The newly formed ‘East Midland Training Provider Forum’ met recently to create a discussion group to debate and help shape the future of the sector and to provide a voice for providers in the East Midlands. 

Here’s what they had to say on this issue ‘Big Question’.

The BIG QUESTION: Do we chase the funding, or the learner? What are the opportunities in thinking long term?

put another way... how can the sector be more solution focussed and become the partner that employers and learners want?

Nick Colquitt 100x100Nick Colquitt (NC) - Commercial Director, SR Education, said:

The strategic focus for SR is Levy paying employers which results in the default approach of chasing the funding. Historically the focus would have been equal between learner and employer engagement. Engaging with prospect learners directly, supporting their career and development aspirations followed by engagement and IAG to the management team, whilst equally supporting employers with apprenticeship IAG to enable them to grow their own talent and upskill the workforce. The funding changes have resulted in an employer biased focus, the employer centralises the levy funds and the prior prospect learner group are no longer able to seek or engage directly for upskilling and training.

Corrina Hembury 100x100Corrina Hembury (CH) - Managing Director, Access Training (East Midlands), said:

We are in a slightly different position as we have a non- levy contract as well as levy. When the levy was first introduced some feedback we received from levy employers was a motivation to ‘spend my levy pot’ rather than wanting to develop a personalised training plan that would make a difference to their workforce.  Fortunately, we are now seeing a change and employers wanting to work with providers to look at real training needs their staff have – not just put staff on a course to spend their levy.  That said, a lot more work can be done with employers and providers to ensure the right staff are receiving the right training that really contributes to the business.

Chris Wall 100x100Chris Wall (CW) - Sales & Marketing Director, Develop Training, said:

I agree but as we mainly offer commercial training in our sector (Utilities and FM) and we find a great deal of work has already been done on skills audits, what the sector needs in relation to skills gaps and then they plan training to ensure that pipeline is managed.  I don’t think this is the process for non-commercial (levy) but it would benefit greatly if a similar approach was made.  The drop out rates for commercial are far less as we have a mutual understanding of risk between our employer and ourselves.  

Jennie Bowmer 100x100Jennie Bowmer (JB) - Managing Director, Mitre Group, said:

I agree although the system now means we have to identify and secure funding first,  the learner is still the priority.  It's incredibly important to have conversations with employers so they have a greater understanding of their role within the programme and the commitment required – it is still too easy for staff to drop out with no consequence for the employer but has a huge impact for us as providers. 

Kerry Bentley 100x100Kerry Bently (KB) - Managing Director, DBC Training, said:

We focus on making sure we support the learner but this stats by us ‘chasing’, or engaging, the employer.  As the levy is essentially funded by the employer, we engage them and through them engage the existing workforce and/or help them attract new staff. It is a complicated process, as quite often getting a full understanding of the employer and their workforce and then supporting them to navigate the systems can take weeks or even, sometimes, months so considerable investment in time is required before any returns are seen.  The whole process is not easy, but education of the employers and then the training of the learners as part of longer-term relationships are the key.  Once they are set up it becomes much easier than chasing the funding, and then becomes less difficult.  We focus on skills needs analyses and career planning then provide the training to fit needs, not the other way around to make sure that the training has the impact and provides the services employers and learners need. 

(NC): 

For the first 2 years of the levy  the majority of employers used their levy to train existing employees as this was a quick win and the easiest option of seeing a result in both levy spend and the biggest impact on the business. Having a workforce that has been upskilled and exposed to apprenticeship standards makes it easier to bring new starts in at a later date and be supported by line managers and other staff that have both the experience of the company and the apprenticeship process.

Due to the requirements to only allow learners onto an apprenticeship that require upskilling and not just to be awarded accreditation for skills/behaviours and knowledge they already possess. The requirement to recruit new apprentices is even more important. We are now beginning to see a return to  the old model whereby we as the provider are engaging with new talent and recruiting them into the levy payer. This has only really been in place with employers that we have had a long-standing relationship with, employers that we have a partnership approach to training rather than us being a procured service. The focus has been on working with the employer to offer IAG, strategic planning around the levy and training as a whole (not just apprenticeships) once we have been able to showcase this with existing employees the model has then been rolled out to new starts.

(CW):

Risk is the key – it’s a partnership and both parties have to share the risk.  Employer behaviour is the key to success.

(JB):

The system means you have to secure the funding first. Traditionally in the FE Sector, colleges have always been more learner-led, and Independent Training Providers (ITPs) more employer-led. We understand employers needs, vision and strategy and the skills needed to help them achieve these. ITPs advise employers on the training programmes they require to become better businesses, whether this is financed through government-funded programmes or not. Based on so many changes in the funding landscape over the last 24-36 months, including the new levy system and devolved AEB provision, many ITPs will find they have a slightly different portfolio of funding contracts each year. This is not necessarily a bad thing as ITPs can be agile and flexible and find ways to ensure the funding works for the employer. This is definitely further improved by ITPs working more closely together and supporting each other, increasing that portfolio of options between them. This gives ITPs more options to better serve their local employers and learners.

(NC):

Prior to the shift in focus away from learners to the employer  we would look to build a bank of high quality, enthusiastic and motivated candidates. We would then showcase and market to employers we worked with. We had the unique opportunity of being able to offer skills, leadership and guidance to these future apprentices before they finished their GCSE/A levels, we could expose them to industry-recognised leaders and impart knowledge which in a large number of instances they were not receiving in school / college.

As the focus has now moved to employers these initiatives and youth partnerships are no longer practical or sustainable.

(JB):

We can’t blame employers for the way they may have initially spent the pot as it was a new process and created a certain type of mindset for them, so I can understand why it felt like spending for the sake of it as they would lose it anyway. Educating employers is key so they understand how to use their levy wisely. 

(CH):

What employers think they need in terms of their current workforce and what their sector really needs for the future - next generational training – can be different.  There is very little policy guidance supporting future need – something that sector skills councils used to provide. We also need to recognise that apprenticeships aren’t necessarily the right programme to suit every skills need.  Currently, other than funding bands, there is no incentive or guidance on which apprenticeships a provider should deliver to support with future skills gaps. 

(CW):

Scotland/Northern Ireland funding levels for Apprentichsips are well behind that of England and we find that Employers continue to self fund training for a skilled workforce as they simply don’t want to jump through the hoops for apprenticeship funding.  They need the training and are happy to pay for it but would welcome better levels of funding and a customer-friendly system to access it.

(KB):

We’re involved in supporting larger levy payers to gift £300k of their levy spend. This has been a very difficult process as it involved supporting at least two employers to access and input into the DAS account. This often means supporting the receiving employers to set up a new DAS account. 

(JB):

Gifting levy funds is an incredible opportunity to support other business and encourage CSR and beneficial partnerships. However, gifted levy funds have not been consistently paid to providers meaning that the ITPs will be progressing with this cautiously. ITPs are being financially disadvantaged for a) taking the lead with levy payers in 2017 and b) now taking the lead on the levy transfer/gifting process. 

(KB):

At the moment, the contracts and funding which we hold dictate the offer that we can provide to an employer and learners. This means that you either then have to chase additional funding, or restrict the service you can provide. Current funding models do not always allow real conversations to take place and from this enables providers and employers to develop a range of solutions using different tools/funding streams in order to allow for the best solution to be decided. This becomes more problematic in devolved areas where funding is geographically focussed and has local priorities to address, which may be irrelevant to the national levy-paying employer. There aren’t always enough tools in the armoury for providers to create real training pathways as funding restrictions can prevent this. 

In conclusion: 

  • We chase the funding not the learner
  • System has made that behaviour
  • The ideal would be to mix the pot so a combination of funding/commercial.
  • Systems and processes drive the wrong behaviours
  • Stifling innovation due to contractual constraints
  • More about survive not thrive
  • Costs, time, effort to get people
  • Ultimately Innovation / creativity – create project's value 

Outcomes

what WE would like to see changed…

  • Drop off fee – there needs to be implications on employers as well as ITPs / colleges etc when learners withdraw
  • The ESFA to stop using overly-simplistic quality measures, such as achievement rates, which providers have limited control over.
  • the ESFA could have a more active role in influencing apprenticeship behaviour – eg incentivising or targeting subjects in line with local skills 
  • Review Apprenticeship funding levels in Scotland / Northern Ireland to have parity with England.

If you would like to pose a question to the panel for debate in the next issue - contact East Midland Training Provider Forum via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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