With all the main political parties going into the general election committed to growth in the apprenticeship programme, training providers have warned that proposed government reforms are likely to lead to a decrease in apprenticeship opportunities for young people during the next Parliament.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is calling for employers to be given a choice over how they wish to be funded for apprenticeships which would allow them, if desired, to continue outsourcing their training in the same way as they do now.
The Prime Minister has said that young people should be able to choose between going to university and starting an apprenticeship. But the vast majority of evidence presented since the government first started consulting on the reforms last summer, including the Business department’s own research, indicates that fewer employers will offer apprenticeship places to young people if the reforms go ahead, leaving David Cameron’s ambition unfulfilled.
In its response to a BIS technical consultation on the future funding of apprenticeships in England, AELP has warned that the imposition of compulsory cash contributions on employers towards the cost of the training is likely to substantially reduce the number of 16- to 18 year old apprentices, a group that already face a number of barriers to entry when NEET figures remain worryingly high.
AELP recommends developing the current system of apprenticeship funding by giving more employers the choice of having either a direct government contract or accessing funding support through their chosen training provider. This preserves Doug Richard’s principle of giving employers more ownership over the system.
To maximise the chances of growth in the apprenticeship programme, AELP believes:
· Employers should have the choice of a direct contract or funding through an approved provider of their choice
· Employers should have to meet the minimum standards required to manage their own direct funding – this would involve audit and Ofsted assurance
· Audit and Ofsted processes should be adapted to ensure they are appropriate for the new programme
· The system of making government payments should be the same for employers and training providers
· New employers and those with only one or two apprentices should in most cases work with a training provider as a direct contract would not be cost effective
· Employers should have the explicit right to choose their provider (which will also include changing providers with appropriate notice).
AELP chief executive Stewart Segal said: “Our two main concerns are for the young entrants to the job market and the barriers to entry for smaller businesses. The view of training providers and the employers they work with is that these funding proposals will damage the size and quality of the apprenticeship programme. We believe that moving instead to a system which is driven by employer choice will make a radical difference and continue to improve a very successful workforce development programme.”