Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 80-94)


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 to that.

  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 that, Martin?

  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 included—because I do not think the national apprenticeship matching service does—taking 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 are available?

  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. Personally—this is not necessarily an Association of Learning Providers view—there 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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 5 December 2008