The Apprenticeship Effect: Winners and Losers in the FE Training Market

In all of the changes to the apprenticeship system in England it seems that for most of the stakeholders concerned the news – should it all come to pass as planned – is only good.

For employers and potential apprenticeship candidates there is more support, more choice, more security, simplified systems, greater benefits…

“In short,” says Nick Boles, former Minister for Skills in a letter to the Skills Funding Agency at the end of 2015 outlining funding priorities, “we are putting more power in the hands of service users, instead of service providers. This is exactly as it should be.”

For training providers the picture is a little more nuanced.

The good news is that there is more money available. The bad is that there are some substantial hoops to jump through to get it. As yet they are the only stakeholder group in the triumvirate of learner-trainer-employer to have really had to make any substantial operational changes.

Survival of the fittest

Right from the start the pack has been divided into clear winners and losers, thanks to the new Register for Apprenticeship Training Providers. Those who failed in their bids to join the register are no longer eligible to receive funding for the delivery of apprenticeships, effectively putting them out of business or forcing them to re-emerge as sub-contractors.

Of course no organisation has been barred from the list on a whim, and the register is there to protect employers and apprentices – ensuring that they get the highest quality training and the assurance that the provider has the financial stability to see the contract through. However, the impact has been drastic and immediate for some, with major apprenticeship provider

First4Skills going into administration last week, leading to some 200 redundancies and leaving 6,500 apprentices anxiously awaiting details from the National Apprenticeship Service of alternative provision and transfer arrangements.*

Radical change required in a short period

Even for the winners – those who have successfully made it onto the register – the task of adapting to change has been and continues to be of Herculean proportions, and let’s not forget, even when change is for the longer-term good, it is nearly always painful in the short-term for those at the coal face.

Not only are there curriculum changes as they move from frameworks to standards to consider (and let’s not forget that these are intended to be agile to meet the evolving needs of business), there are changes to the amount of funding they receive and how it is allocated (rather than a set amount, the provider will have to negotiate within a band set for the specific standard), there are new systems to get used to and new responsibilities such as the sourcing and management of the end-point assessment (on behalf of the employer they will contract with an assessment organisation from the SFA’s Register of Apprenticeship Assessment Organisations – although it is down to the employer to choose the AAO).

A year seems a long time when you’re at the start of it, with 365 lovely days lying ahead. But if you think of that as only 1680 hours per employee (based on working 7 hours a day, 5 days a week with 4 weeks’ holiday) it doesn’t add up to all that much - especially when you are still engaged in “Business as usual”. And the bigger the organisation, the harder the task. It’s like turning a car ferry: with something so big any change of direction is going to be shudderingly slow and meet with a lot of resistance – and it needs all hands on deck.

“It’s crucial that providers are ready…”