Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
6 OCTOBER 2008
Q80 Mr Marsden: What you are saying
comes back to this image issue, which Tom was talking about earlier
in respect of men and women, there has got to be a vigorous attack
at a much earlier level than even 16 in terms of promoting.
Mr Dunford: Yes, and I would not
agree with Tom that this is the first time this has been tackled.
I talked about inspection before and that is a major part of an
inspection of a college or training provider, equality of opportunity
and diversity and how that is dealt with at that inspection to
do with apprenticeships or Train to Gain. There were 4% Grade
1s last time I looked.
Q81 Mr Marsden: Sara, could I come
to you. One of the specifics that the draft Bill does talk about,
clause 22 I see here, is to establish a national apprenticeship
vacancy matching service for employers and apprentices, and we
are told that this is going to be done through a national portal.
Given that we have not had a great deal of success using the more
traditional methods of people talking about these things, why
is an on-line system going to help, or is it?
Ms Mogel: I guess this is one
of the areas the Association of Colleges does have concerns about,
not because we do not think it will add something to what is already
there, but we are concerned that it might detract from some of
the things that are working there. One of the things that actually
does work now is the relationship between a provider and the employer,
and that is something that has built up over time, it is not something
that happens very quickly. Therefore, we might actually be able
to grow apprenticeship provision because of the arrangements we
already have with an employer. As Martin said, a lot of apprentices
are already employed and become apprentices, so I think there
is that element to it. That relationship is quite a precious thing
that we would not want to see broken up. I am not sure that a
national system is necessarily going to be very attractive to
either the employer or the young person because by definition
an apprentice is often a local employee; there are exceptions
Q82 Mr Marsden: What you are saying
is it needs to be organic and local rather than national?
Ms Mogel: I do not necessarily
think it is an either/or.
Q83 Mr Marsden: But you certainly
should not just rely on it?
Ms Mogel: No, and I want to bring
you back to an example where a pragmatic approach has worked really
and that has been with Train to Gain and the brokerage service,
where originally it was said that anybody who undertook Train
to Gain had to go through the brokerage service. It became very
clear that was going to slow up the process and make the process
more bureaucratic. Now what it says is that is one of the ways
you can contact Train to Gain, it is not the only way. As the
Association of Colleges, we would like to see that sort of pragmatic
approach to this new service.
Q84 Mr Marsden: Tom, Martin, very
quickly, have you got any views on this national matching service?
Is it practical or a gimmick?
Mr Wilson: We think it is both
practical and a good idea. It is certainly not the only route
in absolutely, it is a useful adjunct and, yes, 90% of the searches
on that database might well be for local, but you still need a
national system to be able to accommodate those because if you
have lots and lots of little local ones, you would instantly run
into all sorts of boundary issues.
Q85 Mr Marsden: Do you agree with
Mr Dunford: Yes, I think there
will be problems; we have to start somewhere. There is nothing
wrong having a national and being able to click on East London,
York, Leeds or whatever and then find vacancies there.
Q86 Chairman: UCAS seems to work,
does it not?
Mr Dunford: Exactly, and that
is what we talked about in 2003, a UCAS-type system for apprenticeships
which includedbecause I do not think the national apprenticeship
matching service doestaking people who are rejected from
somewhere, picking them up and offering them something else.
Q87 Mr Boswell: Could I put a loop
into this. You will be aware, I think, that Gordon, others and
I were involved in a study on independent advice and guidance
and we took quite a lot of emphasis in that on social networking.
That is not a matching service, but is there a role for facilitating
that kind of discussion, whether carried out by NAS or some other
agency so people get a feel for what it is like to be an apprentice
and the beneficial experiences they have had?
Mr Dunford: Absolutely, yes, and
that is what young people use as well.
Q88 Dr Iddon: Is not the idea of
the national matching service to break down these diversity barriers?
For example, half the BME population in the UK lives here in this
city and the idea of the national matching service is to encourage
young men and women to move from this city elsewhere on an apprenticeship,
but is the greater barrier, apart from them being members of that
community, not the fact that wages will restrict mobility?
Mr Dunford: Wages for apprenticeships?
Q89 Dr Iddon: Yes. Who is going to
be able to afford to move from London to somewhere else in the
country? Sara, you mentioned that the North West had a big hand
in apprenticeships in the past. Are we going to encourage people
to go from the South to the North just because apprenticeships
Mr Dunford: No, I do not think
that is what it is designed for either. It is national, you could
apply somewhere else, your family might be moving with you. One
of the things we used to measure was reasons for leaving and some
were "family moved" and if you were a 16-year-old, you
went with them or the company moved, yes.
Q90 Dr Iddon: I can see that, but
that is a very minor number of cases obviously.
Mr Dunford: Yes.
Q91 Dr Iddon: Could I ask all three
of you what your experience as providers is of small, medium enterprises,
SMEs? Do you find them difficult to get at in terms of persuading
them to take on apprentices or is that the wrong impression? Could
I perhaps start with Tom.
Mr Wilson: I must confess that
unions are not over-represented amongst SMEs so our experience
directly is not enormous, but I think we have picked up enough
experience to know that many, many SMEs do find it genuinely difficult
to take on an apprentice. Partly because of the way it is currently
structured, they probably do not know very much about it, they
are an employer who may not have many resources for training,
they are not aware of all the different channels of possible funding
and so on. Anything that would improve the level of support, help
and assistance to employers would be much appreciated. I think
some of the points that were being made in the earlier session
about group training companies, we are not opposed to those at
all and they are probably quite a useful way of grouping together
a number of employers in a way that would help them, provided
that the individual apprentice still had an employment relationship
with a particular employer. That is the key point there. I think
with enough thought, care and planning we could probably get over
the problems of SMEs but certainly there are problems, yes.
Q92 Dr Iddon: Sara?
Ms Mogel: I agree with what Tom
said, but I think there is another aspect. I think medium-sized
enterprises do contribute an awful lot to the apprenticeship programme.
I think the small, mini and micro are the real problem. They have
a problem from two points of view really: one from the employer's
point of view in that often there is an element of, "I don't
have time to do this properly", as opposed to "I don't
have time to do it"; but there is also an issue from the
apprentice's point of view because sometimes the range of opportunity
is just not there to achieve the framework. That is where group
training associations can come in because they can go and get
that experience somewhere else and I think that would encourage
some of the smaller enterprises to participate in apprenticeships.
Mr Dunford: I think we are very
good at generalising. I have met many SME owner/managers who have
been extremely supportive of their apprenticeships and large companies
which perhaps are not and are very focused on their narrow needs.
It is like the buying decision a business makes in any case, they
need to understand the cost-benefits, the benefits to them and,
if they do that, they will embrace it. As I say, I do agree, though,
that if the business is very small, you have to think of the individual
maybe on their own. Most of us go through education or other experiences
in a peer group very often and that can be quite important, so
having two people doing it is far better than even one if they
are on their own, someone to share experiences with. Certainly
we try and avoid that and I would say it is difficult for micro-businesses,
so I think group training associations have a role but they are
very, very engineering-focused but, as I say, small, medium businesses
where they value what is there and maybe if they do not know about
it in the first place they can talk to another employer. I hate
to use the word, but it is effective "selling" and demonstrating
that this is worthwhile doing. Without that, we will never achieve
our 400,000 and that has to be at the core of the approach.
Q93 Dr Iddon: Do you think providers
are proactive enough in going out to particularly the small businesses
and persuading them to take on apprentices?
Mr Dunford: I think so. Personallythis
is not necessarily an Association of Learning Providers viewthere
should be individual targets for different groups. In most businesses
you would say, "What is the target for small businesses,
medium businesses, large businesses?" I do not believe we
have that, I think it is just a number of apprentices so if you
get 5,000 in a very large plc, that is the equivalent of 2,500
employers with two Apprenticeships each, and maybe we should focus
on and have targets for different groups in terms of size of employer
as well as sectors.
Q94 Chairman: Only one in 10 businesses
currently has an apprentice, so the actual target which the Government
has is relatively small, if we turn more employers on to that.
Mr Dunford: I agree.
Chairman: The panel agrees. On that note
of agreement, could I thank very much indeed Martin, Sara and
Tom for your contribution this afternoon. Could we bring on our
last panel, please.