Why the Apprenticeship Funding Reforms won’t work for smaller businesses
Setting the Scene
At ITEC, we are very concerned about the Government’s reforms to the way apprenticeships will be funded and their effect on our small, not-for-profit, community-based business. The funding reforms will suit large employers and corporations but it is mostly small to medium size businesses that will be put off by them. Most of our employers are in this category and are concerned that extra bureaucracy and the removal of full-funding for 16-18 year old apprentices will possibly mean they will not engage in apprenticeships in the future. We believe the frameworks and qualifications should be reformed but to change the way apprenticeships are funded at the same time seems like throwing out the whole bath, not just the baby with the bath water!
Matthew Hancock MP, #MatthewHancockMP tells us that training providers are not delivering what employers want. Yet we are very busy jumping through many hoops to ensure that all elements of the current SASE apprenticeship frameworks are delivered. We agree the SASE frameworks are cumbersome, but when they came into being, we were told they were written by employers for employers, so how are we not delivering what they want?
At the moment, apprenticeships are open to 16-24 year olds, with the 16-18 years olds being fully funded and the 19-24 being part-funded. We assist with the recruitment and selection of apprentices, saving the small employer time and money, as well as monitoring progress throughout the whole apprenticeship, including the work skills. Our employers do contribute to the programmes by paying for the Microsoft and CompTIA qualifications that we are able to run alongside the apprenticeships and have no aversion to paying towards the cost of training when they feel they are getting something extra. In our experience, the employers supporting Administration or Using IT frameworks for the over 19’s do not agree to paying cash contributions as they either don’t feel they are getting added value or don’t believe they should be contributing extra to the apprentice’s training above what they themselves deliver in the work place. Even when we try to incentivise them with additional courses, they usually end up going with providers who do not charge any contributions.
How will the funding reforms work?
The funding reforms would filter the funding via the employer rather than the colleges and training providers, meaning employers would have to fund the training up front before claiming it back, a real cash flow problem for most small businesses. We will no longer have the funded resources to help the employers and learners with recruitment or supporting learners between jobs to help them find alternative employment, all things we are able to provide within the current funding.
The reforms would open funding for apprenticeships to employers for staff members over the age of 24. This means that any employer can apply for funding an apprentice of any age as long as they are in a new job or in a job role with significant changes to their current role.
Some questions need to be asked
What will happen if there is a run of funding applications from larger employers for their older workers to such an extent the budget is used up very quickly? What is the likelihood of larger corporations taking on a hundred apprentices for just ten jobs? It doesn’t seem these scenarios have yet been thought out and we are concerned apprenticeships will revolve back into what they were in the 70’s and early 80’s when large employers delivered hundreds of apprenticeships to young people, with higher academic grades, and where few gained sustained employment at the end of them. Been there, done that! In fact, ITEC was born out of the training initiatives brought in for young people in the early 80’s to combat this.
Another major concern is the hard to reach 16-18 year olds who didn’t do well at school or who have some learning difficulties. These learners often blossom with the smaller employers and the smaller training providers that have the understanding and the time to develop them. These are the young people the larger corporations are likely to ignore or that won’t do well at interview when many learners are applying for the same places.
- What if the young person disengages or drops outs?
- Who is going to support them and help them find an alternative employer?
- How often is the employer going to be able to claim funding for the same job by starting a new apprentice each time one learner disengages?
We predominantly deliver apprenticeships in an area of high unemployment and to young people from schools that don’t achieve the greatest of results. The work training providers like ourselves do is crucial to raising aspirations amongst these young people and offering apprenticeships at aged 16 is the best way to catch and inspire those young people who often come from third or fourth generation benefit families. Cutting the funding for 16-18 year olds will only limit their choice to staying in school until 18 (when they aren’t doing well at school anyway) rather than exploring other opportunities. If the funding changes and training providers and employers find they can no longer support 16-18 apprenticeships due to the high cost of delivery then we are doing a great disservice to these young people who may have flourished in an apprenticeship.
Training providers have become experts at working with employers and have proven we can engage with them much better than the colleges, mostly because we can offer delivery all year round. Sure, there have been several unscrupulous outfits operating in this field but they can be monitored and shut down for poor performance, as has been the case recently. However, if the funding changes how will employers be monitored? This is part and parcel of what a training provider does. We monitor and maintain relations with good employers who wish to take apprentices for all the right reasons. We make sure that apprentices are treated fairly and we won’t work with an employer again if they’ve proven to be in it for the wrong reasons or have taken advantage of their young apprentices. Who will protect the interests of the apprentices going forward?
Where are we now?
There has been some consultancy on the new reforms, albeit most of which has been aimed at employers, and we have fed our concerns into this. However, it is quite disconcerting to find out that the AELP response and the Apprenticeships4England response representing the views of hundreds of training providers, colleges and smaller employers were only counted as 1 response each!
Specialising in ICT, we have been involved with the E-Skills UK Trailblazer and support their training providers’ workshops. Again, we are concerned because all of the employers who will be trialling the ICT trailblazer are large employers like BT, Virgin Media, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, etc. There is no representation from smaller employers and, hence, no feedback from them.
We are passionate about ITEC, young people and #apprenticeships. We believe that tomorrow’s workforce reflects the time and investment that we put in to them today and many of the employers we work with have generations of apprentices that are now supervising and line managing today’s apprentices.