Is Mr Hancock doing to Apprenticeships what Dr Beeching did to the railways?

Following on from the announcement in the Autumn Statement that the Reform of Apprenticeships will see the funding placed with the employers from 2017, I read the ‘Funding Reform Technical Consultation’ with interest. #Apprenticeships

It seems that our politicians just do not listen to us and our protests that this won’t work fall on deaf ears!   Matthew Hancock MP clearly knows better than all of us who have been operating in the training industry for 30 years or more!  He opens the consultation document with the sweeping statements “Training providers should receive their funding from employers not a public agency” and “Positioning the employer as the customer would increase providers’ incentives to respond to business needs”.

For one thing, Mr Hancock, employers are busy running their businesses and adding the administrative burden, no, nightmare, of working with Government funding regimes is just too much, especially for the smaller businesses.    Transferring the payments to the employer is just a smoke screen to hide the enormity of the funding cuts!

For another thing, Mr Hancock, Training Providers were responding to business needs just fine until some bureaucrats decided on the SASE frameworks.  With so many hoops to jump through and so many boxes to tick, we have to deliver what the framework says NOT what our employers want.  So whose fault is it?

So how will the reforms work?   Well, employers will be expected to recruit their apprentice and register them on a Government portal.    Then they will need to pay a registered training provider for the courses and claim a percentage of it from the Government using one of the 2 methods described in the consultation; PAYE model and Apprenticeship Credit model.    A compulsory employer cash contribution will be introduced for all apprenticeships, regardless of size of the employer or age of the apprentice – “enforced co-investment” they are calling it.   There will be an additional Government contribution for 16-17 year olds but this will not be fully funded as it is now.

No, this reform is all about cutting funding and is directly in response to the review carried out after disreputable training providers ripped a few million out of the public purse without delivering quality and value for their learners and were, in fact, getting away with delivering quick apprenticeships in large numbers with no jobs at the end of the them – tut, tut, where were the auditors?     I would like to think those training providers are hanging their heads in shame but no, they have scarpered, leaving the rest of us to get tarred with the same brush (again!) and pick up the pieces.   But …. these reforms are dangerous to the small training providers.  How many of us will survive these challenging times and be around to help the Government (or, more likely, the next Government) to pick up the pieces when they’ve finished ripping our apprenticeship programmes to bits?

How many employers will continue to take on apprentices when they see the dismal amount of funding they will receive and how much they will be expected to pay themselves?   They may decide it’s more cost effective to take on an experienced person rather than train and shape their own apprentices.

Oh, the big employers will continue to take apprentices as they have the infrastructure in place and have coped with running apprenticeships themselves for many years.   For them, these reforms are ideal and gives them access to public funding for something they would be doing anyway and for more of their new employees than they can currently claim for!   But will they be under pressure to deliver more programmes than there are jobs?  Will it back to the 1970’s with 100 apprentices being trained for 10 jobs?    It has taken 30+ years to move on from this type of apprenticeship to where we are today, where each apprentice is usually taken on because there is a job or a need there.   Today’s apprentice gets a full suite of qualifications, including some added bonuses (for example in our case these would be Microsoft and CompTIA qualifications) and 90% of them achieve sustained employment as a direct result of their apprenticeship.

It’s the small to medium businesses that will be affected the most and it’s these businesses that recruit the majority of today’s apprentices.     I fear, as do most of my colleagues, that we are hearing the death knell ringing loudly for the small apprentice programmes and their providers and this will be felt near and far across the land as apprentice places decrease in vast numbers over the next few years!

Unhappy or concerned about this?   Read and respond to the consultation while you have the chance!


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