Panorama to focus on Zenos, Morrisons and subcontracting



Panorama will broadcast  ‘The Great Apprentice Scandal’ on BBC One at 8.30 tonight, and will focus on 16-18 IT apprenticeships delivered by Zenos (although not mentioned in their press release), Morrisons apprenticeships delivered by Elmfield Training and a number of apprenticeship subcontractors.

Read the Panorama press release below in full:

More than 1 in 10 of all apprenticeships created in England last year was with a single supermarket chain.  An investigation for BBC Panorama has found that nearly 4 in 10 of Morrison’s entire workforce are now classed as apprentices.

Norman Pickavance – Group HR Director at Morrison’s defends the high number, saying:

“Forty per cent of people are trying to get a basic qualification.  People who leave school without a qualification often feel that they don’t have access and don’t see the kind of skilled jobs or managerial positions as something they can aspire to”.

At a time of record unemployment, though, the programme asks whether that’s really an apprenticeship and if it’s a good use of taxpayers’ money.

Elmfield Training, the private company that accredits Morrisons’ apprentices has a government contract worth £37 million.  Elmfield made a profit of £12 million in 2010 and the company’s CEO, Ged Syddall, awarded himself a dividend of nearly £3 million.  Yet when the company was inspected by OFSTED recently, its training for Morrisons was rated as ‘satisfactory’, the second lowest rating possible.

The retail apprenticeship, which last year took an average of just six months to complete, has also been criticised by providers of more traditional apprenticeships.

Charlie Mullins – founder of Pimlico Plumbers – employs 18 apprentices out of a staff of 200. Their training takes a minimum of 3 years.  Mr Mullins says of short retail apprenticeships:

“I think all they’re really doing is undervaluing the word apprentice, and they’ve really just seen a loophole in the system that they can claim money on it.”

Nick Linford, Editor of FE Week, says: “We’ve seen record growth in apprenticeships.  Big headline numbers look great on paper but scratch under the surface and maybe we shouldn’t be calling them all apprenticeships.”

A huge rise in coalition government funding has seen the number of apprenticeships in England rise by 63% last year, to 450 000. Traditionally, FE colleges have been used to deliver off-the-job apprenticeship training.  Their teaching is subject to OFSTED inspections every 3 years.

Panorama however has discovered large number of training providers are able to slip through the inspection radar. As colleges struggle to find the capacity to cope with demand, there has been an increase in subcontracting to private training providers which are not subject to the same level of scrutiny. Panorama took a closer look at subcontractors with contracts worth more than £500,000 and found that £230,000,000 worth of work was given last year to companies who haven’t been inspected by OFSTED.

Forward Thinking Training Solutions, based in Basingstoke, is one such subcontractor that hasn’t been inspected.  The company was awarded £2.7 million in government contracts from 4 different colleges last year to train apprentices.  Although its background is in security training, Forward Thinking was contracted through Bournville College in Birmingham to deliver training for apprenticeships in painting and decorating.

18-year old Kyle Emery from Halesowen was one of 291 apprentices accepted onto the course last September.  Kyle says the training was virtually non-existent:

“Basically all it was, was ‘here’s some paint, here’s a brush, crack on, don’t make a mess’.  No one actually came in to teach us what we was doing.”

Kyle and all the other apprentices had their training cut short in January this year and Forward Thinking has now gone into administration.  Kyle says the apprenticeship was a waste of time.  He says:

“I should have either stopped on at college or got a proper job, not an apprenticeship.  The way I see it, it was just cheap labour”

Scott Upton, Vice Principal of Sandwell College in Birmingham, said a formal apprenticeship is the “gold standard of vocational training” and rushing candidates through an apprenticeship programme will devalue the entire system.

“When you get new entrants into the market wanting to put people through as quickly as possible without providing the highest quality, that’s got to be a cause for concern.”

At another firm, JML Dolman in Wolverhampton, Allan Middleton, who left the firm 5 weeks ago, was an internal verifier for apprentices.

Mr Middleton said he understood the company was being paid £9,000 for each apprenticeship completion award issued.

It was his job to verify the apprentices’ work had been done, which would allow JML Dolman to apply for more funding. He said he refused to do so but found evidence it was happening anyway.

In a statement, JML Dolman said there had been no deliberate attempt to deceive or mislead: “There were administrative failing which resulted in mistakes being made. These were genuine errors.

“As soon as these anomalies were identified…those responsible were dismissed and systems put in place to ensure there could be no recurrence of these problems.”

But a current employee has told the BBC that the problems still exist.

The whistleblower told the programme that paperwork obtained by Panorama that shows apprenticeships as complete, could not have been at the time they were signed because the firm did not employ an assessor then.

John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, says that the government will not tolerate subcontractors who’re delivering substandard apprenticeships.  He says:

“The crackdown on subcontractors that we are delivering will be relentless.  The character of subcontracting is something that I was sufficiently concerned about in order to insist that we tighten the screw.”



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21 Comments

  1. Whilst the Zenos program takes full advantage of the minimal wage loophole it does however provide a high standard of learning and international qualifications and the apprentices also get paid an embarrassingly low get acceptable amount.
    Its also good to note that the program is aimed at 16-25 yr olds this age group is usually still under financial support of their parents if this is the case the money is seen as a + However for an individual person living on their own I personally would not recommend this course as the wage is simply to low.
    As for the employment levels in my personal experience with the Zenos programs and my personal opinion I feel the Zenos has provided everything at their disposal to get apprentices into a work placement .

      • Sam morgan

        Obviously don’t know what you are on about.

        The course is 5 months long. If you want to learn and willing to learn then you will. Unfortunately a lot of people on the Zenos courses are there for the £100 a week. I did the Zenos course before it was taken over by Pearson and I have now been employed in an IT job for over 1 yr and 6 months. Doing the Zenos course was one of the best career move I ever made and I would do it again.

    • Tino,
      That’s not good to hear, try looking at The Apprenticeship Vacancy Matching Service now before you get to the end of your programme, a new provider with a real employer Apprenticeship can approach the funding agency to fund your learning again where they feel you have been disadvantaged. Other than that, contact JML Dolmans partner College directly – a letter to the Principal will be more effective than a call into reception, let them know your situation and request support.

      Good luck, hope this helps.

  2. An Apprentice is not a student. An Apprentice is an employee, the real job has to come, FIRST (BEFORE the educational programme can start).

    Since the 1300s and earlier, an apprenticeship has always been:
    – a workplace-based programme
    – where a rookie EMPLOYEE is given work experience alongside continuous, on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and assessment
    – by an (or some) expert(s) in their field/trade/profession
    – with a view towards a long-term employment contract
    – in the company where they are apprenticed.

    To deliver otherwise and then to draw down funding for it as an apprenticeship is, I am afraid, just wrong.

    Let’s call a spade a spade and an apprenticeship an apprenticeship. And, let’s call a short course with no real, prospected job outcome (however fabulous that short course may be), simply, a course with no prospected job outcome.

    My personal opinion.

  3. Angel Cakes

    The Zenos course is one of the best experiences of my life! I have a great job in IT which they got me and I am more qualified than some of the people I work with. The ex learners on panorama slatting the course are obviously disgruntled and it was probably self inflicted, I bet they were late and didn’t have a very good attitude but yet still expected a job to land in their laps with no effort required on their behalf. Don’t believe everything you see a lot of young people lie!!!!!

    • Sam morgan

      Hi Angel Cakes,

      I’m glad somebody sees this in the exact same light as me. I don’t think Zenos deserves to be on Panorama as it seems to be a very one sided story given by ex pupils. Like I said in my previous posts a lot of the pupils were not willing to learn and just wanted the £100 a week. It’s easy to round up some of these people and give the company a bad name. You can’t force naturally lazy people to study hard and progress full through the class when there is another 30 students.

  4. Mary Wharmby

    I was a Zenos apprentice (started September 2011) who gained all the qualifications available over the 6 month period within the Manchester academy. If you chose to gain these qualifications which included: CompTIA A+, 2 MTAs, MCTS, the BTEC and other vendor qualifications then you would be paying over £1000 altogether. I however, payed nothing for these exams and I didn’t spend more worthless years in college as I previously spent 2 years in a sixth form with the skeptism of going to university- no one wants to pay those fees, right?
    The recruitment team (who literally is/ was just two people in an acamedy of 150 ‘apprentices’) never guaranteed that they would find us jobs; we had to be persistent and apply for as many jobs as was physically possible. I applied for over 30 positions online and received nothing back though. An interview was provided by one of the Zenos recruitment consultants (the first and only interview I had taken) and I actually got the job working for another company under Pearson, Pearson VUE.
    Unfortunately, Zenos still have me ‘by the cojones’ until June ’12. I don’t even know if this ‘job’ is permanent (I’m on week 3 right now and haven’t even touched a helpdesk) and being a ‘helpdesk technician’ is all I can aspire to at the moment because Zenos screwed us over basically. If I work hard then I assume to move up somehow to literally, ‘base 1’ on the helpdesk, if not, I am going to get ‘turfed out’. Basically all I have been doing or the last three week is organising their hardware stockroom and listening to helpdesk calls (that was in the first week.) My optimism is dwindling by this point :s.

    • I studied law at University for 5 years and spent over £20,000 to obtain my qualifications and as with most people straight out of education I was nothing more than a glorified tea maker at first with some small responsibilities and shadowing colleagues. This is the way the world works we all have to start at the bottom. People with 1st class business and law degrees will take menial jobs within companies just to get their foot in the door. What you should be reflecting on is YOU HAVE A JOB which is a lot more than a lot of people can say these days. You should be doing everything in your power to make sure your position is permanent. You are the only person who can affect how people judge you and ultimately you are the only one who can show them why you should be permanent. Take some responsibility for your own future because if you don’t nobody else will.

  5. Hmm interesting. Got ta agree with the fact that Zenos do provide a high level of teaching, but the job issue can’t be their fault. The employment team has tripled over the past few months. Everyone knows how hard it is to get a job these days. Also, it’s a work placement we need to complete the Zenos apprenticeship programme. Therefore, I think it’s better to apply for a placement first, rather than a job. Atleast ul achieve a better understanding of what ur job role is going to conclude. Once u have completed the placement you will have proper experience behind the job role. Most students go Rejected due to lack of experience. It is becoming a real headache tho.

  6. Its me again

    I loved the whole interview of the lads playing pool in the pub going on about the fact that they had done an apprenticeship and had still had no job. When did people stop taking responsibility for their own lives and start expecting everything to be handed to them on a plate. I understand that apprenticeships are work based learning and therefore should go hand in hand with a work based training scheme however people always want someone else to do the hard work for them these days. I wanted to gain some experience whilst I was at uni I didnt wait for my university to offer me a work placement I found one on my own. I am not blind enough to suppose that there are a limitless supply of jobs out there but you certainly have no chance of obtaining one whilst sitting on your hands and waiting for it to come to you.

  7. thetrainer2012

    I love the above responses from a few ex-Zenos learners. As a trainer once employed by Zenos lets get a few things straight.

    1. The majority of Trainers at Zenos work damn hard to get demanding students like Mary through the A+, MCTS, MTA and other qualifications, then do the back-end work with employers to get them a position.

    2. Zenos is like work, if you turn up on time give 100% effort, pass your exams and complete your work/assignments on time you’ll get to the front of the queue. Like in anyjob!!

    3. I placed the deserving students in positions ranging from £12k to £22k which is basically matching Graduate starting salary at my old organisation.

    4. We are in a recession and supply and demand kicks in “I applied for 30 jobs” Boo Hoo!!!!!! Fact:- Over 200 applicants apply for one position, ask any recruitment advisor in IT. You are getting paid every week to pass exams and skill up – MAN UP.

    Zenos has a host of problems poor communication, management that supports the worst trainers rather than letting the better ones excel. Overall weakness on ‘firing’ idiot who wangle their way on the course for the money…That’s the issue here!!!

    Maybe the issue is with a weak society that pampers to needy kids who don’t know a good thing when they’ve got it!

    Good luck Mary on the job!!! For the next few seconds anyway as if I was at Pearson the next certificate with your qualifications would be your P45.

    Let’s see the success guys on here, not the idiots that held the willing back!!

  8. Mary Wharmby

    Believe me when I say I work incredibly hard for everything I get. If you actually knew me, you’d understand how desperate I am not to be jobless. I have been unbelievably lucky up to now to have had several permanent, but part time jobs but now fear my luck is going to run out. I see people all the time who have been in brilliant situations (permanent jobs with their own place, car and everything else) and have been made redundant- just like that.
    Zenos is not at all like work, so let me get that straight right now. it’s like going to college everyday but instead of getting EMA (£30), you get the apprentice wage (£91) and you have to stay in the building from 9-5. how can they call this an apprenticeship? It has no work placement immediately attached to it which is why everyone is panicking now because they are not secure..
    Knowing that Pearson VUE was under Pearson (just like Zenos), made me realise that they may have been pressured into taking on apprentices to both decrease the number of learners currently still in the academy and reduce the final figures of those who have been abandoned by Zenos before their contract ends in June. Therefore, they could have me doing whatever they want until June before ‘kicking me out’. My speculation is that those people who are still in the academy will have their ‘apprenticeships’ terminated and be just like the guys at the beginning of this ‘Panorama’ episode.
    I feel like a statistic although still better off than the majority. People who don’t have placements should be fighting this battle themselves, not me- I’m done with fighting for the underdogs. I assume if I work hard, I can move up and possibly keep the job out of determination but when week 10 gets here, pessimism will probably kick in again if I’ve not been given a proper responsibility. Oh, and as for suggestion that I didn’t work hard enough to find my own job, things my have been easier if Zenos’ Internet wasn’t so slow- 150 apprentices sharing the same bandwidth at the same time? Carcrash!!!

  9. Stephen Sargent

    I was a student in maidstone at Zenos Academy,

    Unfortantly not all 16 – 18 years olds have the drive and only a some will end up landing a good IT Job,

    I my self am on my 2nd job,

    I was a IT Assistant at a hospital now im a IT Systems & Networks Administrator just 1.5 years after completing the course.

    I would also like to point out,

    Zenos could train and provide knowledge for qualifications left right and centre,

    They could also set up students for job interviews and help them with there CV

    however if somone has no social skills or cannot sell them selfs,

    They will most likley unemployed,

    Doing Zenos was what got me into the IT Sector,

    I tried many things and it was Zenos that helped me persue my dream,

    Anyone who didn’t get a job,

    Its your own fault,

    Theres plenty of examples if you apply your self.

    and im proud to be one!

  10. I was a manager at Zenos covering four academies. I found the higher management were focussed on the ££ and lost interest in the realities. I found the learners disinterested for the most part and only chasing the £100 a week. The management of the entire process from recruitment to placement was flawed. The learner attitudes and lack of discipline was eye-opening having expected to meet keen geek wannabees, instead I met Call of Duty experts, high levels of absence and rudeness. I reckon maybe 5% of the learners were employable. The biggest flaw was the inability to remove the disruptive elements – because each success was worth £15k. By success I mean those who passed or cheated their way through the NVQs with the help of Zenos. Helped to cheat by Zenos that is, just to be clear.