Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Airbus UK


  1.  Airbus UK welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence in respect of cross-border further and higher education services. Our evidence is provided in the context of an employer located in Wales near to the border with England with the consequence of having two sets of policies, agencies and funding models to consider when developing their learning and training strategies.

  2.  We will provide evidence from an employers perspective on the cross border provision of:

    (a)  Foundation Modern Apprenticeships

    (b)  Modern/Advanced Apprenticeships

    (c)  Higher Apprenticeships

    (d)  Degree programmes

  3.  Airbus UK has two manufacturing sites in the UK, one in the south west of England in Filton near Bristol and one in the north east of Wales in Broughton, Flintshire. Our submission will reference concerns from an Airbus UK perspective but concentrate on the issues faced by Airbus UK at Broughton.

  4.  The Broughton site has around 7,000 employees of whom around 60% live in Wales. At present, we have 577 apprentices with a further 100 apprentices planned to commence their employment in October. This will take us to a situation where close to 10% of our workforce is following an apprenticeship of some kind. We also have a significant number of employees working on degree courses.

  5.  The following is a breakdown of our current programmes:

    (a) 209 existing employee apprentices following a mixture of Foundation Modern Apprenticeships and Modern Apprenticeships. These apprenticeships are for the development of our existing workforce in relation to up-skilling, re-skilling or for personal development and formal recognition of current skills

    (b) 368 new entry apprentices follow Modern/Higher Apprenticeships in different occupational areas dependent on our resource requirement

    (c) In addition, 61 individuals who have already completed their Higher Apprenticeship are now completing their Honours Degree in Aerospace Manufacture at Glyndwr University Wrexham.

  6.  Airbus Broughton uses two strategic partners/providers for all apprentice programmes, one for Further Education and Work Based Learning (Deeside College) and one for Higher Education (Glyndwr University Wrexham). The Department of Children Education Life Long Learning and Skills of the Welsh Assembly Government (DCELLS) supports the funding of these programmes. We also use Glyndwr University Wrexham for the delivery of our Aerospace Manufacture and Aeronautical Engineering degree programmes.

  7.  Airbus also uses other HE providers to support a number of different learning programmes across the UK.

  8.  Airbus sits on a number of UK advisory groups whose remit covers cross border issues. These include the "Four Nations Group" within our Sector Skills Council (SEMTA) and the "Peoples Review" within the Society of British Aerospace Companies. We are also represented on the Mersey Dee Alliance.

Employer engagement with the system

  9.  Airbus would like to bring to the attention of the Committee the concerns we have about several policy changes that we consider could be a risk affecting our future skills strategy. As a devolved administration Wales has developed its education, learning and skills strategy independently from England. Employers like Airbus that have a cross border business need to come to terms with the differences between the two national strategies.

  10.  Airbus UK has developed it's own Skills Strategy largely influenced by Lord Leitch's report "Prosperity for all in a global economy—world class skills". This was a report developed for the UK and as a result we felt confident the agenda we set would not only deliver our requirement but also that of the UK as a whole.

  11.  Airbus supports the concept of a devolved system and recognises that there will some differences in policy between the different administrations. We have been actively involved with a number of pilots to test some of the innovative initiatives being developed in Wales and as a result we have introduced the Welsh Baccalaureate to our craft apprenticeship with great success.

  12.  Both UK and Welsh Assembly Governments have now responded to Leitch and Airbus UK is confident we can continue to develop our strategy taking into consideration what each administration has set out. This however will not be straightforward.

  13.  There are some specific concerns around the funding differences, which our training providers need to observe whilst trying to apply an Airbus UK common strategy for apprenticeship programmes. Our providers are working in very different landscapes in England and Wales and Airbus UK has to recognise this and adapt to these differences with the aim of providing equal opportunity for all regardless of location.

  14.  A good example of this has been the development of Adult Apprenticeships. Due to the Welsh Assembly Government policy for "all age apprenticeships" Broughton has developed a strong programme of both Foundation Modern Apprenticeships (Level 2) and Modern Apprenticeships (Level 3). In Wales there are no funding differences between an adult's apprenticeship programmes or a young person's apprenticeship programme and our providers are therefore able to treat them in the same way. However there has not been the same funding support at our Filton site, which causes our provider difficulty in meeting our requirement. Even with the changes proposed in the DIUS Report "World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Skills for all", the proposed funding changes for adult apprentices is only two thirds that of an under 19 apprentice.

Brief Background

  15.  In addition to the funding anomalies employers also need to be aware of other fundamental changes that each administration is proposing such as:

    —  Wales has one department covering Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, whereas England now has two departments one for Children, Schools and Families and one for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

    —  England has set out its strategy through a number of documents and for example will put a Draft Bill on apprenticeships before parliament this year. Within Wales, the Welsh Assembly has set out a distinctive Welsh agenda through "Skills that Work for Wales" that includes its plans for apprenticeships.

    —  England is to introduce a new participation age for compulsory education to 18 years; this will provide an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people aged 16-18. Whereas Wales is going down a different route, which is based around entitlement of learners to education up to 18 years of age. The Welsh approach differs in that they believe the best way to engage young people and employers is through encouragement and support rather than compulsion and the creation of artificial demand.

    —  England has decided to put FE Colleges back in the hands of Local Authorities whereas Wales is retaining incorporation of FE Colleges.

    —  England has developed the 14-19 Diploma and Wales has developed the Welsh Baccalaureate. Wales has said that it will be allowing the principle lines of Learning from the diplomas to be incorporated within the Welsh Bacc but as yet employers are not clear what this will look like.

Risks to the qualification system

  16.  There are proposals to the qualification system that are being driven through in England that Scotland has already stated they will not adopt and both Northern Ireland and Wales have yet to respond to. There are fears from employers that if there is not some common agreement we could end up with an extremely confusing and disparate qualification system.

  17.  For employers like Airbus who employ large numbers of apprentices, the changes being proposed are seen as a significant potential risk. The Qualification Curriculum Authority is proposing some fundamental changes that will need to be fully understood. Airbus is in discussion with DCELLS to ensure that we are fully briefed as to their position. The concerns we have are as follows:

    (a) NVQ as a type of qualification will cease to exist in the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF), as the focus will be on learning outcomes rather than competence and in the future the only qualification types that will be available will be Awards, Certificates and Diplomas no matter whether the qualification is currently a NVQ, a technical certificate or any other qualification. This suggests to us that a typical engineering/manufacturing apprentice will have a number of diplomas. It will not be clear if each diploma is an academic or a vocational qualification.

    (b) We believe that Ofqual has suggested that the "NVQ brand" would be allowed to stay in those sectors that wish it. This however is not the same as having a qualification on the QCF and there is a risk that the Assessment Strategy and Code of Practice will no longer be part of the qualification. Airbus is concerned that having the words NVQ will mean nothing if the qualification behind it is different. This means that as a result of the QCF every NVQ and possibly technical certificate we currently have delivered will change thus causing Airbus and other employers more confusion and our providers a serious amount of work to come in line with the new qualifications.

    (c) Although our Sector Skills Council (SSC) will continue to put a version of the National Occupational Standard into the QCF our understanding is that assessment strategies will disappear and there is a real threat that SSC will no longer have a mechanism to ensure consistency of delivery and quality amongst awarding bodies and each awarding body will be able to produce their own version of a pseudo NVQ.

    (d) As NVQs are currently based on the National Occupational Standards, developed by employers with a clear assessment strategy and code of practice we feel this is a retrograde step.

    (e) These changes will create serious confusion amongst employers and concern that the NVQs that they know and respect may not be the same in the future.

    (f) With the QCF allowing different awarding bodies to produce their own version of the same qualification we are also concerned that we will lose the clarity and transferability that NVQs currently have.

  As stated previously Scotland is retaining it's SVQs in the same format as we know them, and our concern is that as yet, employers are not aware of the line the other devolved administrations will be taking.

Risks to Apprenticeships

  18.  The introduction of a National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) in England is one of the proposals that will have an immediate impact on employers who have cross border business. We believe that the NAS is being set up as part of a new agency, which will replace the LSC. The establishment of separate delivery agencies is not part of the policy agenda in Wales but we believe they will be looking at what support is needed for apprenticeship delivery in Wales as a part of delivering the Skills that Work for Wales strategy and action plan. As mentioned previously, to our knowledge WAG or DCELLS have not made a formal response to the changes being implemented by Westminster Government or DIUS. However Airbus considers the recent report on the developments in apprenticeships by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee as significant and we share some of their concerns as identified in their conclusions on Page 9 of their report:[1]

    (a) That there is sufficient funding to meet the proposed expansion of apprenticeships.

    (b) The division of responsibility for apprenticeship between two government Departments is not satisfactory.

    (c) The new National Apprenticeship Service will have difficulty-engaging employers as it will not be the initial point of contact, this will be Train to Gain.

    (d) The relationship between the NAS and local authorities needs to be clarified.

    (e) Much more needs to be done to involve employers, especially SMEs, including providing all government funding directly to employers.

    (f) A strong commitment to minimum levels of off-the-job-training is crucial.

    (g) The continuing lack of progression from apprenticeship to higher levels of education must be addressed.

    (h) The removal of Technical Certificates in some sectors, there is a real risk of apprenticeships being perceived as being "dumbed down".

    (i) Action is required to ensure that schools fully inform pupils about apprenticeships.

  19.  The following are also changes being proposed by DIUS that will be England only initiatives unless DCELLS follows their lead and implements the English strategies in their response:

    (a) A revised apprenticeship Blue Print will be introduced.

    (b) National Completion Certificate will be introduced.

    (c) Changes in the quality assurance against a revised blue print will be introduced.

    (d) Integration of apprenticeships into the rest of learning to enable easier movement between the new 14-19 diploma and apprenticeships.

    (e) Introduction of a new delivery system, customer facing National Apprenticeship Service.

    (f) Creation of a dedicated field force to support employers and apprentices.

    (g) Significant staffing at regional and sub regional level to manage relationships with other stakeholders in the system, including working in partnership with local authorities as they fulfil their obligations to young people.

    (h) A director of apprenticeships will be appointed.

    (i) There will be greater range and flexibility for apprenticeships.

    (j) All apprentice experience will be recognised as "an Apprenticeship".

    (k) Direct incentives payments will be introduced.

    (l) Government will be responsive to demand that there will be additional funding for apprenticeships for those aged 25 or over.

    (m) There will be support for more employer "ownership" of apprentices.

    (n) Public sector targets and duties will be introduced.

    (o) The Government will promote Apprenticeships in strategic projects such as the Olympics.

    (p) Dedicated information channels will be set up for Apprenticeships.

    (q) Investment will raise the profile of the Apprenticeship programme.

    (r) Clear progression routes to higher education will be built.

    (s) Positive action will be taken for under represented learners.

    (t) Pilots will be used to drive a "Critical Mass" of underrepresented learners.

    (u) "Super Mentors" will be appointed to support under represented learners through their experience.

    (v) Contractual wage regulations set by the LSC will be fully enforced pending the results of the investigation of apprenticeship wages by the low pay commission.

  20.  Until Airbus UK and other employers fully understand what the Welsh strategy for apprenticeships entails and how it will dovetail into the far reaching changes being proposed in England we will not be able to fully develop our skills strategy for the 21st century.

Student Recruitment and Retention

  21.  With regard to cross-border provision of public services for Wales, the following are key areas where our position as an employer located on the border of England and Wales affects our recruitment and retention of apprentices:

    —  Marketing.

    —  Sifting and assessing of applicants.

    —  Data for information.


  22.  In attracting apprentices to apply to work for Airbus, we engage with the government-funded organisations Careers Wales and Connexions, as well as directly with local schools and colleges. This approach is effective in communicating our positions to school-leavers, however teachers do not appear to be influenced by careers advisors and careers advisors do not appear to be as influential over more academic students.

  There is awareness of this issue amongst careers advisors, but an apparent lack of a coordinated approach, from offices within England and Wales, and between Careers Wales and Connexions, means that we are not seeing much of a change in attitude.

  23.  Apprenticeships still appear to be considered by teachers and parents as an option for the less academically able student, and careers advisors are seen to be there to support the students who aren't academically capable of going on to further/higher education. The marketing that we carry out with Careers Wales and Connexions therefore, often doesn't reach the high-achievers we want. We feel that this is a UK issue, rather than an English/Welsh one, but one that could be better addressed with a common, coordinated Careers Wales and Connexions approach.

  24.  In contacting Careers Wales and Connexions to communicate our activities, we find we are repeating ourselves. Firstly because the two organisations have split themselves into regional offices and it is difficult to liaise with anyone centrally, and secondly because there seems to be little or no communication between the two organisations.

  25.  Any "grouped" careers fairs are grouped according to the national borders. This approach does not take into account the fact that as an employer located on the border we are looking for candidates from England and Wales. The approach of both Careers Wales and Connexions is very student-focussed rather than employer-focussed and means that advisors are concerned with finding roles for individuals rather than finding individuals for roles. We are often therefore, dealing with candidates who only just meet our minimum criteria. We feel that if careers advisors were more in tune with what organisations are looking for, they would push stronger candidates to apply for apprenticeships and to consider us as an alternative route to further qualifications to college or university.

  26.  Both Careers Wales and Connexions seem to focus their marketing directly to students with their websites and literature. We have found that to attract candidates to apply to us, it is their key influencers, ie teachers and parents we need to influence. It appears difficult for Airbus to influence the thinking of these two sets of influencers, because of the lack of a central or coordinated approach. At the local offices, there seems to be agreement, but inability to influence at the right level.

  27.  Independent of Careers Wales and Connexions, we often market to schools and colleges directly. We also hold Information Evenings when we invite students and their families or friends onto site to find out more about the company and the apprenticeships. More than 4,000 people attended in 2008. With such activities, the differing school holidays from county to county, as well as country to country, can make our marketing, and the timing of the events themselves, harder to manage. Given that we are on the border between Cheshire and Flintshire in Broughton, and very close to South Wales in Bristol, we have a lot to take into account if we want to ensure that we reach as many as possible of the local students in England and Wales.

  28.  Skills that Work for Wales announced that there would be a review of Careers Wales and employers are waiting to see what exactly are the changes if any that will be proposed. Airbus would like to see a restructured Careers Wales to create a unitary organisation run by DCELLS with realistic targets that are outcome rather than activity driven. We are aware that WAG is currently working with Careers Wales to enhance Careers Wales online to create a vacancy matching service, which will enable employers to advertise vacancies and accept applications online. It would be useful to explore how this will link with the English vacancy matching service.

Sifting and assessment

  29.  We sift candidates according to whether they meet our minimum entry requirements for both the Craft and the Higher. These entry requirements are based entirely upon qualifications, since the apprenticeship courses demand a certain academic level. The new qualifications that are being introduced and the disparity across England and Wales mean that sifting candidates will become increasingly difficult. For us as a business to understand the qualifications that applicants have and what that means in terms of capability is increasingly complicated.


  30.  Generally over the last five years the new entry apprentice programme in Broughton has attracted approximately 60% of starters from Welsh schools and 40% from schools outside of Wales with the majority being from English schools. As you may be aware our apprenticeship programmes attract applicants from all over the world and within our current programme we have apprentices who have come from Singapore, Australia, America, France and Germany.

  31.  The apprentice intake for September 2008 in Broughton has 55% of apprentices from Welsh schools and the others are mostly from England with one apprentices coming from Scotland. Of those apprentices who come from England the vast majority come from Cheshire and Merseyside.


  32.  Airbus is delighted with the current arrangements for the delivery of our programmes through our partnership with Deeside College and Glyndwr University and has worked hard to develop robust partnership arrangements.

  In Broughton we accept that we are based in Wales and therefore will be subject to the skills strategy set out by the Welsh Assembly Government. However we do have concerns over the many changes in policy in both England and Wales that will potentially affect qualifications, standards, frameworks and apprenticeships in the future.

  Communicating clearly these proposed policy changes to ensure clarity of understanding by employers will be vital to ensure that the skills agenda is met and that our workforce is capable and equipped for the needs of our future business such as new technology and our increasing build programme.

September 2008

1   House of Lords, Apprenticeships: a key route to skills, Fifth report of the Select Committtee on Economic Affairs, Session 2007-08, HL Paper 138, page 9 Back

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