HR experts and training providers welcome Holt Review recognition of adult apprenticeships

Apprentice training organisations have welcomed the recognition from a Government review that apprenticeships are as important for upskilling the adult workforce as they are for creating new jobs for young people.

The recognition comes at a time when some commentators have questioned the value of adult apprenticeships during a period of sustained growth of numbers of young people and adults participating in the programme.

Training organisations are also pleased that in Jason Holt's report on making apprenticeships more accessible to SMEs, there is a recognition that it is approaches by training providers to small businesses that account for more take-up of the apprenticeship programme than any other form of sales or marketing.

The providers' representative body, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), says that the programme would potentially face disastrous consequences if policymakers ignored this crucial fact in any reforms to the funding of the apprenticeships.

AELP, whose members deliver in excess of 70% of apprenticeships in England, believes that the Holt recommendations include some positive ideas for increasing small business take-up, such as displaying a sticker saying 'We employ an apprentice'. It particularly agrees with the observations that apprenticeships represent the 'gold standard' for on-the-job training and that an apprenticeship is fundamentally 'a job with training'.

The Association also welcomes the proposals for raising awareness of the programme among secondary schoolchildren, which is scandalously low at present, it says. The report takes on board the long-standing views of AELP on the issue, which call for Ofsted inspectors to have a role in ensuring that the new statutory duties for schools for impartial careers advice are complied with.

In response to the report's recommendations on enhancing the role of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) as part of a review of the delivery landscape, AELP believes that over the medium to longer term, the Government should be looking at the more radical possibility of a single professional procurement service for all state-funded employment and skills provision, one that pools funding from the respective programmes of the DfE, BIS and DWP/

Many AELP members already operate on all three turfs and offer apprenticeship provision, for example, to their unemployed DWP-referred clients. Ministers also regularly refer to apprenticeships as part of the Youth Contract and the overall Government response to high youth unemployment. It is AELP's view that the shared departmental goal of more sustainable employment for young people and adults, where apprenticeships offer one key route towards that, can be more effectively and efficiently achieved if only one government agency has overall responsibility for publicly funded employment and skills programmes, including the management of overarching single contracts for each provider.

Holt has called for a 'more competitive environment' in the supply side for apprenticeships and for many years, AELP indeed argued that the contribution  independent training organisations could make to transforming skills in Britain was being seriously limited by the way funding streams were being controlled by government agencies.

But the Association feels the review has not given enough credit to the progress made by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and NAS in making the provider supply market more competitive over the past two years, in terms of rewarding the best performing apprenticeship training providers with bigger contracts and being more transparent about the awarding of these contracts. AELP believes that increased transparency requirements over, for example, employer satisfaction ratings will in due course put additional power into the hands of the SME purchaser of training services.

On the issue of a quality service for employers, AELP points out that the growth in apprenticeship volumes over the past seven years has been accompanied by apprentices' success rates increasing from 36.7% to 76.4% – the latest figure now comparing well to the best elsewhere in Europe. This has been largely due to the investment training organisations have made in improving the quality of their service.

It should be noted that in February of this year, the National Audit Office reported that "apprenticeships for adults offer a good return for the public money spent on them overall" and that "apprentices and inspectors are generally positive about the quality of apprenticeships, with 91% of apprentices satisfied with their training".

AELP feels that Jason Holt's proposal for a Charter for best provider practice to be developed by AELP and AoC would be a sound way of building on recent improvements and that such an initiative would complement and could indeed form part of the FE Guild proposals, which the skills minister, John Hayes, is promoting to the sector.

An FE Guild could also provide an overview on the issue of supply chain management in the sector, which the report's annex addresses. AELP and AoC are already drawing up a code of practice to tackle the matters raised by the Holt review.

AELP notes with interest Jason Holt's apparent surprise that the SMEs, to whom he spoke, had not complained about bureaucracy, such as health and safety requirements, associated with running an apprenticeship programme. It was obviously not made clear to the review that it is the training provider that takes most of the bureaucracy off the hands of the employer and protects them from it.

Holt's initial observations about the need for an overarching and simplified pre-apprenticeship programme were in AELP's view correct and the Association does not agree with the Government's response. The existing range of options to help young people not yet ready to start a full apprenticeship should be brought together under a single preparatory training programme. Rationalisation of the current range of programmes is definitely needed.

Commenting on the whole report, the AELP chief executive Graham Hoyle said: "The penetration of the SME market still has a long way to go, as the data in Jason Holt's welcome review indicates. Nevertheless, the Government, its agencies and training providers have made good progress over the past two years in engaging more employers of all sizes in the apprenticeship programme.

"I would expect that the current reforms to drive up quality further will encourage more small businesses to consider offering apprenticeships and therefore we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of a possible rebalancing of the relationship between the employer and the provider. As Jason Holt himself acknowledges, it is training providers who have been largely responsible for the successful 'selling' of apprenticeships to SMEs so far.

"Arguably the best thing to come out of this review is Jason Holt's unequivocal opinion that in an ideal world all companies, irrespective of their size or sector, would be constantly looking to upskill their existing workforce through apprenticeships in addition to using the programme to bring in new talent to train up. We believe that this reinforces the strong case that it is in the interests of the economy and the taxpayer that the shared public/employer investment in adult apprenticeships should continue while safeguarding the vital support for young people."

AELP has also today welcomed the government's decision to refine the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme to encourage and support employers taking on a young apprentice aged 16 to 24.