Skills bootcamps: Study finds ‘inappropriate’ interviews and already-skilled workers on courses

Research of wave 2 bootcamps finds more than half of learners already have level 4 or above qualifications

Research of wave 2 bootcamps finds more than half of learners already have level 4 or above qualifications

More than half of the learners on wave two skills bootcamps already had qualifications at level 4 or above, a new government-commissioned study has found.

Research published by the Department for Education also reported “inappropriate” interviews despite guaranteed job interviews being a cornerstone of the flagship short courses, as well as starts dominated by men.

Skills bootcamps were launched in 2020 as free courses up to 16 weeks in length, designed to get learners quickly trained in areas of key skills shortages.

The study, carried out by CFE Research, assessed the implementation of wave two of the programme, which ran in the 12 months from April 1 2021.

However, while the report outlined some interesting new findings, key figures on completion rates and outcomes still remain out of the public domain.

The report said that information will be published in a forthcoming study, although a date has not been provided on that yet.

Here are the key findings from the DfE’s latest bootcamps study.

Places going to already-skilled workers

More than half – 55 per cent – of bootcamp starters already had a qualification of level 4 or above, the report says.

That proportion is above that of the annual population survey data for England which indicates that just under half, 49 per cent, of the population aged 20 to 64 hold a level 4 or higher qualification in 2021.

The report pointed out that there were a higher proportion of applicants than starts from learners with a level 1 qualification – 12 per cent compared to 6 per cent, while percentage of starts with a level 6 (honours degree level) was higher among starts than it was from applicants, 22 per cent of applicants compared to 29 per cent of starts.

“This suggests that those with a higher educational level more successfully converted to being a skills bootcamp start in comparison with those with a lower educational level,” the report said.

Fudged interviews

One of the key selling points for bootcamps is the guarantee of a job interview. The survey found this component was attractive for four in five learners.

But report authors discovered that it didn’t always turn out that way, reporting that some learners did not get their interview, while others found the interview offered was “unsuitable and not aligned to their skills need”.

It found that some participants received emails from their provider that just contained a list of adverts, while others found interview offers were inappropriate because roles were in the wrong location, offered insufficient salary or were unrelated to their training.

However the report said that some learners may have been offered interviews after the surveys took place because of the timing of the fieldwork.

Starts dominated by men

According to the data, two thirds of the 16,120 starts were men (67 per cent).

Around one in four starters, 28 per cent, were on Universal Credit, and a quarter of learners had caring responsibilities either for children or adults (26 per cent).

Previous FE Week analysis found that the flagship skills bootcamps policy was only funding sectors heavily dominated by men.

Huge demand for HGV bootcamps…

Just one in seven applicants for HGV bootcamps secured a place on a course.

Data revealed that there were 33,294 applicants for just 4,739 course starts, while digital bootcamps had a 2:1 ratio of applicants to starts – 20,354 applicants and 9,874 starts.

Total overall applicants for wave two bootcamps were 55,481, of which 16,118 started courses.

…but affordability problems remain for providers

Delivery of first year HGV bootcamps was hampered by difficulties in booking practical tests, often resulting in them taking longer than 16 weeks. That was due to a backlog in tests from the Covid-19 pandemic that meant demand for slots was higher than usual.

Coupled with the rising petrol prices in 2022 and providers paying for staff and equipment they couldn’t use while waiting for tests, the report noted it impacted on affordability of the training. Some providers lost money because they were unable to claim funding, it said.

For learners on Universal Credit, the delays left them in a difficult position where they risked losing benefits unless they got a job, the survey found.

Providers lambast ‘unfair’ payment…

Some providers described the payment schedule as “unfair”, claiming that the milestones for funding meant “a substantial amount of their training provision is unpaid”.

The report said a small amount of the funding was on evidence of training commencing, with a larger proportion once a learner completed training and a final sum when providers demonstrated a positive outcome or job offer.

Chasing evidence added extra administrative burdens for providers, some of which had to hire dedicated members of staff to secure evidence for payments, the document said.

It left some providers questioning if it was profitable, and some “might have to reconsider whether they would bid for future contracts”.

…but smaller providers were ‘kept in business’

Survey respondents from smaller independent training providers said that bootcamp funding was “critical for the continued success of their business” as a result of struggles they faced recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and inflationary pressures.

Providers delivering pre-apprenticeship or short duration training reported that offering bootcamps was a “logical expansion” to their business.

Not enough time

On the higher-level digital courses, report authors found learners felt “rushed”, with some courses pitched at the wrong level or trying to cover too much content.

One fifth of survey respondents said there was not enough time to learn the necessary skills and knowledge for their bootcamp, with some saying that some providers had tried to condense too much of the curriculum from pre-existing longer courses into those 16-week bootcamps.

Employer characteristics

Nearly two thirds, 65 per cent, of employers that engaged with bootcamps were smaller firms employing up to 249 people, management information indicated.

It said that a quarter of those engaged offered an interview15 per cent gave time to employees to train on a bootcamp and one in ten offered a job to a learner.

Bootcamps ‘transformed lives’, says minister

Robert Halfon, minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education pointed to a number of positives in the report, and referenced an extra £34 million pledged by the Chancellor in the spring budget to expand the number of places to 64,000 a year by the 2024/25 financial year.

“As this report shows, it has transformed lives by allowing people to pursue careers they’ve always wanted by breaking down the barriers that often make it seem impossible to retrain or change paths. It is also brilliant to see that skills bootcamps have improved the diversity of the companies involved,” he said.

Halfon added that the short courses helped learners to “gain new skills, boosting their confidence to get better jobs with higher wages.”

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  1. Looks like yet another employment related training initiative where the DfE and DWP have spectacularly failed to work together. Doesn’t even look like it was considered!

    Can anyone think of a programme like this that has broadly been considered to have been successful in the last 50 years?

    • I had a really good experience with mine, it may have just been luck. Seems really hit or miss from what I’ve read. I agree with the point in the article though – the boot camps aren’t thorough or long enough (12 weeks) to really count as formal education in the slightest or educated enough for an entry level job. It was useful as an “add on” to refresh some things I’ve become rusty on.