Malcolm Armstrong, Access Training

Member Article

Benefiting from apprenticeships boost

Malcolm Armstronng, Chairman of Tyne, Wear and Northumberland Association of Learning Providers and Managing Director of Access Training shares his views on apprenticeships.

As a result of the government’s vocational-led skills agenda, apprenticeships are enjoying a much welcomed revival. Their public profile is soaring higher than it has for many years. The question many are asking is - who is best placed to benefit from this resurgence in popularity and political backing?

Thanks to the often-generous marketing budgets that FE colleges have to promote apprenticeships, you would be forgiven for thinking that they lead the way in this field. Yet, in fact, independent training providers deliver the lion’s share of apprenticeships for employers.

Almost 75% of the budget for apprenticeships within the north east is being delivered by independent providers. The independents also deliver a huge range of other commercial and partially funded training for businesses, and this is a growing trend with their share of the training market rising to 61% last year – up from 51% in 2007. Colleges provide 28% and universities the
other 11%*.

The recently released ‘Ofsted Annual Report 10/11’ shows that private training providers are outperforming colleges. There was an 8% rise in the number of learning providers found to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for training over 16s and adults last year. Out of the 312 organisations inspected by
Ofsted in 10/11, 15 were judged outstanding for the quality of teaching. And, you may be surprised to hear, that all of these were independent or employer providers.

Learners also think private providers listen and respond to their views better than colleges, according to the latest Skills Funding Agency (SFA) satisfaction survey. Private training providers outscored colleges in every category of the learner survey, published online in the ‘FE Choices Publication of Outputs’.

I do not wish to come across as being critical of colleges here - far from it. There are some excellent colleges in our region and many providers partner with colleges on specialist training provision and this works well. Rather, my point is that finally there is some well-deserved credit, where credit is due, for training providers. In the past, we have often felt in the shadow of colleges. But reports like these are ensuring that funders like the SFA are increasingly recognising the significant role training companies have to play in delivering quality skills for businesses and worthwhile opportunities for
young people.

There are a number of recent policy changes that should also benefit providers in their mission to buoy business. These include reallocation of monies that was formerly in the, now defunct, Train to Gain initiative. And all providers can now use their Adult Single Budget to help those at risk of
redundancy or those who are unemployed - something only colleges and local authorities have been able to do in the past. With so many out of work there is further predicted growth in skills training and support for the unemployed.

There is no denying that the economic climate that FE providers operate in remains challenging. Unemployment for the quarter June to August 2011 was 8.1%. And of the total 2.57 million unemployed, over a third have been out of work for more than a year. Yet there is some optimism in the sector thanks to the government’s heavyweight investment in apprenticeships.

An extra 75,000 apprenticeship places are planned by 2014 which brings a huge opportunity for independent providers. Against the backdrop of increasing quality and recognition of private providers’ valuable contribution to apprenticeships from the purse holders, the independent sector is well placed to increase market share even further.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Malcolm Armstrong .

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