Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
6 OCTOBER 2008
Chairman: We welcome our second panel
this afternoon: Martin Dunford, chairman of the Association of
Learning Providers, who I am sure is interested in the answers
to the last question; Sara Mogel of the Association of CollegesI
am sure Sara was interestedand Tom Wilson, the head of
the Organisation and Services Department at the TUC. Thank you
all very much indeed for coming this afternoon.
Q49 Dr Blackman-Woods: The Association
of Colleges has called for sufficient flexibility in the framework
design of apprenticeships. Do you think there are problems with
the existing arrangements? What changes do you want to see?
Ms Mogel: I think I agree with
the previous witnesses about the flexibility and meeting the needs
of employers. The current system meets the needs of some employers
but not all and those employers whose needs are perhaps not met
will undertake ways of making those needs met but some will not.
You can find that you have an apprenticeship framework that is
not really preparing the young person for working within that
particular employer's workplace but might be preparing them for
a broader skills base. Somewhere along the line, there has to
be a way of doing both things, giving them the transferable skills
and giving a benefit to the employer who has taken the apprentice
on. The new blueprint will give us that opportunity to set a standard
to allow those things that are transferable to be taught to everybody.
Everybody learns certain things in their workplace. It allows
employers to tailor the rest of the training to meet their own
individual needs and that is the benefit for the employer as opposed
to the benefit for the young person.
Q50 Dr Blackman-Woods: You said we
should have a role in setting standards. Do you think the vocational
educator should have a role in specifying apprenticeship standards?
Ms Mogel: The content and the
skills level should always be employer led in terms of ensuring
that the young person gets a quality learning experience. That
is the role of the provider. The role of the provider is to meet
the needs of both the employer and the young person.
Mr Dunford: It is not all about
the employer. I have delivered thousands of apprentices over the
years. If you explain to an employer properly that, if they start
off with only wanting this half or this 60%, it is supposed to
be a career enhancing qualification for the young personthat
is why there is underpinning knowledge; that is why there are
key skillsthey take it on board. Woe betide us if we do
everything employer led. Even though my whole career has been
working with employers in vocational training, some of our best
known retailers and household names may have a very narrow specification
for qualifications. As Dr Gibson said, people move careers and
it is a case of explaining it. It does need to be employer designed.
That is why we have Sector Skills Councils, but it is about the
individual as well and their educational attainment.
Q51 Mr Boswell: Speaking as an entirely
dispassionate outsider, I think occasionally the present Government
misses out the union side of things. I think it is my painful
role occasionally to draw that to their attention but, more seriously,
we always talk about employer led but how do you bolt on the bilateral
agreement or the association? There are good examples in industry;
I know that, but how do you fill that relationship between your
interest as it were and your interest also representing the individual
young person and the employer to best articulate it?
Mr Wilson: It is certainly true
that unions have an enormous role to play. Thanks for the question
because it enables me to talk about that. To be fair to this Government,
they have done an awful lot to open all sorts of doors and create
structures and pathways to help unions play a much bigger role.
That is very welcome. If I can add to the previous debate, it
is very important of course that apprenticeships are employer
led. We would not dispute that at all, but it is equally important
that they match up to certain objective standards. If there is
one really key, important aspect of this Bill which we think does
help the learner, it is the assurance of some kind of objective
quality standard. Employers should determine the content and the
skill level and so on but the standard and the quality of that
content needs to be something which is set and approved. In return,
the taxpayer will then fund it.
Q52 Mr Boswell: They are not suffering
Mr Wilson: Exactly, and so they
have genuinely transferable skills.
Q53 Dr Blackman-Woods: How though
can we ensure that quality is consistent across sectors if you
go down the road of a lot of flexibility?
Ms Mogel: That already happens
to some extent with other qualifications. There is a core element
and an optional element to it. Those standards are set by the
awarding bodies and by Sector Skills Councils and of course by
Ofsted. I assume they will be participating in measuring the standards
of apprenticeships. It does need to have an external eye on it.
It is very important that employers understand that, when they
take on an apprentice, it is not quite the same as taking on another
form of employee because of those external bodies that are looking
at the quality of the experience of that employee.
Mr Dunford: One of the most important
reasons for the increase in attainment of apprenticeships and
qualification rates is the inspection regime. The Adult Learning
Inspectorate was staffed by people who had industry experience.
The frameworks are set down. They are good in general and it was
well inspected. It was a major competitive advantage to do well
in that and that is why we have far fewer providers now. I speak
as the chair of the Association of Learning Providers, that has
always supported quality. They have had a marked impact along
with a number of other things like online testing and key skills.
If we talk about 25 to 60%, 25% was always going to happen when
they introduced key skills. You had to take an exam four times
a year and 82% of people got GCSEs at grade D or below in the
services sector, with online testing and more frequent, flexible
approaches to key skills and technical certificates. By the way,
it should not just be off the job. You can do technical certificates
at work with projects and so on. It has really improved the quality
of the experience. I should say it is this casual name, "apprenticeships".
Within that there is a myriad of different products from all the
different sectors, some lasting six months, some lasting three
years, some at level two, three and four, large employers, small
employers and micro-employers. We have this catch all phrase of
"apprenticeships" and we all have a vision about what
it is. It is mostly crafts and technicians and that is not the
current picture. Apprenticeship growth is in all sectors of the
economy now and should be in more. There is a lot of regional
bias that still needs to be tackled but it really is a good way
of career enhancement, if it is done well, by a training provider
or a college.
Q54 Dr Blackman-Woods: With all that
diversity, is the Bill doing enough to ensure that employers actually
provide good quality training?
Mr Dunford: I wish I had answered
the question before: do we need the Bill? I do not remember anyone
saying that we needed an Apprenticeship Bill before it happened.
We assumed it was kind of there to make the National Apprenticeship
Service work through primary legislation. In a way it is a bit
of a red herring. The big issue is employer demand and building
that demand. I think the demand is there if we get out and sell
it, and very good information, advice and guidance for both young
people and adults. The fastest growth in apprenticeships is with
adults at the moment.
Mr Wilson: It is precisely because
of all that diversity and variety and difficulty in a sense in
being clear about what an apprenticeship is. That is why we need
the Bill. It will set out some standards. It will set out a framework.
It will make people give it a profile and a brand. All of that
is very important. The previous discussion was about will it add
to bureaucracy or not. In a way, you reduce bureaucracy by being
clearer about what the brand is.
Q55 Dr Blackman-Woods: Is the Bill
bringing in the changes that you want to see? Is it doing what
it needs to be doing in terms of apprenticeships or not?
Mr Wilson: It is bringing in quite
a few of the changes we would like to see certainly. We are very
pleased to see a coordinated, central agency, a body which will
raise the profile of apprenticeships, above all, as I said before,
a body which will guarantee a bit of quality assurance, a bit
of clarity about the brand. A lot of that in turn will help people
to think more seriously about apprenticeships when they are at
school. It will give them a better kind of standing, if you like,
in that kind of market place. It will help encourage people to
look a bit more broadly and imaginatively so that you might find
some boys doing hairdressing and some girls doing engineering,
for example. It will help employers to think a bit more imaginatively
about apprenticeships so that for example, in the public sector,
we will begin to see the public sector taking on far more apprenticeships
as they should. We might see people using procurement levers a
bit more imaginatively in order to try and get more apprenticeships
at least considered if not actually taken up. In all those sorts
of second order ways, we think the Bill probably will achieve
a great deal.
Q56 Ian Stewart: This Bill intends
to offer an apprenticeship through the Learning and Skills Council
or its successors to every person who seeks one and is qualified
to seek one. Does the sector have the capacity to cope with that?
Mr Dunford: Not at the moment.
We have achieved 230,000 people on apprenticeships at the moment
and it is a real success story. To get to the 400,000 obviously
requires an increase in capacity. One of the biggest blockages
on Train to Gain growth for adults, which is another issue about
the Apprenticeships Bill confusing employers by the way, is the
capacity of the system in terms of qualified assessors and trainers.
There needs to be some capacity building in that. If we get people
from a specific industry, that is largely what training providers
do. They recruit people who are construction experts or engineers,
retail or customer service experts and train them. That is where
we need to invest to help achieve the Government's targets and
I believe the Opposition are quite pro-apprenticeships as well.
There is not enough capacity in the system. There is a bit of
a view that the employers are doing the training. They are in
some cases, in the ones you think of that are traditional apprenticeships
like British Aerospace, BT and so on. In the majority of cases
they are not. They are supporting it and working in a tripartite
relationship between the employer, the training provider and the
Ms Mogel: The picture that is
being painted there of private training providers is the same
in colleges. The way that we are building up the capacity is to
take people from the industry and train them up so that they can
take on the roles of assessors and in some cases deliverers of
learning. Similarly, colleges also have their own expertise in
learning that they can bring to that party. I think the bigger
question is: do we have enough supply to meet the demand. With
the economic downturn, I guess all of us are finding now that
demand is outstripping supply. I would not have said that a year
ago. I lead a college in the north west and in the north west
we have employers who have a cultural history of offering apprenticeships
but I think the issue now is whether, particularly in the short
term, employers are willing to take on apprentices.
Q57 Ian Stewart: How do you attract
a young person into an apprenticeship rather than going into paid
employment, which is the traditional pressure, or onto higher
Ms Mogel: In terms of 16 to 18
year olds, most of them have very limited opportunities for paid
employment now, particularly in some industries where if you are
unskilled you will not be employed. Obviously if they are 16 to
18 they do not have a higher education option so their options
often are school or college full time or apprenticeships. Apprenticeships
will attract a different audience, if you like, a different young
person who is interested in going into employment and it is their
only way into employment at 16 to 18. One of the keys to attracting
young people into apprenticeships is about raising the esteem
and the value of apprenticeships and letting them know that they
exist. That is why I welcome in the Bill that information, advice
and guidance are writ large there because that is a major issue.
We have talked about three of the partners in making a successful
apprentice. That is, the young person themselves, the employer,
the provider of the learning, but there is a fourth one and that
is the parent. One of the things that this legislation might do
is say to the parent: "This is a product that you will want
for your young person."
Q58 Ian Stewart: In the analysis
which both Sara and Martin have put forward, trade unions were
not mentioned as partners. What do you have to say about that?
Mr Wilson: I think it is regrettable
but we get used to it. Our view is that unions play an enormously
important role on all sorts of levels, firstly in terms of quality
assurance. On the shop floor the shop steward can make sure the
apprentice is not getting a raw deal, they are getting the training
they are supposed to get and as a result the quality they are
supposed to get. At a higher level, there are all sorts of institutional
mechanisms, the SSCs,
itself where trade unions play a very important role. Again, we
make sure that the quality of what is being offered to apprentices
is not slipping back under these economics pressures. More broadly,
the point Sara was making about the importance of raising the
esteem of apprentices, that is absolutely true and a large part
of what unions do is to go around banging the drum for apprenticeships
as a very important, equally viable and equally attractive alternative
to higher education. For a 16-year old, you are right, it may
be more difficult to get a job these days, but if you are an apprentice,
then thanks to the increase announced by the Secretary of State
at TUC Congress, their minimum pay will go up from £80 to
£95. The average apprentice pay is well over £150, £160,
£170, so it is not such an unattractive option if you can
get a good quality apprenticeship. What is really key, of course,
is if that apprenticeship then genuinely leads on to higher education
as a potential further route, then it is not as if you are closing
off your options at 16 or 17 by going down one route rather than
the other. Again, the unions have played an important role in
all of that.
Q59 Ian Stewart: My last point is to
you, Tom. Martin and I think Sara also said that the identified
lack of capacity may be met by people coming off the job and into
training, 20,000 going on 30,000 trade union learning reps, do
you see any developments and any connection between the two?
Mr Wilson: Very much so. I think
learning reps can play a very important role and their numbers
are increasing rapidly and it is partly because they clearly meet
that sort of demand. Obviously that is not going to be enough
to meet the kind of demand we have been talking about, the increase
that is needed, but they can certainly play a part and they can
encourage lots more employers than you might think, even employers
who do not necessarily recognise unions, to think twice about
the value of unions and the importance of having a union input.
4 Sector Skills Councils Back
Regional Development Agencies Back
Learning and Skills Council Back