The Skills Network pulls out of apprenticeships

'Real challenges' with funding levels forces online provider to turn full focus to AEB and bootcamps

'Real challenges' with funding levels forces online provider to turn full focus to AEB and bootcamps

25 May 2023, 15:02

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A major online training provider has put a stop to its loss-making apprenticeship division and turned full focus to skills bootcamps and adult education.

The Skills Network (TSN) has started the process of moving its current apprentices to alternative providers to complete their training.

Chief executive Mark Dawe (pictured) put the decision to pull out of the provision down to the “real challenges” with current funding levels for apprenticeships in sectors like care, which do not cover the true cost of delivery.

TSN moved into the apprenticeships space at the time of the levy reforms in 2017. The provision is a minor part of its business, having recorded fewer than 300 starts in each of the past two years in sectors that also include early years, leadership and management and IT.

FE Week understand that fewer than 30 staff will be impacted by the closure of TSN’s apprenticeships.

Dawe said: “It is a sad, but well-established fact, that there are real challenges with the current level of apprenticeship funding bands.

“We had already suspended starts in care, as we couldn’t continue to guarantee a high quality of provision for this vital sector, with the funding government provides per learner.”

TSN, rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, has long been one of the largest providers of subcontracted provision in further education. Government data shows the provider currently holds 36 separate subcontracting deals with colleges and councils worth over £8.5 million.

The company’s accounts show it enrolled over 25,000 students onto adult education courses last year, which are all delivered online.

TSN has also moved into skills bootcamps – a flagship government scheme worth over half a billion pounds that involves free courses for learners of up to 16 weeks in length, designed to get people quickly trained in areas of key skills shortages.

“Hundreds” of people enrol onto TSN’s bootcamps every month, according to the company, in areas that include care, digital marketing, cyber security and project management.

TSN said this period of “exciting growth” in bootcamps, the company’s online resources and adult education contributed to the “strategic decision” to cease its direct apprenticeship delivery.

A statement from the provider said: “We are very proud of our achievements in the apprenticeship space in which we have helped over 700 apprentices across a variety of sectors over the past five years – but the time is right for us to focus on the increased growth of our core business, maximising the positive difference we can make to learners, businesses, and communities across the UK.”

TSN added that while it will not be providing direct delivery of apprenticeships going forward, the company will “continue to support other providers of apprenticeships through our online learning resources and assessment packages through our platform EQUAL”.

Dawe said: “We are doing everything we can to find alternative roles for the small proportion of TSN staff affected, either within the business or transferring with the apprentices.”

TSN’s accounts for 2022 show turnover of £18.8 million but a loss before tax of £700,000.

The financial statements said the “negative financial impact” for the year was due to “combined cost implications of the return to normality post Covid-19, the wider economic factors and the new strategic activities have”, but added the company “expect these changes to bottom out and improve during 2023 and onwards”.

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    • Mark Burgess

      I totally agree, very sad.
      Apprenticeships offer so much to many in all sectors. Unfortunately the levy system and insufficient funding continues to reduce opportunities for prospective apprentices.
      Perhaps people like Mark Dawe who understands the value of apprenticeships and wants to support learners should have a role
      in Government.

  1. David Armory

    Providers that deliver quality are losing out. Which means apprentices are losing out. In turn the reputation of apprenticeships is losing out with both young people and employers. Decent rates need to be paid to decent providers with tight quality control.
    In order to make decent margins one North East provider (formal complaint has been sent to ESFA by recent member of staff ) has had apprentices doing training in their own time, none apparently have had the 20% or 6 hour/ week average, unqualified staff have been involved in delivery, etc, etc.
    It seems to make a decent margin the provider had to throw quality away. There should be no conflict between margin and quality.