Training providers exploited and undervalued

Last week Peter Cobrin’s article on the FE Week website highlighted that all was not well in the world of training providers. In this second article he considers their claims of exploitation and being undervalued.

Training providers are businesses and need a financial and administrative environment that is sustainable, predictable, consistent, and transparent.

Is this the world in which training providers operate? I think not. We would not allow schools and FE colleges to work with young people under such uncertain financial and administrative pressures — although critics of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms suggest this is just what is happening.

I’ve heard stories from providers whose contractual terms were varied overnight on a like-it-or-lump-it basis, or where contracts were severed without warning with apprentices and employers being told before the provider.

I am not pretending that all providers are perfect, nor that all primes, be they colleges or companies, are rogues. But clearly all is not well, and the responses from David Way, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service and Geoff Russell, former chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, when questioned at the Select Committee on who is responsible for monitoring the relationships that deliver training, offer no reassurance.

The sharp end of the apprenticeship programme is where training and young person engage — whether it’s off-site in a college or training centre, or in the workplace.

The responsibilities of the employer are clear – wages, employment protection, health and safety or holiday pay. Government and authorities make great efforts to court and incentivise new employers. Contrast this with the world of the training provider.

I have been working with one well-regarded IT training company with more than 20 years’ successful experience in the highly competitive world of commercial IT training.
Their struggles to penetrate the complexities of the regulatory world of apprenticeships reflect well on their persistence and determination – and very badly on the processes and procedures.

Now we didn’t need a review to reach these conclusions did we?”

This is wrong. We need new entrants from the commercial training world who bring with them a commercial rigour and a real sense of what defines the quality delivery of training, learned a world where there are no soft landings.

The perception among training providers is that they operate in a sector where they are undervalued, expendable and easily replaced. Not a recipe for quality.
So where does this leave us?

First, the contractual relationships between training providers and their prime contractor need to be externally evaluated and monitored, and clear procedures and processes put in place for when issues arise.

There needs to be a clear code of practice to cover issues such as the rights of a prime contractor to contact an employer or apprentice over the head of the training provider.

This would eliminate the situation where one prime phoned around employers advising them that their training provider was “in liquidation” – a false allegation. Or, another example, where a prime contacted apprentices advising them that they were being transferred to another provider.

Second, there needs to be a hotline for training providers “in trouble”, so that issues don’t escalate.

Third, training providers who sub-contract need a clearly defined organisational and representational structure with a coherent voice at the top table.

Now we didn’t need a review to reach these conclusions did we?

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