless.

    Also, when accounts lead with a strong emphasis on progress toward environmental targets or equality issues (ie the moral and ethical stuff), sequencing can be telling. ‘Look at all this good stuff we’re doing here, don’t worry about that lump in the carpet in the corner’…

    • Sean Philpott

      Good point Potter. Most importantly though the underlying financial position of this business is concealed through the various myriad of holding companies where the more than £100m of debt fits. Designed wholly for the trading company to show it can comply with the ESFA financial health ratings but if you look at the real picture the financial health scores 0 on the points score. Not the only business that is party to this ‘play acting’ and the ESFA choose to turn a blind eye for when it suits them.

      This is a business that chose the wrong sectors and had a strategy of stack it high and sell it cheap in the hope it could be flipped to another buyer – but it failed badly.