A worrying picture at the heart of apprenticeships reform

What will reforms to apprenticeships mean for training providers?

16 December 2014 / Be the first to comment

Dorothy Lepkowska, contributor to TES supplements, discusses the implications of apprenticeship reforms relevant for training providers.

Just as apprenticeships started to be perceived as a viable, equal and alternative route into the workplace, so the landscape in which they operate is changing again. With the implementation of reforms still some months away, and a generally confused picture of what shape they will take, training providers are considering what to do next. Doing nothing appears not to be an option.

‘There has been very little information from the Government about how these reforms are going to shape up, so it’s been down to training providers to ensure employers know about them, especially those running small and medium-sized (SME) businesses,’ said Ruth Smith, managing director of Bootle-based training provider, Asset Training. Few have any real idea at all and those who know are suggesting they probably won’t run apprenticeships in the future. The picture is very worrying.’

One of the most significant changes is in the way apprenticeships will be funded. In the future, Government money will go directly to employers rather than to training providers. Furthermore, for every £2 of Government – tax-payers’ – money spent to train 19+ year olds, employers will have to commit £1 of their own.

Richard Guy, who heads up City & Guilds’ response to the reforms, said this requirement to match expenditure would be one of the biggest challenges: ‘Potentially this introduces whole new areas of bureaucracy,’ he said. ‘If the Government is saying to employers, ‘here is the money, use it for apprenticeships’ then that could be a simple system. But if employers have to provide matched funding, then they are likely to be expected to show exactly what the money is spent on and the system will become bureaucratic and subject to audit and tracking. This is a real pity because the reforms in apprenticeship content, and especially the move to end assessment, could be very positive. We are working with many of the trailblazers on this and making good progress.’

Funding certainly appears to be the biggest cause for concern. ‘There will be practical considerations, such as when to invoice employers to coincide with when they receive their funding so that we don’t get cash flow problems,’ Smith added. ‘New ways will have to be found of moving the money around generally, which is a whole industry in itself, and there may be employers who will try not to pay us, because that’s what happens in business.’

Pavlina Kiakides, communications manager with the Greater Merseyside Learning Providers Federation (GMLPF), which currently has 65 members in the north-east of England, said: ‘We are worried about how these reforms will impact on apprenticeship places. The majority are in SMEs which do not have the capacity to take on the administrative burden. Many will just opt out of doing apprenticeships altogether and this will cause a barrier to entry for thousands of young people.’

Quality of training is also an important issue. Training providers finding themselves in a market for courses may try to take shortcuts to be more competitive to employers. ‘At the moment we don’t know what steps are going to be taken, if any, to ensure that these standards are maintained,’ Kiakides added.

Furthermore, a large number of young people who go into apprenticeships are not high achievers. At the moment the training providers offer a lot of one-to-one support and sometimes bring in specialist equipment to meet apprentices’ particular needs. This input can’t be measured and has no price tag. Will employers have the time and resources to offer this sort of support and encouragement themselves?

Peta Fee, executive officer of IMPACT Apprenticeships in Loughborough, an Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA), is already seeing the impact of the reforms. She said a number of training providers had approached the company about future collaboration. ‘Training providers are certainly quite fearful and nervous about what the future holds. They have been used to the money coming in but now don’t know what their currency is. It may be difficult for them to plan ahead and organise their course delivery.’ 

For Smith, the reforms have focused the minds of all partners involved in delivering apprenticeships. ‘There is a realisation now among employers that the role of the training providers is pivotal,’ she said. ‘We have no choice but to respond to these changes as best as we can, and see it as an opportunity to cement the relationships we already have. ‘Our principal thoughts as training providers will be how to help employers through this. Never has the phrase employer engagement been as important as it is now.’

This article by Dorothy Lepkowska was originally published in Agenda, our magazine for training providers. See the latest issue of Agenda.

Read more about our report, Remaking Apprenticeships.

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