Apprenticeship schemes can work

Modern Apprenticeships have received yet another a pasting and some employers
find the programme cumbersome, but there is still hope for the initiative, says
Lucie Carrington

Modern Apprenticeships have been trounced again, this time from the Adult
Learning Inspectorate, a quango reporting into the Department for Education and
Skills. In its annual report, the ALI slated apprenticeships for low completion
rates, poor performance of many providers and inconsistency between sectors.

The ALI’s report pinpointed several causes for the failure in
apprenticeships. Lack of accreditation for individual units means that anyone
dropping out, even to take a better job with training, is classed as a failure.
But the real problem is the testing in key skills – IT, communication and
numeracy – which, according to the ALI, has become a barrier rather than a
pathway to success.

Training providers and funders must think they cannot win and certainly the
ALI pulls no punches. Director of inspection Nicky Perry talks about the
"lack of willingness" among those involved in delivering apprenticeships
to accept the data on non-completion or acknowledge the reasons for the
problem. "The non-completion rate has always been high," she says.

Rather than sink into depression, the training community should take heart.
It is too early to say what impact the ALI report – or that of Sir John
Cassells delivered a year ago – will have on apprenticeships, but they are
perhaps encouraging more open discussion about why apprenticeships succeed or

The key to a successful Modern Apprenticeship programme is partnership
between employers and providers, says Jane Skeith, programme manager, entry to
the workforce at Sprito, the national training organisation for sport and
recreation. "All too often training providers try to deliver training
programmes to candidates without involving employers," Skeith says.

However, if you get a good partnership going, apprentice training should
integrate well with a firm’s existing training. This requires employers and
providers to look at what they are offering apprentices fits together and
ensure this and regular training don’t overlap. "That sort of thing
usually happens because the two don’t work together," Skeith says.


One of the great criticisms of Modern Apprenticeships is the lack of
relevance of a whole tranche of the programme – most notably the key skills.
They are seen as just an irritating add-on. With technical certificates coming
onstream this year, there is a fear among employers and providers that these
too could become an unwelcome extra.

This doesn’t have to be the case, says Skeith. "Together employers and
providers can look at what is already going on in the workplace that they can
use. It could be staff induction, other training or appraisals,’ she says.
"Our recent review of key skills showed that employers want to keep them,
they just want them contextualised – they want them to fit better with what
apprentices actually do."

John Williams is chief executive of Central Sports, which delivers training
to more than 1,000 apprentices in a variety of organisations such as De Vere
Hotels and Total Fitness, a chain of gyms. He is also a great believer in the
power of partnership, but insists employers have to be prepared to invest
heavily in apprentices if they are to succeed.

"De Vere and Total Fitness are fantastic, but many employers don’t
really understand this," Williams says. "They see apprenticeships as
free training so they go with it but they don’t want to support it all the way
through the process. They can remove people from training at a moment’s notice
if it doesn’t suit them." Williams regards this as an abuse of the system,
and would like to see employers who break the apprenticeship pledge or contract
incur a financial penalty.

Another critical success factor is assessing apprentices properly before
taking them on to ensure a particular programme is right for them. It’s a point
that providers, employers and policy makers make. Nicky Perry of the ALI rates
poor assessment of trainees’ prior achievements and special needs as a major reason
why apprenticeships fail. Jane Skeith at Sprito is also appalled by the fact
that some apprentices are entered for an advanced apprenticeship without the
proper work experience available to enable them to get through.

Tony Longmire, technical and training director of LGH Group, is particularly
critical of the way apprentices are assessed. He has taken on six engineering
apprentices every year for the past six years. In that time only four have
dropped out and all but one stayed in engineering but went on to a better job.
It is a demanding programme and Longmire prefers his apprentices to have GCSE
qualifications grade C and above. In the early days, however, he had problems
getting this over to providers.

"What some providers were doing was pushing through the young people
they couldn’t do anything else with. It was a numbers, not a training
exercise," Longmire says. "We sit down with our apprentices when they
start and ask them what they want and expect out of the programme. And we
continue to sit down with them and ask them that throughout the
apprenticeship," he says.

Age limits

For the past 12 months employers and industry bodies have been calling for
the age limit for Modern Apprenticeships to be scrapped – as it has been in
Scotland. Ian Ferguson, chair of the Modern Apprenticeships board, believes
this will ultimately go, although he insists this is his personal view, not
government policy.

Meanwhile, however, some employers have found a way round it, helped by
their national training organisations and local LSCs. Swan Hunter on Tyneside
has recently taken on 12 older apprentices with the help of Tyne and Wear LSC,
which has acquired European funding through the local authority. Marriott
Hotels is about to take on 100 people aged over 24 to its apprenticeship
programme, thanks to funding secured by the Hotel and Catering Training

The LSC has promised employers and providers that they will see some major
reforms to apprenticeships and clearly there is a lot that needs doing to their
framework and delivery if they are to capture the hearts and minds of
apprentices and employers. This includes addressing concerns about how
apprentices are assessed and the future of key skills and technical
certificates. But while employers can only do so much to make apprenticeships a
success, they can perhaps have more influence on apprenticeships than they
realised. The only caveat is they have to be ready to make a big commitment in
time and money and they have to want to succeed.

Case study
Marriott makes the grade

The Marriott apprenticeship programme boasts 400 apprentices,
but is a relatively new offering. Launched 12 months ago, it has yet to prove
itself, but training director David Goodson believes it has the makings of a
highly successful programme.

It has forged a promising partnership with the Hotel and
Catering Training Company. "We chose the HCTC because it can support all
our hotels on a local level, secure the relevant funding and support individual
apprentices," Goodson says.

The HCTC has also removed a good deal of the paperwork, which
made the programme a real seller as far as hotel managers were concerned,
"We’ve made it as simple as possible, while retaining managers’
involvement with apprentices either as their line managers or their
mentors," Goodson says. "Each apprentice sits down with his manager
and development adviser to put together a personal development plan."

Marriott has worked hard to embed apprenticeships within
existing learning. "Where possible we have cross-referenced it with some
of our own training, such as our 90-day induction for new starters. Every
employee goes through that and it provides a good background for some aspects
of the apprenticeship."

Flexibility has also made it a winner. Apprentices can either
follow a multi-skilled route to NVQ levels two or three, or they can specialise
as, for example, a chef or receptionist. "By offering foundation and
advanced apprenticeships we are encouraging every hotel to have one or two
apprentices," Goodson says.

Hotels also like the fact that all the training takes place
within the workplace. Any classroom-based training, such as that covering
health and safety and customer care, still takes place within the hotel.

But Goodson believes the real success of the scheme will lie in
the fact that it fills a need. "We have some strong supervisory and
management training, but for new starters there was a gap. So managers are
really open to it."

Five top tips
Route to successful apprenticeships

– Commitment – apprenticeships are not cheap labour or even
free training. The ALI report shows that the most successful schemes are those
where employers have invested more of their own funds

– Partnership – you want a training provider who truly
understands your business and is prepared to work closely with you, perhaps
providing training in the workplace if necessary

– Honesty – be straight with your apprentices, be clear about
what you expect from them, but understand what they want from the
apprenticeship too

– Suitability – don’t expect to offer an advanced route to NVQ
level three if the job doesn’t require it. If apprentices cannot show that they
have the right experience, they will not achieve level three, no matter how
bright they are

– Coherence – ensure the apprenticeship scheme fits in with
existing training wherever possible. Don’t let the training become a bolt-on
that junior staff do somewhere else

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