Our directors and senior managers have been in discussions with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, sector skills councils, employers and trade associations about implementing the Richard review.

What is emerging are the unforeseen consequences of handing employers direct financial and operational control of apprenticeships. Is the government only going to fund employers solely for training and testing, as the consultations suggest? This could remove the glue and wiring that training providers routinely use to make apprenticeships work if these ‘hidden’ activities are no longer funded.

For example, who will pick up an apprentice who leaves their employer for whatever reason during their apprenticeship?

Currently, 11 per cent of our apprentices change their employer during their apprenticeship. No funding or information will be available to the provider under the proposed funding systems to pick up these learners, so completion rates will decline by a further 11 per cent.

Who will check the eligibility of an employee for apprenticeship funding? This complex arena, especially with foreign nationals and overseas qualifications, is outside the expertise of most employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Will employers be expected to buy this service from a provider and will they pay if the employee is found to be ineligible for funding?

Who will provide the advocacy and pastoral care for young apprentices where sexual and racial harassment and initiation rites are still prevalent in certain sectors? Providers routinely mediate in these circumstances or in extreme circumstances remove the apprentice.

How will this be funded in future if government is only paying for actual training, or is the wellbeing and legal rights of the apprentice to be ignored? How will an employer react to being billed for exposing any failures in their equality procedures?

There is a continuing danger of some young apprentices being exploited and abused by unscrupulous or ignorant employers, especially SMEs without any HR resources. Providers often act as the unpaid HR specialists for SMEs, but without funding this will no longer happen.

More worrying are the health and safety issues whereby the provider will no longer have responsibility to check out the suitability of the premises or equipment for apprentices. Neither will they be in a position to ensure suitable induction to dangerous equipment or hazardous areas has taken place. Regrettably, the Health and Safety Executive and environmental inspectors usually arrive on the scene after tragedy has occurred and removing training providers from this role could increase the mortality rate of apprentices.

Again, who will check whether the employer has the necessary insurances and licences to operate in their sector, thus making the site ‘legal’ to operate apprenticeship programmes with government funding?

Who will ascertain the potential apprentice’s prior learning and experience, and how this affects the percentage of funding available, or monitor that the government is only paying for new skills and learning?

Who will decide whether the employer can offer the full apprenticeship programme to meet the criteria of the new standards or advise the employer and the potential apprentice which qualification is most suitable for them?

Where trailblazers have opted to use awarding bodies, are the awarding bodies geared up to deal with and approve more than 200,000 employer sites? Do employers, especially those without a training department, have the expertise and time to deal with awarding body approval, registration and certification?

Who will mentor the apprentice and their workplace supervisor throughout the programme, especially when the apprentice ‘wobbles’ as happens to the majority who are tempted to give up before completing?

The solution is to allow employers the choice of direct funding or through the training provider. Similarly, while the trailblazers are untested, the SASE (Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England) route or a trailblazer route should be available to each employer until comparisons can be made of which route provides the learner, the employer the better training and the country the better economic investment.

 



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3 Comments

  1. Very good piece by John that highlights some of the potential pitfalls of changing funding. HIT work very effectively with a large number of small employers , many of whom, as pointed out, do not have ‘HR’ functions nor the expertise to support young people as apprentices. Please put this in front of the relevant advisers and ministers so they might consider how they are going to assure quality in apprenticeships, rather than further dilute them.

  2. As a sector dominated by micro-businesses, the National Hairdressers Federation supports many of these comments. A survey of our members showed deep concern, not only about the (as yet unspecified) employer contributions, but also the significant administrative burden on small business owners. Negotiating prices with training providers isn’t something employers feel well-equipped for and the complexities of PAYE or Apprenticeship Credit accounts make direct funding for employers an unattractive option. However, we shouldn’t confuse what Trailblazers are doing – setting Apprenticeship standards which ensure Apprentices are ready for employment at the end of their programme – with the impact of funding reforms. For employers the great work being done by Trailblazers risks being completely undermined by the consequences of funding reforms.

  3. I have worked in the sector for nearly 20 years, having spent many years as a manager in the hospitality sector. Employers of small businesses are usually hands on, working along-side the team as well as managing the business. Additional issues to contend with such as sourcing suitable providers, monitoring them to ensure they are effective, and applying the complex funding rules and routes will put most SMEs off training completely. I used a large provider to supporting my staff training (apprenticeships in the 1990s)and it worked very well. The provider focussed on the knowledge development and the assessment and we concentrated on the skills development and some of the knowledge application