Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


2 MARCH 2005

  Q60 Chairman: You said several times, indeed the whole purport of your response was, that you are dealing with very difficult youngsters who have never had any opportunity before but, as Mr Steinberg says, look at the Report. I am astonished in asking these questions that you do not accept that the sort of training you are giving is not appropriate. Look at page 53, paragraph 3.38, of this Report which you have agreed to: "Responses to NIAO's survey [for people leaving] included reasons such as the allowance was not enough; trainees didn't like the occupational area being studied; the pace of the course was inappropriate; and work-placement was of poor quality". In other words the fault does not lie with these youngsters; it lies with your scheme.

  Mr Haire: We certainly have to listen to the concerns of 16-year olds. The 16-year olds will have views about schemes which they will voice. One will have to judge the quality of some of those.

  Q61 Chairman: So they are talking rubbish, are they?

  Mr Haire: We have to listen to them. This is one of the key areas where they have had difficulties because these young people have not taken exams in other areas or had classroom experience. We have been piloting a scheme which helps them achieve the NVQs they need in a different way by processing the exams in more appropriate ways to achieve that using different techniques and that seems to be showing early signs that it will be of value, so we are trying to listen to their needs in this area. We clearly are using the inspectorate and the other processes I have put in place to try constantly to push up the quality of the work experience they are getting, but these are tough areas to achieve in a small business economy. Clearly that is the challenge which my department must fulfil.

  Q62 Mr Jenkins: When you read the Report, Mr Haire, were you very disappointed with it or very pleased with it or indifferent?

  Mr Haire: Certainly not indifferent. When I joined the Department a year and a half ago, and I received this fairly early on, it did seem to me to demonstrate that there were good aspects to the scheme. It is a very important scheme, the outreach is important to this group, and also it is important for Northern Ireland to gain skills, but it did demonstrate to me the range of challenges we had to make sure that we get uniform quality.

  Q63 Mr Jenkins: Let us take the scheme itself, shall we? When you have got a training scheme are you constantly breaking this scheme down, because you have mentioned that these are very difficult youngsters, and I accept that totally, and you have mentioned that you have been training them in two areas. There is a job training or an employee standard, if you like. We have done this in England and we had to buy alarm clocks and provide bikes to get the youngsters up in the morning, because they had come from very disruptive families, and get them into work. Just to clock on at eight o'clock in the morning and stop there for a day was in itself a success. I accept that programme in its entirety. It is a good, worthwhile programme that should be developing the basic skills of youngsters. Within the report, however, I cannot find the elements of the training organisations that take this on as a crucial basic task and the success rate they have with it. All I see in this Report is a combination of various training organisations which do not seem to have the ability to do this. We have gone through that in England many years ago and we have moved on. Have you learned from the English experience?

  Mr Haire: In paragraph 1.7 the Report sets out the three levels of this scheme and what you have described is perhaps appropriate for this 15%, the ones with the least skills, the ones we are trying to get to level one, the Access scheme. A lot of the work in that scheme was done by working closely with all authorities in the British Isles. We have regular contacts and we learned a lot from the entry into employment schemes etc, and we have modelled a lot of this on that area.

  Q64 Mr Jenkins: The first thing you do with a youngster when they walk through the door is a programme of assessment to assess where they are, to assess their learning capability, and then attach them to the right programme. Are all your young people assessed on entry or prior to entry into your schemes?

  Mr Haire: Yes. The careers officers assess all young people before they come in and indicate which areas they should go to in the process.

  Q65 Mr Jenkins: So we know what they are doing in the job area.

  Mr Haire: And also the skill level which will be most appropriate.

  Q66 Mr Jenkins: I have not got to the skill level yet. I am just looking at the basic entry requirements for these people. Do they undertake a contract with you to complete the process they need to get them up to a basic level?

  Mr Haire: There is an individual training plan that is agreed with them.

  Q67 Mr Jenkins: Why is the fall-out rate so high? Why did you say in response to some people, in fact in response to the Chairman, "We are listening to these 16-year olds and we will construct a programme maybe around their needs". Do you not feel that is a basic requirement which should be in place now?

  Mr Haire: I described earlier a pilot scheme which we are trying very much on that basis to give young people, especially the ones coming in here, a broader training dealing with the social and other issues they have to get them to a level where wider training is appropriate, and that has been a very successful scheme. As I said, 65% of the young people seem to be benefiting from that scheme. We evaluate it this year and I hope then that we can roll it out more widely across that particular 15%.

  Q68 Mr Jenkins: On page 65 in part 4, paragraph 4.2, it says, "The Department told us that . . . it had no clear system for analysing and forecasting skill needs".

  Mr Haire: At the time that this Report was written—

  Q69 Mr Jenkins: I can only work on this Report. Do not take me down that path please.

  Mr Haire: Okay; I understand.

  Q70 Mr Jenkins: So you had no system in place for analysing the skill needs, and in fact you did not even think it was your job, did you?

  Mr Haire: Paragraph 4.6 on the next page indicates that a Skills Task Force would be set up to deal with those very issues which gave us the ability to choose the priority areas and at the same time to give clarity in outreach.

  Q71 Mr Jenkins: But paragraph 4.1, which I go back to, says, "The attainment of jobs was not a formally-stated objective; nor was there an objective to match training provision with the skills needs of the Northern Ireland economy".

  Mr Haire: At the stage that was written that was right. We then brought a job-focused approach into this area and I think the report notes that with approval, that we have taken that on board.

  Q72 Mr Jenkins: I will not go through the figures because I do not think there is much point in throwing figures around about how many mismatched training schemes you have got, but obviously within that category, and it was quite a high category, you must have had trainers providing the mismatched skills, the skills that were not needed. When Mr Steinberg said, "How many trainers have you got now?", you said, quite carefully and guardedly, "Twelve no longer provide the training". Mr Steinberg's question was, "How many trainers did you have to finish the contract with?". How many in fact did you sack rather than that they just went out of the business?

  Mr Haire: As I say, there is one organisation which we indirectly sacked[9] but we took from other ones part of their contract. We emphasised output related funding. They only got funding if they achieved performance and they left the scheme.

  Q73 Mr Jenkins: By "they achieved performance" do you mean that they achieved a throughput of so many NVQ Level 2's?

  Mr Haire: Yes. If they did not achieve that clearly they would not get funding.

  Q74 Mr Jenkins: What about the ones that failed to get NVQ Level 2 or failed to go through the course? Did the organisation still get paid for those people?

  Mr Haire: Part of their payment related to that result. Clearly, if they did not get that result they did not get that payment.

  Q75 Mr Jenkins: So how do you know when the person leaves the particular training course?

  Mr Haire: Clearly we have monitoring returns which have to be returned very quickly to us. We have got a large range of systems which have to be filled in. Monthly reports come from the organisations to us and clearly, if they achieve qualifications, we have to sight up those qualifications and we have to check with the employers. We have strong systems there to check these points.

  Q76 Mr Jenkins: You have strong systems to check that they have achieved the qualifications?

  Mr Haire: We have.

  Q77 Mr Jenkins: There is no case where a person could be enrolled on a course and then granted NVQ Level 1 and then you get paid for that even though the person may never have attended the training organisation?

  Mr Haire: Our systems we believe are robust in that area because people have to produce the evidence that they have achieved these qualifications.

  Q78 Mr Jenkins: I am searching here for the reference I made earlier on, on pages 30 and 32, where it makes fairly grim reading. You actually paid training organisations on their work and when asked about it they certainly were not up to scratch. The Report gives a figure. Is that £166,000? Does that figure come to mind?

  Mr Haire: Sorry; I cannot identify that figure. If you give me the reference there.

  Q79 Mr Jenkins: I would have to go back to the Report. In the report I think it says, Chairman, "We were in the process"—that was the word I was looking at; not, "We have achieved £166,000 of clawback from these people", but, "£166,000 has been identified to be clawed back from these people". How much has been clawed back from these training organisations?

  Mr Haire: We identify areas where we can claw back. We certainly do pursue any areas in this process.

9   Note by Witness: Through renewal of vocational areas for training schedules resulting in non-viability of the organisation. Back

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