Targets for apprenticeships are tough with the government calling for 3 million by 2020. Despite employers playing a pivotal role in the design of the new frameworks a growing lack of confidence has been borne out of reluctance from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to fund smaller competency based training and qualifications.

Much of the focus on Trailblazers has placed employers in the 'driving seat' to determine the design and content of each apprenticeship specification. Lantra Awards who have designed a range of land based training and qualifications are perplexed by the Skills Funding Agency stance on funding. Despite employers valuing the practical skills that Lantra awards provide the SFA appear to be favouring longer qualifications in place of smaller competency based training.

There is a clear need from employers, especially within sectors such as agriculture, forestry and horticulture, to build confidence and practical skills of apprentices early in their apprenticeship programme. Equally it's vital to ensure their safety in operating costly and complex machinery and to quickly become useful to their employer. Business Development Director at Lantra, Sallyann Baldry says, "These one or two day courses are being overlooked by the SFA and if they become non-fundable in the new frameworks, it will fly in the face of what employer's tell us they want and leave them to foot the bill."

If employers are writing the 'standards' by which the framework is set and the government is to achieve its targets then the quality of delivery and ultimately, the employability of the graduate is of paramount importance.

A cost effective solution

One way for the employer and SFA to ensure value for money is to place a greater focus on providing cost effective solutions to the delivery of these shorter competencies. It is part of the challenge for training providers. Designing provision that has greater flexibility in assessment and delivery so that essential competencies are prioritised before the apprentice embarks on the longer parts of their course. This could provide greater value to employers who need apprentices to achieve these earlier on in the framework. The difference between these mandatory or recommended standards could dictate how and when they are assessed and when the apprentice achieves them.

Some of these methods, as used in the manufacturing industry, to determine 'customer demand' can be used to develop both a deeper understanding of the issues and a more closely aligned solution between the specific competencies of the job role and the delivery methods. Lean Thinking places this value on the customer (or employer) demand, and has been used by the likes of Toyota and Unipart to continuously improve the quality and efficiency of the services they provide. One of its most valuable tools is process mapping (Valve Stream Mapping) which aligns what teams think is happening to what is actually happening so that duplication and wasteful activity is identified and reduced. This continuously reflective process results in a system where there is 'pull' or demand from the customer to trigger all activity. Leveraging both time and money, this type of approach is key to empowering employers with the skills they need to grow successful businesses.

Employers needs must remain at the heart of the new standards which are written around the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) of the apprentice and need to be delivered in a way that maximises the effectiveness of their delivery and their timely achievement across the framework. Applying this to an agriculture apprentice; if the knowledge and skills derived from, say, a three day tractor driving course creates behaviours that underpin safe and confident practice then this step changes the value for the employer. It is greater than the sum of the part; for these short programmes of learning are relatively low cost in comparison to the main diploma type provision. If the longevity and legacy of these qualifications is at stake then a more coherent alliance needs to be made so that confidence in their validity grows.

Continuing, Sallyann goes on to say "We estimate there are over 7000 apprenticeship starts in the land based sector each year, with the government asking for proportionally higher targets for this sector, aiming to triple the number of starts. To achieve this is going to be a big ask for already overstretched providers. There needs to be greater coherence between the SFA and employers if we are to adequately support the longevity of apprenticeships so that the apprentice receives a rounded qualification and employers get value for money and an apprentice that they don't let go at the end of their training".

Tim Evans is the Director of Lean4Learning supporting efficiency savings in the FE sector

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