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Apprenticeships Roundtable Part 2 – Roundtable Report

19 April 2012     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Richard Irvine, Head of Student Recruitment – Price Waterhouse Cooper
Laura Beard, HR RL Consultant, American Express – Anne Blythe
Head of Operations, ASDA, Jessie Buscombe – Account Manager, <br>National Apprenticeships Service
Ross Cowie, Senior Training Manager – UK/Ireland – IHG
Bob Soper-Dyer, Accredited Learning Team – BT Group
Peter Hallard, Head of Learning – Lloyds Banking Group
Tessa Hougham, Apprenticeship Manager – Ford Motor Company
Kirsty Huntington, Talent Manager – Cable & Wireless
Rachel Jackson, Manager Recruitment – Iceland Foods Ltd
Rupa Jethwa, HR Coordinator – Kerry London
Nick McGlashan, Apprenticeship Manager –Tesco Stores Ltd
Joyce King, Training & Delivery Manager –UK Power Network
Kathryn Noakes, Director of Organisational Development – Pizza Hut UK
Lee Pound, Pharmacy Capability Programme Manager – Boots
Steve Read, Trainee Programme Manager – UK Power Network
Andy Smyth, Accredited Programmes Development Manager – TUI UK/Ireland
Christine Tyler, Talent & Succession Manager – Royal Mail Group, HR
Lindsey Visconti, Group HR Director – Kerry London Group Ltd
Margaret Wood, Training & Development – Aramark Ltd
Barry Brooks, Group Strategy Director – Tribal
James Taylor, Head of Business Development –Tribal

In 2011, Government announced ambitious plans for an apprenticeship framework, throwing down a gauntlet to UK employers, to take advantage of the initiative and framework, along with funding from the public purse.

A year on, theHRDIRECTOR held a follow-up roundtable, to get a feel for the uptake of apprenticeship programmes and to discuss whether the framework in place has provided the necessary support for UK employers across sectors. There have been encouraging signs of success, but also some controversy, exposed in a BBC Panorama documentary.

Barry Brooks: It has been an exciting and eventful year for the apprenticeship programmes. Sadly recent events have introduced a note of controversy in terms of the value of an apprenticeship to the employer, the individual, and more broadly, in terms of the public purse as well as the return on investment. There is now an ongoing debate about, are these real jobs, are these real apprenticeships, are people learning real skills and are they sustainable? The Panorama programme, and other negative media has now called into question the quality of apprenticeships. Honestly, why would an employer not provide training which was not focused on quality? Of immediate concern here is the drive to equate quality with a period of time, but in my view saying that 12 months is the touchstone for quality is absurd, just as it would be to say three years is a benchmark for all quality programmes. With recent developments the focus is no longer just on intermediate programmes, we now have the advanced and higher apprenticeship programmes, with universities and others blue-chip companies starting to get actively involved. This is a really exciting development.

Let us begin the debate with a brief summary from each roundtable representative, about their organisation’s approach to apprenticeships.

Nick McGlashan: Last year we offered 3,000 places and will offer 10,000 over the next two years. We deliver our own in-house training and the delivery of Key Skills has proved very beneficial for our staff. The move to Functional Skills I think is going to be a challenge for everybody.

Anne Blythe: Head of Operational Training at Asda responsible for the training strategy across all formats for 175,000 colleagues. Apprenticeships are central to that strategy. Asda has had apprenticeship programme on offer since 2005, but one of my main objectives since taking up this role last year, was to make it a sustainable platform, commercially manageable and with a clear audit trail to ROI.

Steve Read: UK Power Networks has an apprentice programme which is approved by the IET. The Apprentice Programme follows a formal framework with the sector skills council EU Skills. UK Power Networks apprenticeship programme will continue for the foreseeable future as UK Power Networks has an older demographic which will need to be replaced.

Pete Hallard: Lloyds Banking Group is at the start of its apprenticeships journey. I’m very much interested in the full range of levels so we we’re starting at level 2, and our strategy will be focusing around career progression and talent retention, tracking that through apprenticeships, with momentum around apprenticeships at 4 and 5, so a complex frame and rapid development for us.

Jessie Buscombe: I’m representing the National Apprenticeship Service, and we work with employers who have existing apprenticeship programmes, but we also focus on assisting employers who are totally new to apprenticeships.

Ross Cowie: I’m Senior Training Manager for Intercontinental Hotels Group. The past year has been about transition from doing apprenticeships through a provider to handling it in-house to then setting up as a provider of City and Guilds as the awarding organisation. Right now, the only bit that we’ve outsourced is functional skills and, with the timing of everything, we took the decision to go straight to functional skills, instead of starting with key skills, in the knowledge that we would probably have to change in a year or so to functional skills.

Margaret Wood: I look after ARAMARK’s Apprenticeship programme which we’ve been running for two years. We are currently offering both Level 2 and Level 3 Apprenticeships and the completion time for these qualifications has been more than 12 months.

Tessa Hougham: I’ve been Apprenticeship Manager for six months at Ford, which has a very established apprenticeship programme around NVQ level 3, in product engineering and manufacturing engineering.

Lee Pound: My focus is Capability at Boots UK, and we are at an early stage in developing an apprenticeship programme. We started with a level 4 apprenticeship in our Support Office for a small group of people and that’s working really well. The ambition is to get up to about 1,000 apprentices by the end of the following year.

Bob Soper-Dyer: BT has a long tradition in apprenticeships, we used to outsource, but four years ago we changed tact, mainly because of the market, but also because of the demand in technology and product change. We opted to bring all of the apprenticeships in-house this gave us more control and enabled us to configure our training to apprenticeship qualification and we also took control of the mapping the design, the delivery and also the quality assurance.

Rachel Jackson: I look after recruitment at Iceland Foods. We currently offer apprenticeships at varying levels in pockets across the business and one of the keys things from our perspective, and from a people agenda point of view this year, is exploring how we can offer that nationally, with a level of consistency.

Joyce King: I manage training delivery at UK Power Networks, we have run a traditional apprenticeship scheme for many years with many of our retirees were apprentices when they first started, the model has changed over the years and as Steve said, we do have adult apprenticeships currently but we’re looking to bring on board young apprentices this year.

Richard Irvine: I’m Head of Student Recruitment at PWC, a professional services firm, so that’s graduate, school leaver, kind of entry level recruitment. We’ve been recruiting school leavers in recognition of the kind of talent that we want it’s only this year that we’ve transitioned to a structured apprenticeship framework.

Laura Beard: HR RL consultant at American Express and we don’t currently offer apprenticeships. We usually have an entry point on graduates or those with experience, and we are looking at apprenticeships, both in the UK and internationally. We are investigating how to deploy programmes.

Rupa Jethwa: At Kerry London, we’ve presented the apprenticeship strategy to the Board and it has been received positively so we are build up training culture with succession planning very much central to that drive.

Andy Smyth: I look after apprenticeships development for TUI Travel which most people would recognise as First Choice or Thomson Holidays. We’ve been delivering programmes for nearly 25 years. We have just finished taking everything in house. So we’re completely committed with endorsement from board level.

Kirsty Huntington: Cable & Wireless Worldwide. We’ve been running our engineering apprenticeship programme since 2008 so I’ve got experience mainly from the recruitment side, attracting the right people, assessing and bringing them into the business. We are this year focusing on expanding our apprenticeship programme across other disciplines.

Christine Tyler: I’m six months into the apprentice arena at Royal Mail, which has quite a mature apprenticeship programme. Interestingly, unlike sort of Ford, TUI and BT, we’ve moved from running in-house, going to external. We use some residential schools, particularly for our engineering and motor vehicle mechanics and I’m in the process of setting up a new scheme for operational management apprentices.

Are the current measures for ensuring quality of the apprenticeship experience adequate?

James Taylor: Apprenticeships is well-proven to provide employers with an appropriately skilled workforce, succession planning and future leadership. It’s proven to build engagement and retention… what is there not to like? A well-run apprenticeship programme will support you as an employer and will assist the Government’s agenda for getting people into meaningful employment and training as well as addressing the skills shortage and re-skilling.

Jessie Buscombe: The key thing to remember is that recent policy has set a minimum duration, it’s about setting the absolute minimum, but obviously the nature of how you deliver competence – based learning means some apprenticeships can, and should be, longer. It’s not about doing a course with a set syllabus, regardless of whether you’re going faster or slower than the individual next to you. It’s about the competence based model: assessing your existing skills in the workplace and training you up to occupational standards. We have had to bring in some minimum length of stay to deal with highlighted issues and these will not suit all, but they ensure guarantees about what constitutes an apprenticeship.

But if we look at the role of Ofsted, it may only be a small percentage of schools that are failing, but it is still hugely important to the pupils and parents being let down.

Bob Soper-Dyer: The dilemma is the definition of an apprenticeship and how it is badged, maybe it’s time to reconsider what we mean by an apprenticeship? We have what we define as traditional apprenticeship, our bedrock, well established, tried and trusted. It seems to be the non-traditional, that is posing the question; Is this an apprenticeship or is this providing people with defined skills in order to work, raise their own potential and personal career prospects? Do you call that an apprenticeship or do you now give it another name? Does it then mean you can be more flexible in how you approach and how you relate to the rules being set around this? At the moment it’s a bit like you’re squeezed into a one box fits all and in some cases you can’t fit into that box exactly, then we have to declare that and say it as it is.

Andy Smyth: This is a typical response when there is media exposure of an issue. In the case of apprenticeships, it’s just 3.7 percent of providers where there is a shortfall, therefore why put in a black and white mandate that applies to all? Panorama found some providers left wanting, so identify them and deal with it, take them out of the system if necessary.

Jessie Buscombe: I spent some time in Australia a year ago with their Apprenticeship Service and they don’t badge everything as an Apprenticeship, they have something called “traineeships”. I’m not advocating this change; I’m just saying there are also other international examples.

Barry Brooks: We have an apprenticeship programme which is supposed to be employer led and demand led, but is actually being expected to address the priorities of DFE. This means that apprenticeships, especially at Level 2, too often end up being treated like a school based programme. The thinking is that as young people do their GCEs in one or two years in college or school then the apprenticeship should be a one year programme. As I said earlier the apprenticeship framework now provides progression. A level 2 into a level 3 into a level 4, so why can’t you say that a programme can be as long as it needs to be.

Andy Smyth: The fact is that an academic year is not an industry year; however a calendar year is what has been put into the SASE. We have almost double the contact in our eight months than the SASE minimum.

James Taylor: Just because one organisation has a very good inspection grade doesn’t necessarily mean that they are high quality across all parts. Progression is part of the journey, and as such should be a measure of quality.

Anne Blyth: It is difficult to put blue dye into 4000 plus learners but we are actively looking to find a facility to enable us to do that. What we can absolutely say from the assurance and I can certainly say from assurance is that the learners that are on our quality programme, without doubt, are connecting it to level 3 and connecting it to careers. On the point of KPIs, we’ve got commercial score, tracking our stores on what we would see as our key metrics i.e. quality, customer service and sales, etc, and we are starting to see some positive movement in growth.

Nick McGlashan: One of the key benefits of our programme is that 30 percent of last year’s apprentices have gone to some further form of development. That’s not a pre-requisite of completing an apprenticeship at Tesco but what we’re giving our staff is an opportunity to develop their confidence and their skills in Maths and English.

Lee Pound: For Boots UK, it’s early days but the ambition is to train and develop our people to be the best they can be so the funding is almost the side issue, for us it’s just about developing people. Apprenticeships provide a framework.

Barry Brooks: Clearly, we have many different measures of quality that are deployed across the programmes. NAS and SFA have to make sure that their requirements are met.

Andy Smyth: To get the bottom line on quality ask the learner. We all have employer surveys, NAS has direct contact with the learners, ask them!

Bob Soper-Dyer: BT has brought the apprenticeship programme back in-house which means OFSTED will come to us now, and that means you have to approach the whole quality issue slightly different because the brand name is also at risk. We’ve invested heavily into assurance and quality in terms of resource in order to uphold and enforce compliance and apply governance. The other issue is we have to multiply this activity by three so the complexity becomes harder to manage, we have to separate out Wales, Scotland and England, so when we talk about audits, it’s everything three times over.

Richard Irvine: There’s a big distinction between compliance and quality. Compliance is the quality, it’s the minimum, it may be a necessary one, but it’s about input. Quality is about output. This is about a person’s relationship with their employer and true quality is about the individual and the employer both getting what they need.

How should employers prepare for an apprenticeship programme? How do you define key and functional skills?

Barry Brooks: There is still a lack of awareness among employers of the different demands of Functional Skills or any practical understanding of how these skills are delivered and assessed. Without that understanding employers will not be well placed to decide which approach will best suit their employees in a particular business or context.

Christine Tyler: We’re running different types of programmes at the moment, there’s engineering for our vehicle mechanics, so a lot of their functional skills are being taught in that environment. Then we release them into an operational environment in a mentoring programme.

Anne Blyth: We are still working with City and Guilds as to how the FS will shape up for us as we have learners across 527 sites so we need to make it work in the right way for the learner as well as be practical for the operation.

Barry Brooks: The intention was that in April 2011 Functional Skills –FS – were due to replace Key Skills and Skills for Life. Given the information available to John Hayes, Minister for Skills, he decided to postpone this change until summer 2012 to give employers and awarding organisations – Aos -the opportunity to prepare. In reality what seems to have happened is that the AOs have had more development time but most providers have just put off engaging with FS.

Bob Soper-Dyer: Functional skills is still not totally online .You can do English and Maths, but its ICT which is the big one, and we’ve had to do a paper pilot because we couldn’t wait any longer.

Barry Brooks: There is a solution which sits firmly in the Government’s ambition for raising attainment in schools. Employers can take away the pain straight away by saying actually we’re only recruiting people onto our apprenticeship programme if you’ve have passed your got GCSEs. I am not commending this to you but it is a pragmatic solution.

Andy Smyth: We have not run functional skills at this point in time. We spent time talking about the delay. We were amongst a very big group that wanted to prevent the introduction or mandating of functional skills. Since then we have been working with a range of people to understand how they were going to do it. The awarding bodies or supply side were slow and that was one of the reasons for last year’s deferral. They were not ready so we could not be ready.

Are functional skills discussed in the planning?

Kathryn Noakes: I can understand the importance of how it can develop the skills and provide opportunities and career progression, but maybe the functional skills are preventing them.

Andy Smyth: The National Apprenticeship Service is engaging employers and encouraging them to take up apprenticeships, but they are never really given the nuts and bolts of exactly what they have to do and how they will be held to account. I fully agree that these skills and capabilities are a must for everyone but I would be very interested in knowing, where is the delivery plan from DFE that says hardly anyone will need to do functional skills in apprenticeships in 35 years?

Barry Brooks: Government is charged to improve the quality of teaching across the piece, we are moving bureaucracy and thereby with better trained, better motivated teachers, with stronger leadership, performance in the classroom will improve, therefore the quality achievement of young people will improve, and you can’t argue against the theory. But in reality, today, something like 53 percent of young people are coming out at the age of 16 without GCSE maths and English.

Peter Hallard: As someone that is in the very early stages of delivering an apprenticeship programme, I’m struck by the fact that we are going to be at the sharp end of this, because there are organisations that have had long standing apprenticeship schemes in place and built up capital within their organisations, other organisations that support it and if there is a bit of a stretch that comes into apprenticeships through functional skills then I could imagine that we maintain support of the organisations as they come to terms with that and as we get that right.

Andy Smyth: The model is not that bad, if it was, we would all be walking away, but we are saying we do not like it the way it is. We must all work through and drive for changes and we will make it work. We should all challenge what the requirements are and apply your own thinking to them.

What is the best way of funding your apprenticeship scheme?

Barry Brooks: Well the public purse is very generous, in respect of the apprenticeship programme and I think that for those organisations that feel able to match the requirements, it helps them to develop the framework as part of a broader opportunity. I don’t think I’ve read or heard anything that suggests the funding is going to be cut.

Ross Cowie: Our primary rationale was not funding, and I think if it had been we would never have seen the process through and be where we are now. Our rationale was similar to all of the great reasons we’ve heard today… about getting a consistent development programme. The funding mechanisms are a secondary reason to support with effective that creates progression for our people, helps us deliver our brand promise and also is nationally recognised and accredited, and efficient delivery of the programme. I am also starting to realise that with the funding comes a lot of audit requirements that require transparency and a clear audit trail.

Tessa Hougham: Transparency of funding is key, however, as we consider a Higher Apprenticeship programme, we have found a lack of clarity around how to access Government funding and exactly what is available to employers.

Anne Blythe: What I found was really beneficial, we don’t withdraw funding down directly as an organisation, all apprenticeships are offered through a provider, but we had a two day training course at the beginning of our journey which do run regularly with NAS.

Jessie Buscombe: We’re actually running that course at the moment: this is a two day course for employers who are looking at the possibility of having their own contract to deliver training. Really there are two levels of knowledge that you would need to have around the funding of Apprenticeships: one is more detailed if you are actually holding a contract to deliver training and two is slightly different if you’re commissioning a provider, which it’s more about what your entitlements are and how to select the best provider for your business.

And is that policy ring fenced should another Government come in to power?

Jessie Buscombe: The eligibility for 16-18 year olds is set in parliamentary legislation. That is about giving a 16-18 year old the same status in a workplace learning scheme as they would have if they went to school.

Peter Hallard: I see with a lot of large scale employers starting on a model which is based on the training provider attracting the funding and then at a point in time switching to a direct contract. It would be interesting to understand a little bit more about what it is that’s instigating that switch from one model to the next. Apprenticeships have got to be employer led initiatives but at the moment the money is predominantly flowing into training providers, that means that it has the potential to be more of a training provider led initiative across this country rather than employer led initiative.

What needs to be considered when planning an apprenticeship programme?

Nick McGlashan: We are looking at how apprenticeships can further help our business and attract people into Tesco who wouldn’t necessarily have thought of retailing as a career. Attracting 16-24 year olds onto an apprenticeship programme and then offer the opportunity for further development is important to us going forward.

Ross Cowie: A big driver for us has been to try and enable people to perceive the hospitality industry as one with long term opportunities for career progression. To have this kind of programme which ranges from pre-employment right through to leadership ultimately is great to be able to showcase an organisation as an employer of choice.

Anne Blythe: The first part of any mentoring session is to work through how we linked the strategy to the business model this giving return on investment. We have also developed a student prospectus that offers a suite of options that are tailored to every part of our business. This is all in the employer understanding of what you can do to shape the apprenticeship pathways to fit the needs of your business and whatever model you take, you still own the programme as an employer and therefore the Provider should work with you to deliver your ambition.

Ross Cowie: The best piece of advice I received when looking at setting up an in-house programme was to make sure the starting point is what your business needs in order to deliver our brand promises, our services to our guests, and then compare with the requirements and criteria of the national occupational standards.

James Taylor: Listening to what you have just said, the programme supports and not replaces existing practises.

Lindsay Visconti: The individuals that are going through the apprenticeship programme may well have better retention rates with the business and lower absence rates, but what about the rest of the work force, how do they get on when you introduce a new programme?

James Taylor: I am a big advocate that the employability agenda and the apprenticeship agenda be seen as one, but I can see that when an organisation implements a new programme there will be a group of existing staff. So how do you placate that or how do you communicate what’s happening across the organisation?

Ross Cowie: Since the qualification is embedded into the business, it is possible for everyone to go through this learning and achieve an accredited qualification… maybe not the whole apprenticeship framework but accredited qualification nonetheless. This is a positive move forward and organisations do not need to utilise government funding to provide this opportunity.

Barry Brooks: You raise the words there eligible and ineligible and it comes back to the business case for training. There are organisations who will train all of their people, there are other organisations that will only train those who are eligible to draw down the funding. If you are committed to training it shouldn’t simply be driven by external funding.

Andy Smyth: We do not differentiate on eligibility; we recruit for skills, attitude and aptitude. The majority of the people that join our programmes have some level of eligibility so we distribute the funds across the piece. Therefore we deliver our programme to everyone and entitlement really is not the key driver. Qualification achievement and normal job performance levels are almost the same thing, done correctly there is very little extra that you have to put in for certain qualifications.

Nick McGlashan: All our programmes are a minimum length of 12 months and with the criteria we have in place we find that staff can complete on time and demonstrate the minimum guided learning hours. The introduction of Functional Skills will be a further stretch for our learners, particularly with the practice and testing requirements. We will continue to support all our staff to complete as we have done in the past.

Anne Blythe: We’ve got currently just over 3000 that’s in the 14 month mark, but it’s about the individual. We don’t focus this 12 months, nine months, six months, you know this is quite new for us, what we focus on the individuals, the learner and what they need, and if they need 15 months they need 15 months and there’s clearly a reason for that but if there’s something if we can see we’ve got reporting structure we can see where each learner is at any one point in time, if we see something out there that looks to give us reason or cause for concern we then support that individual or that region depending on where they’re at, but it’s very dependent on the learner. Twelve months is always a guide as for us, are we doing the right things, but it’s taking a bit longer because we’ve got so many, so we’re getting to the point where these 3000 are now graduating at 100s per month, because they are coming to the end of the programme.

Barry Brooks: This is just phase 2, we’ll be back again and I think that these discussions are relevant both for the established providers as well as the ones who are preparing to deliver – for everyone this is a journey. I am absolutely convinced that the way for this work to be valued and valuable is for the programmes to be employerled. That’s the only way that you will bring credibility to the work based programmes and it doesn’t really matter , or it shouldn’t really matter, how they are branded, whether they are traineeships, whether they are apprenticeships, whether they are internships, it’s actually in-house training that carries an overarching value that goes beyond that particular employer or that particular kind of workplace.

There has to be a focus on quality but that quality must be one which is meaningful and we’ve talked a lot about the individual, so the determining factor has to be are they effective and efficient as an employee and, as Andy said earlier, will they be employable, will you carry on employing them going forward, that has to be the touchstone. If we’re trying to create a workforce for the future, it isn’t just about the work readiness, are they also confident and capable to go on. That’s why I think the progression developments that have happened since we last met are so important. The intermediate leading on to the advanced, the advanced going onto the higher and that’s why I made the point about trying to look at the funding in that way. If the funding can be tied into a trigger from level 2 to level 3 and level 4, actually you’re using the funding to trigger progression and professional development.

There are challenges. There are challenges around the bureaucracy we know that the employer-led pilots are seeking to address this. We know there’s going to be some challenges around functional skills but these will be worked through. None of those things should make anybody walk away because everything that is in the framework is material and necessary. I accept that some of them may well be overengineered at the moment, but I believe that in the last year we’ve seen some of that over-engineering in certain areas being removed. The only way it will be removed is by effective demonstration, demonstration in the workplace and effective programming and in my view you are the people that than can do that best of all.

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