Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 10

Submission from the Financial Services Skills Council (FSSC)


  The Financial Services Skills Council (FSSC) is an independent, employer-led organisation, established in 2004 to provide strategic leadership for education, training and skills development for the financial services, accounting and finance industries across the UK. The FSSC aims to improve productivity and business performance by ensuring that the industry is equipped with the range and level of skills that it needs.

  We, the FSSC, welcome the publication of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill for the future of Apprenticeships in England "World-class Apprenticeships". The future of competitive and productive financial services, accounting and finance industries depends on providing employers and employees with the skills they need. We have been successful in raising the profile of apprenticeships in the financial services sector and believe the prominence given to Apprenticeships by the Government will support our work in this area.

1.   Does the bill meet the Government's policy objectives to set up a system of "world class" apprenticeships in the most effective way within a reasonable time frame?

  As previously mentioned in our response to "world class apprenticeships" we would have concerns over the review of the current apprenticeship blueprint and the proposals to include personal learning and thinking skills and functional skills in maths and English. Apprenticeship frameworks should be employer led and these proposals may stop employers engaging in apprenticeships because of qualifications they do not want. We have also had difficulties in the past inserting a level 3 qualification in a level 2 framework as requested by employers.

  We are also not convinced by the proposals for employers and providers to develop their own frameworks and believe that this has the potential to conflict with the desire for consistency in the standard of frameworks. We believe that a truly flexible Blueprint would negate the need for frameworks to be developed by a number of organisations and approved by the relevant SSC.

  We are concerned of the proposals that the Secretary of State can approve frameworks without further recourse to the Sector Skills Council. We are concerned that this could dilute the impact of Sector Skills Agreements and Sector Qualifications Strategies, both of which should form the basis of future development for a sector. As these are living documents, it is important for SSCs to be aware of all initiatives linked to them and for that awareness to remain current.

2.   Is the bill workable?

3.   Will the bill lead to a renaissance in apprenticeships?

  No, not unless employers across all sectors are convinced of their benefits.

4.   What is the cost?

5.   What impact the bill will have on current institutional structures?

6.   Is there anything missing from the draft bill?

  As previously mentioned in our response to "world class apprenticeships", we would like to propose that the current 5 year cut off for key skills exemptions be waived. At present, this arbitrary rule acts as a barrier for individuals and employers enrolling onto Apprenticeships. We believe the prior achievement of qualifications in communication and numeracy to be acceptable evidence of mastery in these areas.

  For those who do not hold prior qualifications, we would like the provision of a portfolio of evidence to suffice and for the key skills tests to become optional. Mastery of the requirements is demonstrated adequately through a portfolio and the insistence on a further test adds nothing. The success of the model in Wales, where the key skills test requirement was removed some years ago, illustrates that the portfolio is strong enough to stand alone.

  We support, in principle, the idea of new matching services for employers and individuals. However, we must emphasise the importance of field staff having excellent sector knowledge in order to engage employers effectively. Our experience of skills brokers working with financial services through Train to Gain has been far from positive. A notable lack of sector knowledge among skills brokers has had a detrimental effect on financial services employers' willingness to engage with Train to Gain. We are very keen that this experience not be repeated for Apprenticeships. We would welcome the opportunity to be included in any national or regional strategy to ensure synergy with the financial services Sector Skills Agreement and Sector Qualifications Strategy.

  We believe that the provision of high quality, accurate information, advice and guidance will be key to the success of Apprenticeships and all other learning programmes. Clarity must be given to parents, schools and employers on matters such as the benefits of Apprenticeships, how they sit alongside other options such as Diplomas, how to select and begin an Apprenticeship and what progression opportunities exist.

  We feel strongly that the current Blueprint is not flexible enough to respond to employers' needs. We faced a concrete example of this barrier in 2006, when attempting to include a Level 3 unit in a Level 2 apprenticeship. This was in direct response to employer demand and followed a model that had operated successful in a previous framework. However, this was not accepted by the Apprenticeship Approvals Group as it did not conform to the prescriptive requirements of the Blueprint.

  We feel that there are insufficient employer incentives to raise employer demand. Apprenticeships will need to be made attractive to employers or the expansion will not happen.

September 2008

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