House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE & SKILLS COMMITTEE
RICHARD WAINER, DAVID FROST, ANNE
SEAMAN and MATTHEW
DUNFORD, SARA MOGEL and
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods
Mr Tim Boswell
Mr Ian Cawsey
Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Gordon Marsden
Mr Rob Wilson
Witnesses: Richard Wainer, Head of Education and Skills, CBI; David Frost, Director General, British Chambers of Commerce; Anne Seaman, Chief Executive, Skillsmart Retail; and Matthew Jaffa, Acting Deputy Head of Policy, Federation of Small Businesses, gave evidence.
Chairman: Could I thank our witnesses today very much indeed for this one of two oral evidence sessions on the Draft Apprenticeships Bill. Thank you all very much indeed for coming on this, our first day after the long recess. We welcome for our first session Richard Wainer, the head of education and skills at the CBI, David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Anne Seaman, the chief executive of Skillsmart Retail and an old friend, Matthew Jaffa, the acting deputy head of policy at the Federation of Small Businesses.
Q1 Mr Marsden: I am going to direct my first question to David Frost and Richard Wainer. It is a double question. Do we need this Bill and, if we do need it, how is it going to affect the way in which you take apprentices on or not?
Mr Wainer: I think we do need this Bill. It introduces a number of very welcome flexibilities in the way employers will be able to run their apprenticeship programmes, in particular allowing employers themselves to design, probably with support from the new National Apprenticeship Service and the Sector Skills Councils, their own frameworks for the benefit of their businesses' skills needs. The priority for a government apprenticeship policy has to be ensuring that more employers are getting involved. That is what drives quality and completion rates, so ensuring the apprenticeship programme and the apprenticeship framework that is on offer to employers better meets their needs will encourage more businesses to get involved.
Q2 Mr Marsden: David, Richard has just given me an answer which slightly underlines that much of what the government is trying to do with this Bill is aspirational. Do we need legislation to achieve those aspirations?
Mr Frost: Yes, I think we do. I think it is important that we have the framework. Why? Because we need, I believe, to raise how apprenticeships are viewed not just within business but within society as a whole. If we are to do that to make them a real quality route through employment, we believe that this Bill will help.
Q3 Mr Marsden: Richard mentioned flexibility in his response to me. Do you think the current structures of apprenticeships are not flexible enough?
Mr Frost: We believe that the current structure does not result in apprenticeships being valued in the way that they should be. Employers, parents and young people are not necessarily convinced of the quality of apprenticeships as a progressive route through to a future career.
Q4 Mr Marsden: Is that because often and certainly most recently a large number of them have been delivered by brokers rather than directly?
Mr Frost: We believe that for a successful apprenticeship they should be delivered by the employer. The employer must be at the heart of an apprenticeship system. It must be employer led.
Q5 Mr Marsden: Historically, the attitude of employers in well entrenched areas where there have been apprenticeships has been very good and very strong. There are other so-called new apprenticeship areas where the performance and acceptance have been much more patchy. What is there in this Bill that will make those employers who have traditionally not been involved in apprenticeships feel, "Right, this is something we really ought to go for"?
Mr Wainer: We have to recognise that an apprenticeship in engineering or construction, while there will be common elements, will be different to an apprenticeship in retail, hospitality and in hairdressing, for example. By making sure that employers can have the power to design their own frameworks and make sure that the skills the apprentice is going to be learning and the qualifications they are going to be working towards are relevant to that sector, that is the most important point in this Bill.
Q6 Mr Marsden: Anne, obviously you are here today representing Skillsmart Retail. From your perspective, what is there in the provisions of this Bill that is going to make your members more enthusiastic about taking on apprenticeships?
Ms Seaman: I am actually here on behalf of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils but I am from Skillsmart Retail so I will be speaking on behalf of all of those.
Q7 Mr Marsden: In that case your reply should be even more authoritative.
Ms Seaman: I think it reinforces Richard's point. It is about fitness for purpose. It is ensuring that the frameworks meet the needs of the employers. What surprised me when I came into this particular job was how different the sector needs are around apprenticeships. One size does not fit all in terms of the frameworks and you need to understand the sector, how it works and how it will affect the daily business to ensure that it works in an effective way for the employers and for the people undertaking the apprenticeships.
Q8 Mr Marsden: Portability in the past has been a big issue in terms of the apprenticeship debate, whether apprenticeships are too tightly structured to cope with the actual ebb and flow of apprenticeship work programmes. Is there anything in this Bill of itself that is going to improve portability?
Ms Seaman: If we make sure that the blueprint is robust, essentially having a national framework that all the apprenticeships adhere to so you have the common aspects of that on a national basis will ensure that there is an amount of portability. I think that is one of the challenges around employer designed apprenticeships. We have to be aware and make sure that those fit the framework and are national benchmarks, if you like, so that they are transferable because the whole apprenticeship will be undermined if it is not portable. That is one of the things we have to guard against.
Q9 Chairman: What is the incentive for a small employer who wants to take on an apprentice to grow his or her business and they suddenly find out that they are having to meet something which the Secretary of State might lay down, which is of no great benefit to them even though it will be of benefit to the individual?
Ms Seaman: If they are designed properly, that should not occur. I have personal experience a while ago of having a YTS in a small business and it was fantastic. It was an extra pair of hands. Okay, you had to go to college one day a week but it really made a difference to our business. We were able to take on another store because we had someone who could look after the shop while we banked the takings and so on. Whilst that is the value of having an apprentice, they can learn but they can really add value, particularly for small businesses.
Q10 Mr Boswell: If this is as flexible as you, Richard and others, would like, can we stack up a common ground? I am familiar with the world of the more formal, academic qualifications and also vocational qualifications. You are always struggling with this issue about if it is particularly course or topic specific or if it is a piece of currency you can take with you. Can we really square this circle effectively?
Ms Seaman: I think the apprenticeship brand is gathering credibility. The recent investment, the promotion, the blueprint that has really said this is a framework that is consistent across all sectors but respects the need and is fit for purpose in different sectors is a brand that we can build on now.
Q11 Mr Marsden: Matthew, there are some very good small businesses with a long tradition of great pride in terms of recruiting apprentices but equally it has been true historically, in terms of new apprenticeships, that small businesses have often had quite a lot of difficulties in that area. Do you see anything in this Bill that is going to make it easier for small businesses to take on apprentices?
Mr Jaffa: The main thing that we see of interest in this Bill is that, by giving a Bill, it gives importance to the idea of apprenticeships. Therein lies the problem. The Bill is missing certain things that are necessary for a small business and in particular a micro-business for taking on an apprenticeship. Chairman, you highlighted the point well that for years we have been asking for informal, bite sized learning that is going to benefit the micro-business of one to two employees, but it is very difficult for the Secretary of State or the Sector Skills Council, whoever is going to authorise particular frameworks, to say what a small, micro-business needs. They are still churning out apprenticeship frameworks that small businesses do not need and they are not geared towards the needs of the micro-business.
Q12 Mr Marsden: It is still top down and not bottom up?
Mr Jaffa: Yes.
Q13 Mr Marsden: David, Harold Wilson famously said a week is a long time in politics. We have had a few months since this draft Bill was published and that has been an eternity in terms of the economy. Do you think the economic downturn and the uncertainty that we are now having poses a huge challenge in terms of the government's ambitions of renaissance in apprenticeships?
Mr Frost: In the short term it will but I am an optimist. Having been through three recessions before, it is my view that at some stage we are going to come out the other side, hopefully sooner rather than later. What we clearly have to be in a position to do is to meet the aspirations of the employers who provide an apprenticeship service which is valued by the employee. There is no right time to launch this but at some stage the economy and employers will be in a position where they need apprentices.
Q14 Ian Stewart: Matthew, Richard and David, to what extent does this Bill give employers the freedom to create apprenticeships as they see the need for them?
Mr Wainer: A lot will depend on how this Bill is put into practice. Clearly there are clauses in the Bill to allow employers or any organisation, not just the Sector Skills Council as it is now, to produce an apprenticeship framework that has to be approved by the Sector Skills Council. Putting this into practice, it will be important that the Sector Skills Councils do not restrict that flexibility and do not introduce more rigidity in the system and perhaps undermine some of these provisions. If some of our world class employers - the likes of McDonalds, Tesco, Nissan - develop an apprenticeship framework that is fit for them, then it really should be fit for the whole sector.
Q15 Ian Stewart: Does that stand for small businesses?
Mr Jaffa: I would not totally agree. There is not enough in this Bill for us to see where we can be involved with the process. There are so many different bodies. You have the Sector Skills Council; you now have Group Training Associations mentioned in the Bill, the NAS, the National Apprenticeship Service, and it is very difficult for small businesses to know where to engage. We could be involved in the idea of Group Training Associations and that would help the process of them matching up how to engage with the service because the GTA would do the work for you and that would take a lot of the pressure off small businesses trying to engage with the system. In effect we would support the idea of the GTAs as long as we know who the employer still is. From my understanding of it, it would appear that GTAs are kind of the employer so there might be issues regarding contracts of employment that might be a concern for our members.
Q16 Ian Stewart: Anne highlighted the desire for apprentices to gain transferable, career enhancing skills. How much are your members interested in that?
Mr Jaffa: The main skills that our members want are skills that are needed for them to function on the job when the hit the ground running. Literacy, numeracy and ICT skills are important but it is not for an apprenticeship to be the need for an employer to take on the apprentices to be functioning in literacy, numeracy and ICT skills on the first day. It should be on the job skills. Those particular skills - literacy, numeracy and ICT - should be within the education system.
Q17 Ian Stewart: Can the system deliver what your members want?
Mr Jaffa: I am yet to be convinced.
Mr Frost: Putting the employer at the heart of this is going to be key. Employers are confused and bemused by the constant, frequent changes in vocational training and are also concerned about the number of agencies literally that are knocking on their door, trying to sell them training services. We need to be clear where the National Apprenticeship Service is going to fit into this and which of the organisations it is going to need to liaise and interface with. The concept of a Group Training Association will be at the heart for many small and medium sized businesses because the world of apprenticeships has changed from when a lot of people of my generation were involved, where you had very large companies that were embedded in the regions that would often recruit 50, 70 or 100 apprentices at a time for both their own purposes and then for other business as well. Those have now gone. What we are looking at is a concept where one or two apprentices perhaps are being taken by a number of companies and we have effective delivery of training for those which brings in the Group Training Association. The other big change is we have had a fundamental shift in the structure of business away from manufacturing, where of course the apprenticeship was embedded in, now much more to a service sector economy. I think it is going to be a real challenge to deliver effective apprentices in that service sector and I do not think we are there yet.
Q18 Ian Stewart: Can we get a consensus of where each of the organisations represented can get from this Bill what it is looking for? I am mindful, Matthew, of what you said on behalf of your members. If so, how do we get there?
Ms Seaman: I think we can. One of the challenges is around complexity and being clear about the boundaries and relationships between the organisations involved. All employers complain about the complexity and bureaucracy around this area and particularly around apprenticeships. It is having clarity about who does what and who should be talking to who, what the various roles are. I just want to make a point about flexibility though because there is flexibility in the design of the framework, which means bite size, fit for purpose and embedding the basic skills areas, but there is also flexibility around delivery. A lot of the challenges around apprenticeships are how flexible we can be in delivery, in assessment processes and so on. The flexibility has to be there in both aspects of that to make it deliverable and to embed it within businesses.
Q19 Chairman: I am gobsmacked here, a northern phrase. All of you have mentioned the level of complexity, bureaucracy and everything else and here is another Bill that adds to it all. You are all saying, "This is great." Richard, sorry. I am putting words into your mouth, accusing you wrongly.
Ms Seaman: We are hoping that this Bill will bring some clarity to all that, with definitions around what the National Apprenticeship Service is there for, what the Sector Skills Councils' role is and some flexibility around Group Training Associations so that we can deliver the economies of scale.
Q20 Ian Stewart: Do we need a new Act of Parliament for that?
Mr Wainer: There are a lot of issues around apprenticeships that will not be solved by legislation. Anne picked up the point of bureaucracy and red tape. That does not need legislation to solve the problems there.
Q21 Chairman: Ian's question is absolutely right. What is in this Bill that needs legislation, that we could not do through good regulation or discussing with employers?
Mr Wainer: I think it comes back to my first point around ensuring that the frameworks are fit for purpose and allowing employers to have that strong input because at the moment the process is that the Sector Skills Councils assess the framework and other organisations, other businesses, cannot have that strong input.
Chairman: You are an optimist.
Gibson: I thought the world now was a world where
individuals had several jobs throughout their lives. There was this old fashioned idea that you
went into the shipyards in the upper
Mr Frost: I agree. I think that is why this has to be part of a framework. It has to be clear with the ability to progress for example from doing an apprenticeship through to doing a degree and beyond. It should not just be viewed in isolation.
Q23 Mr Boswell: Can I ask a bit more about the details in apprenticeship agreements and perhaps a little bit more about the relationship between the frameworks and the agreements themselves? Who is going to specify that kind of thing? Is it going to be the employers? Is it going to need approval by the National Apprenticeship Service or whatever? That will lead on to a question about bureaucracy but let us just deal with the nuts and bolts. Who is in charge of the delivery of the apprenticeship agreements and then ultimately of their implementation?
Mr Jaffa: To be honest with you, I cannot give you the answer as to who we think is in charge of the system. That is why we are probably at the lower end in terms of enthusiasm for this kind of Bill because unfortunately, as small businesses, we do not know how to engage with this system. We feel that when these agreements are made they are very geared towards large and medium sized businesses and not the micro, small businesses. We have a case study in the south west where a consortium of small and large employers was trying to get an engineering qualification agreed and it was going through for about a year but at the last minute was pulled because the local colleges did not feel they could agree to the particular issues that the small businesses were asking for. This is just one case study. Small businesses will find it hardest through this system to get any kind of accreditation.
Q24 Mr Boswell: Can I bring in my other question which is about off the job training, time in college or whatever? Clearly that is important and nobody is saying we should not have any. How much is that, in your book, going to be specified or does it need to be specified in order to establish the external credibility of the apprenticeship, or do you really want that to be something which is very much a matter for employer resolution?
Mr Jaffa: The idea of the old fashioned day release is not what we are looking for. We do agree with time spent in local colleges as long as you are employed within a business. We have no problem there. We are fine with that as long as it is not the traditional day release. It has to be locally provided, locally sourced. The brokerage is showing that it is for the needs of a small business, whether it be a specific time, so locally based but within bite sized chunks, not taking a day out of the organisation.
Q25 Mr Boswell: Can I ask the three others now to respond on the bureaucracy point and this tension again between detail and general specification?
Mr Wainer: The Bill does not detail what apprenticeship standards should look like.
Q26 Mr Boswell: Should it?
Mr Wainer: No. I think it should be down to the individual employer to determine that with the apprentice. Of course it has to be a balance between that flexibility and high quality experience for the apprentice. That will entail some off the job time but, as Matthew said, that has to be delivered flexibly. It is not just going down every Friday afternoon to your local college.
Q27 Mr Boswell: Are you at all worried that the NAS is going to come along with a very prescriptive model? What worries me is that there are lots of good intensions and a lot of enthusiasm, but it might just all fall foul on bureaucracy and that is slightly the tenor of the evidence we have received. Are you rehearsing that as a doubt and worry?
Mr Wainer: I think that is a concern, yes.
Mr Frost: The NAS has to show real added value. It may well be that it needs some form of regional structure, engaging with business and those other agencies.
Boswell: It is not an email to
Mr Frost: Yes.
Ms Seaman: Can I make a point about time out of the business, because I do not think it is always necessary. It depends on the particular apprenticeship, the particular business and the individual involved. You must remember that these apprenticeships are also valuable for adults already working within businesses. Therefore, going to college may not always be appropriate. Certainly we have seen examples of apprenticeships being delivered wholly within a business. Obviously there is time out within the business to do particular aspects - one or two hours - but on the job, in the workplace, is the best way for them to be delivered.
Q29 Mr Boswell: You would see a central edict that there had to be so much time off the job as being over specification and inappropriate?
Ms Seaman: The appropriate specification is around the blueprint in terms of what a national benchmark framework should look like. Then it depends very much on the sector and the businesses involved as to how it gets delivered and designed.
Q30 Mr Boswell: Towards the objective?
Ms Seaman: Yes.
Q31 Chairman: What confuses me with your responses and with Matthew's responses to a large extent is, if you want employers to be the determinant of what an apprenticeship scheme should be and what goes into it, why on earth should the taxpayer fund it?
Ms Seaman: That is a challenge and I do not think all employers necessarily expect it to be funded. Certainly that is not the first question that employers often ask. With young people, certainly 16 to 18 year olds, there is an element of ongoing training and development, of gearing them up for work and whether that is in a specific sector that serves them for their lifetime or it develops a transferable skill, the employability skills, through that apprenticeship that they need throughout their lifetime, I think there is an expectation that that would be supported or subsidised. I think it depends on an individual case basis around adult apprenticeships, for example, depending what the circumstances are coming in perhaps from unemployment for a long period, getting onto the ladder. They need support and help and they may need additional support in the business. The business cannot always carry that full cost so there might be an argument for subsidy and so on. It will depend on sectors as well.
Dr Iddon: Group Training Associations are as old as The Beatles. They date back to the sixties and they are very strong in the engineering sector. I have a figure of 88 of these charitable organisations operating in that sector. Can they adopt the Heineken principle? In other words, will they reach the sectors that have never been reached by Group Training Associations as a result of this Bill turning into an Act?
Q32 Chairman: Be positive here.
Mr Jaffa: We are supportive of Group Training Associations. I did not know they had been around as long as The Beatles. The Group Training Associations are good if a small business gets involved and it can be joined by another small business and there is a network of small businesses. However, we feel that the large businesses will be dominating and have the best choice and will pick and choose who they want in terms of apprenticeships. It is very hard for a small business to say which ones it wants. More often than not, they will get maybe the last pickings really and maybe that is the reason why in particular graduates and high level candidates go into larger businesses before they go into smaller businesses. Small businesses are prepared to pay for apprenticeships. It is just the idea of literacy and numeracy skills that they are not prepared to pay for, but we are in effect calling for an increase in the national minimum wage for apprenticeships that was set last week. We feel they should be paid more as that will increase completion levels.
Q33 Dr Iddon: Are you saying therefore that not all sectors of the economy will have access to a Group Training Association?
Mr Jaffa: We do not think so. I am yet to be convinced on that particular one.
Q34 Dr Iddon: You obviously agree that if a young man or woman is looking for an apprenticeship they are not going to choose a small company first, are they?
Mr Jaffa: That is the problem with the system.
Q35 Dr Iddon: How do we encourage apprentices to go into small companies? Do we offer something extra?
Mr Jaffa: I do not want to get into party politics but I do think a certain amount given before the apprentices come on to encourage them to go into a small business, whether it be an amount given to a small business to take on an apprentice, might be more of an incentive for that small business to advertise or be more forthcoming in terms of who they are going to attract.
Mr Frost: The question lies at the
heart of the issues. In essence, in many
parts of the
Q36 Dr Iddon: Do you think there has to be a financial incentive to do that or will it happen without?
Mr Frost: It is interesting. If you look at the development of Group Training Associations when the ITBs were set up, there were clearly financial incentives to do that. They may well be needed again, yes.
Q37 Mr Wilson: There has been some criticism of the quality of some apprenticeships in recent years. In the new structure of things, if an employer does not have the time to supervise and train an apprentice properly, should they have access to government funds?
Mr Frost: No. If it is a programme that is not part of the framework, then I do not think they should have access to funds.
Q38 Chairman: At the heart of what we are trying to get at is this issue about growing numbers and equating that to quality, because simply growing numbers will not do anybody any great service.
Mr Frost: Absolutely. If the government simply wants to go to a relentless increase in volumes, this will not work. The reason why large numbers of people have now gone off for an academic route with the huge expansion of higher education is because apprenticeships have not been seen as quality alternatives. Simply to go for volume at the expense of quality will just consign this programme to the dustbin.
Q39 Mr Wilson: Would therefore a better progression from apprenticeship into higher education be particularly attractive to get more people to become apprentices?
Mr Frost: Unquestionably. They want to be seen as being part of a natural route to move on.
Mr Wainer: We have to see that moving into higher education is not just about going on to do three full time undergraduate degrees. Higher education is much more flexible than that. You have companies like BT offering level four apprenticeships which deliver foundation degrees, so I think we have to get ourselves away from the mindset that progression to higher education is not just going to university for three years full time.
Ms Seaman: One of the critical things here is getting that agreement right up front so that everybody is clear about their expectations in terms of the employer, the provider and the individual. If everybody is clear about that up front, I think that will assist in terms of all the expectations of the people involved to improve the quality and make sure that some of those things you talked about do not arise. If they do, then the funding is not available.
Q40 Mr Cawsey: The draft Bill is going to set up the National Apprenticeship Service. What are the key issues that that service should concentrate on? For instance, should they be the guardian of apprenticeship quality?
Mr Frost: I think the primary role is to provide leadership and a clear statement of the importance of apprenticeship, to take ownership and, as you say, put that stamp on it.
Mr Wainer: In terms of whether it will be a success, it really has to focus on helping employers reduce the time they spend on bureaucracy, encouraging more young people of all abilities to take an apprenticeship. Perhaps that is where the clause in the Bill on careers advice really does fall down. Rather than it improving careers advice in terms of offering guidance to young people about apprenticeships, it will just reinforce careers advisers' and teachers' prejudices that already exist. What we have to do is make sure all young people receive high quality advice and guidance on whether an apprenticeship is good for them, not using the judgment of the teacher if that is going to be "in the best interests", as I think the Bill puts it, of the young person. It has to be more widespread than that.
Ms Seaman: It is about having a national benchmark and a national standard so that the apprenticeship stands for something of high quality and it has an equivalence with all the other options that a young person or an older person might take and is equally respected. I see a lot of the NAS role in terms of building that credibility, that brand and reputation around apprenticeships so that they are valued by employers and individuals alike and people get proper advice about the options that are open to them.
Mr Jaffa: If it is going to have any role to benefit our sector, it has to be what is in it for the small businesses because they do want to take on apprenticeships. In a recent survey, we found that only five per cent of the people taking on apprenticeships were aware of wage contribution on offer to small businesses, which is a very, very low figure. It is that awareness. Whether it needs legislation I do not know but, as long as that point comes across, we will be happy.
Q41 Mr Cawsey: You spoke earlier about bureaucracy, particularly for small businesses, in terms of this but presumably you all agree that it is important that some data is collected so that it can be analysed and made publicly available to provide the sort of robust evidence that this is a good scheme. To what extent should this National Apprenticeship Service be collecting data?
Mr Jaffa: We have always struggled with getting apprentices to complete the course. The data on completion levels, particularly in the micro sector for those under ten employees, will be very beneficial for us.
Mr Frost: I clearly understand the need for data but I think this is one of the issues about bureaucracy. As long as we are clear who is collecting the data and why and firms are not being bombarded by a whole host of different agencies at national, regional and local level, then that is understood.
Ms Seaman: I think the data is critical, not only in terms of understanding what is going on but building credibility. We need to know that completion rates are improving and I think that comes back to fitness for purpose of frameworks and getting the delivery right. If we get all that right, the completion rates will increase.
Q42 Mr Cawsey: The completion rate does not necessarily equate to improving quality, does it?
Ms Seaman: I believe it does because you have to have a quality framework for someone to complete if you have all the agreements in place.
Mr Wainer: I agree with David. I think data collection is important as long as it does not p lace undue burdens on the businesses involved but at the moment I think the quality of data we have around apprenticeships is pretty poor. From a policy perspective, it is very difficult.
Q43 Mr Cawsey: It is planned that there will be a national matching service which there has been some comment about. To what extent is business enthusiastic about the national service or would you prefer more localised arrangements?
Mr Jaffa: The idea of a matching service would be what a Group Training Association was there for, so if it is going to make any point make it one and not two different things for a small business to understand.
Mr Frost: Particularly small and medium sized businesses operate in a local labour market. That matching is going to have to be done at local level.
Ms Seaman: We have yet to see how it works but I think it would have to be local based on local areas and local needs.
Mr Wainer: I agree.
Q44 Chairman: All of you started by making it clear that you felt that, first of all, apprenticeships would only work if in fact there was strong engagement by employers. In other words, it was an experience led apprenticeship scheme. I think you all subscribe to that. What are your views about programme led apprenticeships which are delivered through training providers and FE colleges? Do they have a place?
Mr Frost: We are absolutely clear. We believe for those apprenticeship schemes to work they must be employer led.
Q45 Chairman: End of story?
Mr Frost: Yes.
Mr Jaffa: We would agree with that.
Mr Wainer: I think just increasing apprenticeship numbers through programme led apprenticeships is not going to do anyone any good. We have to make sure the scheme really does deliver to employers and young people.
Ms Seaman: Our employers would say that they need to be work based and in the workplace to make them effective.
Q46 Ian Stewart: If it is to be employer led, as you all consistently argue, how are you going to guarantee that employers are committed to it and contribute to it? How do you maintain standards?
Mr Wainer: I do not think flexibility and quality are mutually exclusive. Mr Boswell asked how do we develop a strong apprenticeship brand. I think brands develop because people are confident they deliver quality and value for money. If a young person can see that an apprenticeship is preparing them well for a future career, is developing those wider employability skills, that is how the brands will develop. That is where young people and their parents will be confident that an apprenticeship is a good option for them.
Q47 Dr Iddon: The employers have not always been very positive about employing apprentices, have they? I can remember a time when I was responsible for a direct labour organisation. We had 42 apprentices for the construction industry. The construction industry itself had very few apprentices at that time. They relied on somebody like us lending out our apprentices to them after we had trained them.
Mr Wainer: It comes back to Matthew's point. Employers are not there to educate young people. We need to ensure that there are more young people of all abilities, not just perhaps those deemed by teachers and careers advisers as less suitable for the academic route. If we get a higher quality of applicants into a lot of these apprenticeship schemes, I think a lot more employers will be interested in getting involved.
Q48 Ian Stewart: Did I hear you right? Employers are not there to educate people?
Mr Wainer: No. They are there to train people. There is a frustration that employers are delivering literacy and numeracy training that really should have been sorted out at school.
Chairman: On that note, could I thank Richard, Anne, David and Matthew very much indeed for starting us off this afternoon.
Witnesses: Martin Dunford, Chairman, Association of Learning Providers; Sara Mogel, Association of Colleges; and Tom Wilson, Head of the Organisation and Services Department, TUC, gave evidence.
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 Colleges - I am sure Sara was interested - and 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 per cent, it is supposed to be a career enhancing qualification for the young person - that is why there is underpinning knowledge; that is why there are key skills - they 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 will 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 equality 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 as individuals?
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 per cent, 25 per cent was always going to happen when they introduced key skills. You had to take an exam four times a year and 82 per cent of people got GCSEs at grade D and above 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, for 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 engineer, 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 individual.
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 education?
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, the RDAs, the LSC 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.
Q60 Ian Stewart: Martin, do you think there is a potential for the trade union learning reps themselves who have an interest in the training side aspects also becoming trainers?
Mr Dunford: Absolutely and I am sure some do, I would guess. It is industry experience which is necessary to build the capacity.
Q61 Chairman: Can I ask you something very briefly before I move on to Dr Gibson. I raised the issue about programme-led apprenticeships with the last panel and you have alluded to that in questions from both Roberta and Ian. In large parts of the country, and I am talking particularly about rural areas, if you go down to the South West, Devon and Cornwall, or go to my part of the country, North Yorkshire, there are not major employers and they certainly are not in a lot of different trades. Is not the only way we can satisfy some of that demand to have programme-led apprenticeships, and how are you going to robustly defend that because all the employers dismissed it?
Ms Mogel: Part of the problem is programme-led apprenticeships are different in different parts of the country and therefore do not have an entity, a brand that an employer can recognise. However, if you say to an employer, particularly a smaller or a rural employer, "Would you prefer to take somebody who already has some employability skills or somebody who does not have any?", they are undoubtedly going to say, "I'd prefer to take somebody with some level of skills", and that is what programme-led apprenticeships were supposed to be about. I think they do fill that need and that is why the Association of Colleges has put forward the proposal that there should be an access to apprenticeships rather than calling it "Programme-led", which was a bit of a misnomer, which says it prepares me to undertake an apprenticeship. It fills two other gaps: one is there are groups of young people who are not ready for work but would like to go down the apprenticeship route and this would give them a tailored programme rather than them having to do a programme which did not have them in mind; the second category it could fill is the transition between the foundation learning tier and an apprenticeship which probably will need something to fill that gap in between and, again, an access to apprenticeships would be that route. I think the concept is fine, but I am not sure necessarily we have sold that concept very well.
Q62 Chairman: Thank you very much. Martin, very briefly.
Mr Dunford: There are two sorts of programme-led apprenticeships and apparently the LSC was only allowed to have one extra name. There are those that are called "College-based" and there are those that are in work. The Association of Learning Providers is a broad church, so organisations, charities like Rathbone, YMCA and Nacro are all members. There is a role for what I would call a "work located apprenticeship" and I will try and promote that term, where it is not employed status, the vast majority are employed status. ALP are quite anti the whole college-based system but, as Sara said, we have not talked about the NEET Group and we have not talked about how you get into apprenticeships. There are plenty of work-ready people who are not Level 2 ready; there is a big gap there. We have got the Entry to Employment Programme which is very good if it is done well. We are not sure what is going to happen to that under the foundation learning tier, which is very qualification based, so that whole entry into apprenticeships and then progression along. This is all déjà vu. In 2003 there was an end-to-end review of modern apprenticeships and all the same things came up, progression, portability, a matching service or a UCAS style attempt. At the other end of the spectrum we have people like BT and JTL who take on ten per cent, 20 per cent of the applicants, so what happens to the other 80 or 90 per cent, no-one is picking those up and saying, "Okay, you didn't get through on that apprenticeship, have you considered this option?", and we are worried that they just get dropped. There is a role for a work-located, if you like, in a specified and controlled way.
Chairman: Thank you for that. I think it is important to get your comments on the record here.
Q63 Dr Gibson: The Secretary of State,
whoever, can approve core elements for every apprenticeship. Should these core
requirements have elements which allow you to get into higher education, which
you are very keen on, because I find it very difficult to think that Chris
Mr Dunford: There are foundation degrees now, for example, and at our last
conference Foundation Degree Forward came and gave a talk and so on. Someone mentioned CBI about Level 4
apprenticeships. It is that technical,
vocational higher education. They are
not polytechnics any more, they are all universities and Chris Patten at
Q64 Dr Gibson: He will not!
Mr Dunford: I am sure he will not! Maybe he will at
Q65 Dr Gibson: What are the core elements?
Mr Dunford: I am not sure. The underpinning knowledge is certainly very important.
Q66 Dr Gibson: Sara, what do you think the core elements might be for every apprenticeship?
Ms Mogel: I do think there has to be something which is sector related, the underpinning knowledge that the Sector Skills Council along with some of the network of skills groups that the Association of Colleges has, the union learning reps and private training providers should be able to come in for each sector. There are certain core things which an apprentice at Level 2 or Level 3 should have and at Level 3 should allow them to go on to a Level 4 or a higher education course. Some of those are very clear now and we do have higher education apprentices, particularly in engineering, that is a very common route. We must not think they are the sorts of people who are going to go into full-time learning at higher education, they are much more likely to go down the foundation degree route. We have to remember that even now in higher education, large proportions, nearly half of the people who enter higher education go a vocational route now and some of those will be apprentices. The issue is they tend to be very specific sectors and they do not cross the whole of the sectors.
Mr Wilson: I would agree with many of those comments. I do think it is important to recognise that Chris Patten does not speak for higher education.
Dr Gibson: He thinks he does.
Q67 Mr Marsden: Or even
Mr Wilson: Or possibly even
Q68 Dr Gibson: He thinks he does!
Mr Wilson: To make the point more broadly, there are vast numbers of universities that already accredit prior experiential learning which will recognise all sorts of qualifications which may not be traditional academic ones and they are the kinds of universities which are currently actively now exploring how to recognise and award UCAS points for Level 3 apprenticeships. By the way, there should be far, far more being done on that but the beginnings of it are being done. To have a stab at answering your question, what might be the core elements, I would have thought it was possible to have sector specific Level 3 core elements which were about communication skills, numeracy, literacy, team-working, motivational and organisational skills, all the things which many universities say now are what they are looking for from school or college entrants.
Q69 Dr Gibson: This has not been thought through. I could say mathematics, statistics and so on, all of which are very important, how much you need to know is an argument, but has this been thought through by anybody yet?
Mr Wilson: I think it is beginning to be and that is part of the purpose of this Bill, which is to concentrate a lot of energy and resources on those sorts of questions and make sure they are given the attention they deserve.
Q70 Dr Gibson: Do you not think you need a national curriculum before you have the Bill? Do you not really need to know what you are getting into, what you need, what resources you need? You are going to have people who teach as well?
Mr Wilson: Part of the purpose of the service will be to identify sector by sector what are the kinds of qualities that will be needed for Level 3 apprenticeships for them to be genuinely eligible for universities. Much of that work is already underway.
Q71 Dr Gibson: What about off-the-job training, should that be part of it too?
Mr Wilson: It could be.
Q72 Dr Gibson: You would say that off-the-job training would be too, Sara?
Ms Mogel: I think it depends on the sector, on the job and on the employer. We must not think that off-the-job always has to mean away from the job because it does not.
Q73 Dr Gibson: How does it differ from away from the work station?
Ms Mogel: Sometimes, for example, rather than you going to college, college can come to you in a variety of formats, either literally, as in a person, or through using technology. Sometimes that suits the needs of the employer and the apprentice better. In terms of progression on to higher education on to Level 4, because foundation degrees are written in conjunction with employers, they often give a very good route for a Level 3, an advanced level apprentice to go on to Level 4 and do exactly what you are saying. They are looking at the end point, this is what the foundation degree will need in order for you to be successful in it and therefore can trace back through. I think you are right, you do have to look at where you think the end point is. For some industries those routes do not yet exist and that is more of an issue than those industries that have a tradition of going on to HE.
Q74 Dr Gibson: Martin, is there a tension in terms of the training that somebody is going to get? Is it for the employer first and their development second or are you going to tell me it is half and half because it can never be that?
Mr Dunford: No, there is a tension. Some employers, even large ones need persuading to take on apprenticeships or do training because they think there is going to be a poaching element, we are going to train them and they are going to go. It is a reality, even very large ones have said that to me. Yes, there is a tension. It is about explaining the benefits to the employer and the individual and most people have some good in them, even if the employer thinks, I do not need some of that and it is going to benefit my employees, great. They might not need them to be literate or numerate in some cases, but that is part of the framework and so it should be, otherwise we are just talking about a quick competence-based NVQ. Can I say on higher education, it is not just about getting there, it would add to the brand of apprenticeships if it is a recognised route for it. It is a bit like there are four divisions in football and one day you might be able to get there. Also, GCSEs and A levels, lots of people stop at GCSE or A level but that was the route they could have gone on to. If we could see that progression all the way, that would be a powerful strengthening brand.
Q75 Dr Gibson: You do not have to answer this, but it is up to whoever forms this thing, the pathway has to be worked out for the individual and it is not at the minute.
Mr Dunford: It does, yes, and there is not enough focus on progression. Even the data for measuring how many people went on to university from an apprenticeship is not available.
Chairman: The whole business of guidance is absolutely crucial all the way through this, is it not, both for young people and indeed for adults?
Q76 Mr Marsden: Tom, can I come to
you. In its World-Class Apprenticeships paper at the beginning of January of
this year the Government talked about apprenticeships in
Mr Wilson: It is certainly frankly a bit of a scandal I think at the moment. The extent of segregation is astonishing, 98 per cent of all construction apprentices will be boys and 99 per cent of all hairdressing apprentices will be girls, something of that order. You do not find figures like that almost anywhere else in the entire education and learning system, so clearly we have got to do something about it and this Bill is the beginnings of doing something about it. The first thing, I think, is to start in schools and make sure that when teachers are advising 16-year-olds about where they might go and what their options are, teachers themselves are given some better training, advice and guidance about the wider range of options. The second thing, I think, picking up the point Martin just made, is that if apprenticeships can be seen as a route into higher education, then people might in turn begin to think of them as not something that is a dead end in itself. If you want, say, to go and do engineering, at the moment there are far more girls doing engineering at university than girls doing engineering as apprentices, so it may well be that it is a way of getting more girls into engineering apprenticeships if they can then think of going on to university.
Q77 Mr Marsden: There is a money gap, is there not, between what women and men get under the apprenticeship scheme?
Mr Wilson: Yes.
Q78 Mr Marsden: Is that a key element? It may be inequitable in itself, but is it an actual key element attracting people in?
Mr Wilson: I think it is both an element in itself and also a reflection of a wider problem, it is a presenting problem and a real problem. I think you have to tackle it on many, many fronts and one of those will be to try and persuade employers who take on women, say, in construction and engineering that they can be just as valuable as boys. That will encourage girls because they are not daft, they can see they are going to get paid far more in engineering and construction than you might in hairdressing. It will encourage more girl school leavers to consider taking up a non-traditional apprenticeship. It is important also to remember the other side of that coin, which is persuading boys to go into some of the caring professions. History shows that the more men and boys who go into these sorts of things, the higher the wages tend to be.
Q79 Mr Marsden: Martin, if I can come to you. One of the other issues in terms of diversity is the under-representation of black and minority ethnic young people and, again, that has been identified particularly in some of the traditional craft-based sectors. Is that a problem that you recognise and, if so, what sorts of things can we do about it other than try to get quotas, which may be self-defeating?
Mr Dunford: They certainly are unrepresented. One of our board members, Dr Richard Williams of Rathbone, has written on this subject. Black and minority ethnic young people largely go to FE colleges and do not even look at apprenticeships. There is a huge opportunity if we get the information and guidance right in schools because, I do not know if you are aware, the majority of apprentices we have do not come from school into apprenticeships, they are found, if you like, with the employer already employed. You could say this is a negative, but if you look at the opportunity to grow the numbers, if we get that information, advice and guidance right and talk about the grounding and the routes to higher education, we should attract generally more people from school into an apprenticeship and that should reflect more the population of the school. At the moment what we are reflecting is the diversity of the workplace largely, because most apprentices are signed up when they are already in work.
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 four per cent 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 per cent 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,
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
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 hit on. 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 is talking 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 their 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 in our 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, maybe more, 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 ten 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.
Q95 Chairman: Welcome to our last panel
Q96 Chairman: Why do we need the Bill then?
Q97 Chairman: Marinos, what differences will an employer or, indeed, an apprentice notice when the new National Apprenticeship Service is set up?
Mr Paphitis: The young people and employers already engaged may not notice a difference, this is about raising the esteem of these people.
Q98 Chairman: I am trying to work out why we are having this Bill because if it is such a success currently, as David says, and we are expanding so quickly, I do not understand why we need it.
Mr Paphitis: I think it is a great success but there is so much more to do, there are so many young people not engaged in apprenticeships, as we heard earlier, there are so many employers, nine in ten not engaged in apprenticeships, so if we can get to those as opposed to the existing ones. If you are asking me, "Will it benefit an existing employer or a young person already there?", then perhaps not, but if we raise the whole spectra of the entitlement to an apprenticeship by having the Bill, if we raise the profile, if we raise the quality assurance, if we protect the brand, which is very important, and we ensure that diversity is tackled, then we can do so much more. I do not think it is about failure to date, there is so much more we can do and I think the Bill will help us to raise the profile.
Q99 Chairman: How do we ensure the best people within the LSC at the moment transfer into the National Apprenticeship Service, or will there be new people recruited to that service?
Mr Paphitis: I think both.
Mr Way: I think the answer is we will have high quality people from the Learning and Skills Council transferring to the National Apprenticeship Service because the nature of the work it involves is going to be attractive to many people in that organisation, as will the continuing work with the Young People's Agency (?) and the Skills Funding Agency. I would be confident that type of work is going to be appealing to many people because it is going to be locally based and directly dealing with employers. What this will mean is if you are an employer, you will know exactly where to go to get help with apprenticeships, information and specialist advice to get you on to an apprenticeship. If you are a young person, you can use the Vacancy Matching Service and be confident that the National Apprenticeship Service is working with schools, Connexions and other advisers to make sure that you are given the best possible information to make the right decision for you at 16, 17 and 18.
Q100 Chairman: David, what struck me about Martin Dunford's comments - I do not know if you were in the room when he made his comments - which I had not appreciated, most of the current apprentices are coming from people who are in work and who are then being converted to apprenticeships. They are not these new people who are coming at 16 because we have heard real problems about the career service in schools, et cetera, turning people on or at 19. How will the new Apprenticeship Service make sure that people in work who are getting training (a) get converted to the Apprenticeship Scheme but (b) also get quality? Is that something you have missed?
Q101 Chairman: He said the majority.
Q102 Ian Stewart: David, this Bill will give a guarantee of a couple of choices to a young person who qualifies for an apprenticeship. How is the Learning and Skills Council going to manage demand when it outstrips particular apprenticeships or if there is a downturn in the economy or if there are no places available? How are you going to manage that?
Q103 Ian Stewart: I am perplexed about this aspect of offering a person two apprenticeships, that complicates it even further, does it not? How do you do that in rural areas, for example?
Q104 Ian Stewart: Have I got it right, the key here is the Learning and Skills Council or subsequent body and the person seeking an apprenticeship may be ready and enlightened, you can take the horse to water, but is it the employer who is the difficult part?
Mr Way: We have always got to be balancing supply and demand here and working on both sides, but there is no doubt that what we need to do is increase the number of good quality employer apprenticeships and you get queues of young people for those. In looking at how we might deploy LSC/NAS resources in the future, my priority at the moment in planning this and thinking about it is definitely on the employers' side because if we can produce more vacancies, we will get young people coming through. We must not neglect ensuring that good quality young people get the right advice and come through, but given a choice between the two, it is the vacancies we need.
Q105 Ian Stewart: Marinos, at the regional level, do you have strategies for encouraging employers?
Mr Paphitis: Absolutely. We have got to work with providers as well as employers and young people in schools to try and get that balance. In any given year it will not be perfect but the information, advice and guidance which young people get and the information which is available through the new Vacancy Matching Service will go a long way towards helping on the point that you are raising. Young people are very good at finding out for themselves through using information technology now, and they are very smart at that, they will be able to see for themselves the multitude of vacancies that are available in their region, in their sub-region and in their town and will get a very good idea of what might be available for them. Earlier witnesses explained that perhaps with some very big employers they only take one in ten of the people who apply. Those young people are still interested in apprenticeships and so by having the information, it will give them an absolute chance to have another look at what else might be available, something I think currently we miss.
Ian Stewart: I understand all that and that is good stuff, but there is something here that I am missing. My understanding is that this draft Bill, if it is passed, will place a responsibility on the Learning and Skills Council to provide every person who qualifies with an apprenticeship.
Chairman: A choice of two.
Q106 Ian Stewart: A choice of two, yes. If you are doing everything you need to do and the apprenticeship work is not available, how can you meet that commitment?
Mr Paphitis: I think David hit on that, it is the way it is framed. You cannot have an apprenticeship without an employer and a young person. We can do a lot to bring all those things together, so the more vacancies we can generate, the more interest in schools, the more young people who come forward, the better the market will work. What we cannot do is force young people on an employer or an employer on a young person, so what we must do is provide the market, be the market maker in terms of supporting the opportunities for young people and ensuring that employers put their vacancies on the system. By doing that and by giving young people the opportunity to have a look at what is available, I am sure that will give them an opportunity to look at more than two vacancies. By no means can we guarantee that they will get one of those options.
Q107 Dr Blackman-Woods: How do you think the National Apprenticeship Service is going to be marketed to employers?
Mr Paphitis: Through a number of routes. For a start, let us be clear, most employers currently working with apprenticeships work through training providers, so training providers will have a major role in ensuring that employers understand what we have got and they understand the benefits, for instance, of the Vacancy Matching Service and they use it. Without providers supporting employers to do that we will not have that part of the market made up, so I think providers are a fundamental tool in terms of promoting to employers. We need to do a lot more in terms of our marketing campaigns also to attract those nine out of ten employers who currently do not offer apprenticeships, so there is another route to market which is directly those employers and the National Apprenticeship Service will have a role in that. We have never had one before, so I think it will be a major benefit in terms of getting more employers.
Q108 Dr Blackman-Woods: You do not think it is going to get in the way of direct contact with employers?
Mr Paphitis: Absolutely not, no. On the contrary, I think we may well have more employers looking directly at apprenticeships rather than through other routes.
Q109 Dr Blackman-Woods: That is interesting. What relationship do you think it is likely to have with local authorities?
Q110 Mr Marsden: On that point, David, leaving aside - and it is a big leaving aside at the moment - the current economic downturn, are the targets there to be met in terms of offering apprenticeships not going to be virtually impossible to achieve without a substantial engagement with the public sector? What have you been able to do so far and what are you going to be able to do via Gus O'Donnell and various other people to make sure that government departments step up to the plate in this respect?
Mr Way: I think we are seen, of course, as a more public sector champion who is driving that particular agenda forward and a number of letters have gone out to the leaders of government departments to say ---
Q111 Mr Marsden: It is not letters you need, it is bottoms kicking.
Mr Paphitis: We have been working very
closely with the people who have had the letters. I have
got examples of very big local authorities in my patch in the South East, Kent
for instance, which are now saying they will take on 300 or 400 apprentices and
they are the biggest employer probably in
Q112 Chairman: You will not forget the Health Service?
Q113 Mr Boswell: We have heard quite a bit today about diversity and about access which is rather wider than diversity. I just ask a general question first to you both. What measures are the NAS going to use to gauge whether they have succeeded or failed? Is this bums on seats or is it something more than that?
Q114 Mr Boswell: I think I am harking after the right kind of metrics as well, Marinos. Are we looking at numbers or are we trying to get a better overall measure? Can we use qualitative measures as well?
Mr Paphitis: We always have to look at the numbers. I think it is very important that we can demonstrate over a long period that we have had more and more young people from diverse backgrounds entering apprenticeships, but I think entitlement is the key one. We have heard earlier that many young people from black and ethnic minorities go into college or other learning rather than apprenticeships. It is crucial that they can see the matching service reaches all young people, not at 16, at 14 and 15 when they are making key decisions, so that they know that these opportunities are available.
Q115 Mr Boswell: As part of IAG?
Mr Paphitis: Absolutely. Within schools all young people are aware of the A level option, diploma option and the apprenticeship option and not the dead end job option, so that when they come into the programme then we can start to measure progress. While we have seen some progress, I think tackling them at 14 and making sure that young people from all communities and both sexes have access to apprenticeships will mean that the numbers will then start to look much better.
Q116 Mr Boswell: Two other thoughts. One is what you might loosely call "pre-entry qualifications". Do you need some rules to satisfy yourself that the entrants are of high quality or is that something the market can sort out? Conversely, are you maybe looking at the public funding side, wanting to restrict funds if employers are not, as it were, offering a broad offer? There are lots of leaders in government like the public sector duties, for example. If people are picking and choosing in a way which is actually subversive to the national interest, are you going to take an interest in that?
Mr Way: I think one of the things we certainly are doing is that any additional money which is going into the apprenticeship system at the moment and the trail to getting World-Class Apprenticeships we are encouraging employers to train more apprentices than they need immediately, but certainly looking to ensure that produces a real dividend across the piece. We are not looking for more of the same, we are looking to achieve some other goals in all of this. I think that is particularly important. We do try to take those opportunities when they come.
Q117 Mr Boswell: Presumably, as the NAS develops - it is early days yet - you will be looking at a portfolio of statistics which are relevant to this. The ones I have listed here: entrants, retention and completion, where people go and destinations, qualifications, going on, progression, further and higher study and carrying on in a job, are those the sorts of things? Is there anything else you would like to add to that list?
Mr Paphitis: They are exactly the sorts of things we should be collecting and we do try very hard. In some cases it gets difficult once they leave a particular activity, they move on to another employer but generally we do collect those things.
Q118 Mr Boswell: Perhaps we need to give them a bit of an inducement to make sure they keep a relationship.
Mr Paphitis: Of course the more young people that complete their qualification, the easier it is to collect.
Q119 Mr Boswell: And loops back into diversity.
Q120 Mr Boswell: Last question. Quality, how are you going to measure it? It is an objective alongside the numbers game.
Mr Paphitis: There are a number of indicators, are there not? It is not just the achievement, it is jobs, it is progression.
Q121 Mr Boswell: In a sense - I am thinking aloud - the other indicators which I listed for the record, as it were, are the sorts of metrics you use to measure the quality on and just remind me, what about inspection as well? How is that?
Q122 Mr Boswell: The NAS will work with Ofsted and take into account its findings?
Chairman: First of all, thank you very much indeed, David and Marinos. I am sorry that has been a very, very sharp canter, but we have only two sessions to be able to do this work on the draft Bill and we do, in fact, want to make a positive comment. Thank you both very much indeed and thank you to my colleagues.