Options to address loss of funding for apprenticeship training

On 13 January 2015 the Government published a response to their consultation on options for the mechanics of directing apprenticeship training payments away from FE Colleges direct to employers.

There was no clear preference for either of the options floated, but a restatement that giving employers direct control of apprenticeship funding, from sometime next year, 'remains a central and fixed part of [the Government's] funding reforms'. 

In their Autumn 2014 Implementation Plan the Government set out a number of reform principles, including that:

  • Apprenticeships would be based on short, easy to understand standards of competence designed by employers to meet their needs, including those of smaller businesses;
  • Apprentices would be required to demonstrate their competence through rigorous assessment, focused primarily on testing their competence at the end of their Apprenticeship;
  • Grading would be introduced to encourage apprentices to strive for excellence;
  • English and maths requirements would be strengthened, reflecting the importance of these transferable skills; and
  • Trailblazers in a range of sectors would be used to develop the first new standards and high level approaches to assessment, with all other sectors following on.

The Implementation Plan did not deal with the detail of the planned funding changes, but the Government remain committed to giving employers, rather than FE Colleges, direct control over funding for external training of their apprentices.  The stated objective is that employers can thereby monitor, and drive up, the quality and relevance of training.

This in part may stem from the acknowledged mis-match of supply and demand, with an over provision of health and beauty, and catering courses, & a dearth of some more technical provision (eg printing courses). Colleges have, naturally, been disinclined to reduce the provision of such popular course, with the commercial spin-off from services such as fine dining catering, & beauty treatments, which they can sell to the public. In addition there are the obvious staff cost consequences of changing the training curriculum, at short notice, to meet changing employer training needs.

Whatever the true reasons for the Governments proposals, Colleges are naturally concerned about this loss of funding control, and are actively looking to see how they can best position themselves to secure comparable funding going forward.  

Ideas range from seeking to set themselves up as arms-length employers for apprentices, to imaginative schemes such as establishing an outsourced training provider, run as a joint venture with a separate legal entity.

Every College is only too aware of the relentless drive to do more for less, and have worked hard to meet the challenge of year-on-year cuts to funding rates.  Many are looking to sponsor multi-academy trusts, as a means of generating future student through-put, by providing scope for continuous provision from four to adulthood.  Others are looking at scope for sharing back room resources, (such as payroll, business support staff etc) with local schools.

Whatever the individual College's needs, it is certainly a good time, to be pooling ideas & doing some serious lateral thinking around possible schemes to minimise the hit of this latest financial challenge.