Conclusions and recommendations |
The quality of Jobskills training
on the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) inspection results,
it appears to us that the Department's contracting process with
Training Organisations has not been very effective. We also noted
that the Department authorised a one year 'blanket' renewal of
all existing contracts, without any review of performance. This
is poor practice. Failure to link contract renewal to performance
achievement sends out the wrong signal to Training Organisations
and provides no incentive to improve standards.
2. We were astonished
to find that '1 in 3' trainees on Jobskills - some 4,000 young
people - were in an organization or occupational area where the
quality of training was below-standard. While recent data showed
that the proportion has changed to '1 in 4', a below-standard
training provision in 25% of training areas inspected is still
much too high. The Department needs to get a grip on this and
raise the standard of training in these organisations as a matter
3. While the Department
said that it would not allow Training Organisations to persistently
deliver a below-standard quality of training, the evidence overwhelmingly
suggests otherwise. Despite serious shortcomings, we saw no evidence
of any financial penalties or sanctions having been applied and
no contracts had been terminated.
4. One of the most
damning aspects of the Department's monitoring of training quality
was the extent to which there were recurrent weaknesses. Time
and time again, inspections showed that the Department was being
'taken for a ride' and yet it had done virtually nothing about
it. The Department must respond quickly and effectively to cases
of below-standard training and send out a clear message that this
will no longer be tolerated.
The effectiveness of the programme
Department's range of performance measures needs to be enhanced.
It looks to us as though targets have been altered to avoid reporting
poor performance. The Department must set uniform targets across
each strand of the programme and ensure that all key aspects of
performance are assessed and reported.
6. We found it astonishing
that the Department had not carried out regular benchmarking with
similar schemes in Great Britain. We have seen this weakness before
with Northern Ireland Departments and it is not acceptable. The
citizens of Northern Ireland are entitled to know how the standard
and cost of their public services compare with elsewhere in the
United Kingdom and it is the job of the Department to facilitate
this. Subtle differences between schemes is not a justification
for failing to benchmark. We expect the Department to initiate
a process of formal benchmarking with other regions in Great Britain,
both to assess relative performance and to keep abreast of best
practice, and to publish the results.
7. The performance
outcomes of a substantial proportion of Training Organisations
fall significantly below the average. The Department needs to
be a lot more proactive and agree action plans for improvements
with individual training providers. Where targets are not met,
the Department must be prepared to terminate contracts.
8. NVQ attainment
within Jobskills has been falling, following the introduction,
in 1999, of six 'Key Skills'. Because the Department had not been
monitoring individual Key Skills, it had not identified the main
difficulties and how these might be overcome. This was a lack
of basic, common sense administration. We look forward to a considerable
improvement in Key Skills attainment levels in the future.
9. One of our main
areas of concern was the cost per job created by Jobskills. The
evidence would suggest that the actual cost per job may be of
the order of £22,000. In our view, this is excessive and
represents poor value for money. We would like the Department
to look closely at this issue, with a view to establishing, and
subsequently reducing, the unit cost per job created.
10. We found it disturbing
that, over the life of the programme, only 40% of Access traineesyoung
people with a particular disadvantagehad progressed to
Mainstream training. However, we note that the interim results
of a pilot scheme to improve the position are encouraging. We
expect to see a marked improvement across the Access strand as
a whole and would like the Department to set itself a challenging
target in this regard.
11. One of the most
disappointing outcomes of Jobskills is the extremely low net employment
impact of the programme, which may be as little as 14%. The Department
has to secure a much better return for the taxpayer. Procedures
should be put in place to periodically estimate the net employment
effect of Jobskills and set targets for reductions in the levels
of deadweight, substitution and displacement.
12. Almost half of
all trainees who start Jobskills leave early. This is particularly
undesirable in that resources are wasted and the employability
of leavers is not enhanced without a qualification. We note that
a preliminary review, by the Audit Office, considered that the
actual cost of early leaving may be around £6 million per
year. It is important that the Department establishes a reliable
estimate and we have asked the C&AG to review the outcome.
13. The high level
of early leaving has seriously undermined the overall effectiveness
of Jobskills and a huge amount of taxpayers' money has effectively
'gone down the drain'. What we find particularly worrying is that
the level has remained relatively constant over the life of the
programme. The Department must adopt a specific programme objective
to tackle premature leaving and set targets for a radical reduction.
We want to see a marked improvement in this area and expect the
Department to attach a high priority to doing so.
The targeting of skills needs
were surprised to find that, when Jobskills was set up, job attainment
was not a formally-stated objective, nor was there an objective
to match training provision with the skills needs of the Northern
Ireland economy. Setting appropriate objectives, with measurable
targets, at the outset is essential to ensuring that a programme
is focused on the key outcomes.
15. Although, in 2000,
the Department had established new objectives to align Jobskills
more closely with the skills needs of the economy, it had not
developed specific, measurable and time-bounded targets against
which to monitor and report progress. In our view, this is the
sort of fundamental good practice that any responsible body would
be applying as a matter of course
16. We found it incredible
that, during the 1990s, the Department had no comprehensive data
on the skills needs of the Northern Ireland economy and no clear
system for forecasting and analysing those needs. This was despite
the fact that it was spending over £65 million each year
on Jobskills. The failure to set up an effective system to forecast
and analyse skills needs was a serious omission and one that has
proved detrimental to many Jobskills trainees and Northern Ireland
17. A large proportion
of the skills attained by trainees have not been used in the workplace.
Overall, the Audit Office estimated a potential 'skills mismatch'
of 36%. In addition, some 45% of trainees were not subsequently
employed, studying or training in the occupational area in which
they trained in Jobskills. This represents poor value for taxpayers'
18. The vast majority
of trainees in designated priority skills areas lie within the
construction and engineering sectors. The Department must make
special efforts to increase numbers in the three remaining priority
areas of Tourism and Hospitality, Electronics and Information
19. We expect the
Department, as a matter of urgency, to set specific, measurable
and time-bounded targets for a reduction in the level of skills
mismatch. Similarly, targets should be set for increasing the
extent to which trainees are subsequently employed in the occupational
area in which they trained in Jobskills.
20. We were concerned
that around one-quarter of employers seemed to be using Jobskills
on a 'rolling' basis, as a source of low cost labour for unskilled
positions. We expect the Department to take firm action with employers
and training providers to deal with the problem.
Financial monitoring and control
are disturbed by the growing evidence from this and other reports
that some Northern Ireland Departments are unacceptably lax in
identifying and tackling fraud. We found it astonishing that,
in such a massive programme which has been running for 10 years,
no fraud has been detected. We were particularly concerned that
the Department has deemed recoveries of £566,000 in respect
of so-called 'incorrect, ineligible and unsubstantiated' claims
to be due to error - none were considered to have been attempted
fraud. Based on our experience of other, similar schemes, we are
not at all convinced.
22. Our concerns are
heightened by a case where payments had been claimed for periods
when trainees were not actually engaged in training. Despite suspecting
fraud, the Department appeared to turn a 'blind eye'. We are in
no doubt that this organisation should not have been allowed to
continue operating within the programme. This would have sent
a clear signal to other organisations that improper claims will
not be tolerated.
23. Overall, it is
our view that the Department's checking procedures are not detecting
irregularities in the programme. It must reconsider whether its
checks are sufficiently rigorous and how they could reasonably
overall impression is that Jobskills is one of the worst-run programmes
that this Committee has examined in recent years. We noted a quite
astonishing catalogue of failures and control weaknesses, all
of which pointed to a disturbing level of complacency within the
Department. While we readily acknowledge that it has to deal with
some very difficult groups of young people, this does not explain
the widespread shortcomings in supervision and control that existed.
25. It is clear that
Jobskills has not received the senior management attention that
it deserves. One of the most damning aspects of the Department's
handling is the extent to which a number of the most fundamental
weaknessessuch as poor quality training and high levels
of early leaving from the schemepersisted over many years.
We saw little evidence of the Department having tackled these
problems with any great vigour, prior to the C&AG's review.
This points towards an appalling degree of incompetence, indifference