How will training providers continue to improve to offer responsive and employer led apprenticeships?

There is currently a strategic repositioning that is sweeping through the FE sector and is impacting providers in both public and private sectors. This repositioning is not a branding change or even a product change but has the potential to be much more powerful and lasting; this is a change of attitude.

Within the public sector FE colleges all have an eye on the government's area review programme which has led to suggestions of forced merges between colleges such as the ones mooted in Birmingham early in 2016. 

The threat of these area review teams recommending merges has led to groups such as the 157 Group expanding and welcoming new members. There are also other examples nationally of colleges working closer together in partnerships (such as the alignment of colleges in Suffolk and Norfolk) that have, amongst other aims, the goal of delivering more for learners with less funding from government.

The result of this repositioning is the emergence of larger regional centres for further education that deliver a huge range of qualifications based on their traditional delivery model that has been tried and tested across the years. Private providers too are working closer together than ever before and are expanding collaborative networks in order to fully meet the needs of employers. The upcoming changes to funding and delivery empowers employers as the new 'kingmakers' within the FE sector as they control the flow of funding through the digital voucher scheme. As a result, it may not seem logical to narrow an offer at a time when working with employers to deliver all their training is or paramount importance.

Less but better

Providers, both public and private, would do well to avoid becoming a 'jack of all trades and master of none' as the demand require a focus on high quality, successful training with measurable outcomes and productivity benefits. It is here that providers need to shift from the existing attitudes based around volumes of starts across a number of qualifications and develop a specialist area of delivery that brings employers to the provider as a recognised industry leading provider of those qualifications.

Independent providers who do follow this route and build provision that offers a suite of qualifications with clear progression from level three to level eight will have greater flexibility and capacity in the range of employers they can work with and the longevity of these contracts. Employers will only want to deal with the best of the best as they are investing their own money into training and will want to see a demonstrable return on their investment.

By specialising in sector specific areas, providers can not only gain this recognition from employers but also from other training providers within the sector that they are leaders in their field.

The recently founded National Apprenticeship Company has been launched as a group to advise employers, providers and apprentices on how these can be of benefit everyone and it is this sort of network which will further the specialist provider within the industry. Recommendations from other providers will become key as employers look for qualifications that simply cannot be delivered by one provider alone. Let's take the example of a large company requiring business administration, financial services, customer services, cleaning, insurance services, childcare, catering, horticulture, bricklaying and engineering apprentices. While it is possible that one provider could offer three, four or maybe even five of these there is an opportunity for others to work in partnership with that employer's chosen provider to deliver the specialist areas.

Adam Barnes of Babington Apprenticeships Ltd. goes on to say, "I firmly believe that in order to thrive under the new apprenticeship reforms providers need to be offering a specialist suite of qualifications that range across levels from intermediate apprenticeships through to degree level apprenticeships that can demonstrate clear progression pathways to employers while providing outstanding success for learners. By making sure that everything is delivered to the highest quality and focussing on one delivery sphere providers can quickly become recognised as industry leaders as specialists within their chosen field."

Adam Barnes is the head of Babington Apprenticeships, delivering apprenticeships using the ATA model as part of the Babington Group

Tim Evans (pictured) is the director of Lean4Learning, which provides efficiency savings across the education sector

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