BBC’s Panorama – The Great Apprenticeship Scandal!

Apprenticeships….. An option with real opportunities!

Apprenticeships have been in the spotlight recently, following the BBC’s Panorama – “The Great Apprenticeship Scandal”, highlighting fast track apprenticeships with no real jobs at the end.

Having been a small ‘not for profit’ provider of training for young people since 1984, we watched this programme with great interest.   After all, we have been screaming that short training programmes with no jobs attached were not true apprenticeships since providers like Zenos opened their doors!  We were astonished when they were given a Grade 1 inspection by ALI, the predecessors of Ofsted, after just a couple of years in business, and were even more gob-smacked when their training programmes, and others like it, were declared ‘innovative’!  After all, ITEC’s had been set up to provide in-house IT training in the 1980’s, some 20 years previously and before the modern apprenticeships were available, so how could this be innovative?!  We had already moved on to training with jobs – a true apprenticeship – so surely this was a step in the wrong direction.  We told this to the powers that be but our words fell on deaf ears.

Anyway, the Panorama programme certainly woke up the powers that be and proved that these short apprenticeship programmes were more about getting learners qualifications in a very short space of time (and making the training, paid for by the tax payer, very profitable for the provider) than about finding them sustained employment.  In fact there were few employers involved at all, so where was the apprenticeship?  When only 3 out of a class of 20 are getting jobs, surely this is classroom provision not an apprenticeship, especially so when all the learners then leave and are quickly replaced by the next 20 (resulting in tidy profits at tax payers expense – not illegal, but surely not ethical!).

Interestingly, the Panorama programme then focused on ‘sub-contracting’.  Could this be to blame?  The main contract holders were at fault, surely, for not checking on the quality of the provision provided by their sub-contractors.   The Government introduced a minimum contracting level (MCL) to reduce their admin costs and this meant that small providers now had to sub-contract from a large provider whose contract was over the MCL.   Be careful what you wish for?   Zenos are a national provider and had their own apprenticeship contract so sub-contracting was clearly not to blame in this instance.   It was just blindness caused by good success rates.  Yes, the learners were getting their qualifications so this meant the success rates looked really good and putting hundreds through the same programme several times a year rather than taking a year to complete the programme meant the numbers were high – box ticked, job done!!  It took a while for the powers that be to realise that these learners were just ending up back in the unemployment line because they were not practising their new found skills with an employer and no jobs were lined up for them as part of their apprenticeship.

Anyway, back to sub-contracting…..  we are a sub-contractor, as are the other 14 partners within the NOVA partnership working out of South Essex College.     Essex providers have been in 3 consortiums since 2004, when MCL was first tabled, and this has been running very successfully.   Our individual contracts were all joined together to make one large contract and, in our 8th year now, most of the teething troubles have been sorted and the contract is admirably administered by a team of professionals within South Essex College.

Here at ITEC we offer apprenticeships with real jobs to young people across the district, fully supported by a wealth of local employers.

Over the years we have built up a steady database of local businesses that look to take on our apprentices.  Our level 2 programmes last 12 months and our level 3 programmes average 18 months.  Young people are employed by a company and receive all of their on-job training from their employer.  ITEC puts together a programme of learning that is delivered by our team at both our centre and the apprentice’s place of work.  95% of our apprentices continue in their employment at the end of their programme.  Most of our IT apprenticeships include the opportunity to gain valuable Microsoft and CompTIA qualifications alongside their City & Guilds accreditation.

We have quality standards in place, we are audited and monitored by the College and its officers, we are included in the College’s Ofsted inspection and our business is supported by NOVA and South Essex College.   We all work together to ensure that young people get the best start possible to their working lives and an apprenticeship, when done correctly, is a real opportunity.

As a result of all this hard work, carried out by dedicated staff throughout ITEC, the NOVA partnership and South Essex College, apprentices are thriving by taking part in apprenticeships in their truest form!