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Apprenticeships Roundtable Part 4 – Roundtable Report

04 March 2014     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Damian Brown, Head of Accredited Learning – BT
Nia Golding, Learning & Development Manager – HC One
Jennifer Lee, HR Director – Jurys Inn Group Ltd
David Massey, Senior Policy Manager – UK Commission for Employment and Skills – UKCES
Nick McGlashan, UK Entry Level Programmes Manager – Tesco Stores Ltd
Katie O’Hare, Talent & Business Partner – Starbucks Coffee Co
Jacqueline Rogers, Head of Talent Planning & Resourcing – HC One
Craig Smith, UK Academy Manager Technical and New Talent – National Grid
Andy Smyth, Accredited Programmes Development Manager – TUI Travel UK & Ireland
Jo Cantrill, Recruitment Manager – Future Talent, Vision Express UK Ltd
Anna Talbot, Development Team Leader – Vision Express UK Ltd
Bob Hughes, Business Development Manager – Tribal Group
Barry Brooks, Group Strategy Director – Tribal Group
Nigel James, Head of Sales & Business Development – Tribal Group

Ownership has to be about developing and designing a new approach not about passing the existing system to employers. It must match the rhythms and the patterns of how businesses, industries and sectors work Apprenticeships “Trailblazers” are leading the way to empowering employers to take greater control in the delivery of appropriate work-based accredited learning.

Employer ownership of skills initiatives, was a focal point of the 2013 UKCES pilots, as well as the outcome of the Richard Review. The topic is higher than ever on the political agenda since the Government’s publication in November 2013, of its Apprenticeship implementation plan, which was themed; “putting the design of Apprenticeships into the hands of employers”. The paper covered the Government’s commitment to ensure Apprenticeships become more rigorous and responsive to the needs of more employers and set out how they intend to introduce a simpler set of standards, involve employers in the design and delivery of assessment, step up English and maths requirements and test these through eight “Trailblazers”.

We’ve had three years of the Government-led apprenticeship initiative, there must now be clear evidence of the impacts it is having on unemployment, on school and further education leavers, as well as re-skilling and up-skilling across the workforce. Also, is there now recognition that apprenticeships are providing the right training and development to meet the skill requirements of employers?

Barry Brooks: Apprenticeships are now seen as important to economic growth and benefitting social cohesion. A mandate has now been agreed for employers to lead on this work as a key aspect of workforce development, from a supply-driven to a demand-led programme. This has been attempted several times in the past, but the solution has always been about increasing the amount of funding that the supply side has been given in an attempt to persuade employers to cooperate and collaborate on skills development. The Government’s own data suggests that the ratio of investment is in the order of ten-to-one of employer versus state investment in workforce training. The notion now of being able to channel the funding directly to employers so that they hold the leadership, are responsible for managing the skills development and identifying the skills priorities is both exciting and innovative.

David Massey: This is not just about giving employers a greater say in the publicly funded system. Employers will design the apprenticeship standards that they need for their industries, they will set the bar for quality by designing a high level assessment strategy and, through the routing of the public contribution for apprenticeships direct to employers, they will have the purchasing power to drive the outcomes they need.

Let’s get some perspective from employers starting with Nick at Tesco, one of the “trailblazers”.

Nick McGlashan: We currently run an embedded programme for 3500 colleagues and I think many of these reforms will present lots of opportunities for us to offer something different. In addition there are all sorts of questions that are coming out from this review and certainly for us, I think that the programme we currently deliver will look very different in the future.

Andy Smyth: There is a bit of a risk in all of this, a lot of landscape change, policies which are not necessarily defined as well as conflict and confusion about which agenda we should be working towards. In terms of quality, we’ve always had great confidence in our programmes and in terms of employer ownership, there are some questions but huge opportunities. At the moment I don’t necessarily feel comfortable, because the flexibility comes with strings. This is about looking at what works for the business. You can do that as long as it still conforms to minimum requirements set by Government. I would actually say that isn’t genuinely being owned by the employer. The conflict is about money, the way that apprenticeships are funded is getting in the way.

Damian Brown: BT was involved in the Richard Review right from the start and Doug Richard said there’s only two sorts of people that are important in this relationship, the employee and the employer. In regards to the Panorama programmes revelations, actually the powers were already in place to stop that practice happening, those people were breaking the rules, and I think there are some employers that still aren’t really following those guidelines.

Jennifer Lee: We recruit regardless of experience, education or qualification, as attitude is everything for us. The key selling point for me is the opportunity to offer the opportunity to gain certified qualifications to our employees as many don’t have any qualifications. We have rebranded under an umbrella programme called ‘I Can Qualify’. By doing this we have added our own training and development supports, mentoring, etc.

Nia Golding: We offer apprenticeships to our existing workforce as a part of career development, appropriate to their job role. As they progress through their careers with the organisation they can do the higher level apprenticeships. We looked at our providers and for 240 homes, we had near enough 240 providers. Every home was using a different provider, and there was no centralisation. So we met with the providers, we streamlined and got it down to ten providers. We brought the providers together with their assessors, their verifiers, and we trained them in the culture of our company.

Since the revelation in the Panorama programme, are their signs of improved practice across the piece? Also, what about efficacy, grading and benchmarking?

David Massey: It’s difficult to get an overview of the impact on quality and you hear conflicting evidence. Another issue is the low pay commission, who set the minimum wage, who found that about 40 percent of 16-17 year old apprentices were on less than the £2.60 an hour? But at the same time, the majority of apprentices are very happy with their apprenticeship.

Bob Hughes: We see more good practice than bad and the point about availability of funding changes behaviours. The “stake” a provider holds in the delivery of quality training where funding is available, can be different to the stake that would be held by a trainer that had been either hired, or employed, by that employer. When the employer has made an investment in the quality of training delivery by a third-party, the stake that third-party holds is very much in delivery of high quality to their direct customer. The funding model can, in some circumstances, alter the focus of the provider and make them less of a stakeholder in the quality of what is delivered and how relevant it is to that particular business. The emphasis can shift to routines, the submission of data and the receipt of funding.

Barry Brooks: Employer leadership and ownership has to be about developing and designing a new approach not about passing the existing system to employers. For this to be successful, the new system must match the rhythms and the patterns of how businesses, industries and sectors work. That must be a key role for the Trailblazers. Sadly, in Phase 1, some of the larger employers and sector organisations, particularly automotive and aeronautical, in my view have not gone far enough and are seeking to tweak the existing system or pick and choose across the Richard Recommendations.

Damian Brown: My concern around graded apprenticeships is that if we’re having common standards, where you can recognise that someone has attained a standard and that’s transferrable, in theory, across the sector. It’s the individual employer that sets the performance benchmark, and I think that’s where you would start to get some inconsistency.

David Massey: Agreed, the aims of grading need to be communicated in a way that makes sense to business. Employers may be struggling with this, but at the same time, most will have a performance management process through which staff get graded to some extent.

Damian Brown: In terms of the drive to employer ownership, grading was almost a deal breaker for trailblazers, along with the introduction of GCSEs to replace vocational skills. Yes we’ve got this freedom but with caveats.

Andy Smyth: Considering the trailblazers, that’s a lot of people and a lot of time and effort, for something that may get scrapped. They’ve been given freedom so long as grading, GCSEs, duration, and end assessment all fit. So actually there’s not a whole load of freedom.

Jennifer Lee: Why is this all about big employers in high profile sectors? My concern about moving the funding, lock, stock and barrel, from training providers to employers is the potential impact on SMEs. These small businesses don’t have a HR or learning & development professional, and don’t have the time to manage the funding and bureaucracy, it would be a real shame to lose their involvement. The system needs to be easier for smaller employers to engage in.

David Massey: Agreed, these changes won’t work unless it’s really simple. If we try to transpose what we do with very large employers, and try to make that work for SMEs, there’s no way it’s ever going to work, unless it’s simple.

Nigel James: Every time we’re told the funding is getting simpler, it never happens. In fact, it gets worse! There isn’t any way that employers are going to be given the money without having to do an audit and follow the instructions, it just won’t happen. It just wouldn’t be feasible for employers to bypass that. So there will be some very good ones who do it very well and, unfortunately, some poor ones who will do it very badly. There’s got to be a balance, with training providers kept in place, employers taking ownership; and the colleges are absolutely crucial to this, because the very good relationships many employers have with their local colleges is a key factor in keeping the balance.

Barry Brooks: Agreed, the current funding regime is why the future approach has to be different, using a much more steam-lined system. The only way this approach is going to work is if SMEs are properly involved and engaged. Something like two thirds of large employers are not taking any apprentices on. Then add the number of SMEs who do not recruit apprentices.

Damian Brown: Large employers have got to help SME’s. Now we’ve done programmes, not quite as formally as the over train model, but we’ve helped with training providers, which I keep saying is so important, and we’ve done, obviously, a double act, so we’ve not only taken people coming into us who we’d like to give a job but we can’t, we’ve passed them through the programmes and we’ve found them a job in an SME, but we’ve given assurance to the SME, BT is behind this apprenticeship programme, We’ve helped design it, we’ve designed it to the standard that we expect of our own people and also the SME, and the apprentice

Moving on flexibility. The world of work will be more transitory, but you’ve got to have some balance.

Jennifer Lee: One of the selling points of the apprenticeship in that it’s operating within a structured framework. If you have completed a level 3 in business administration, it’s valid across all sectors. Increasingly young people are looking for certification and they’re looking for something immediate and transferable. Andy Smyth: The “Open Badges” principle, an apprenticeship by accumulation, doesn’t work in the current set up. If we look at the actual career paths of the majority, it isn’t linear, but apprenticeship programmes are. I think we’ve got to fundamentally recognise the modern world of working is completely different and individuals joining the world of work today have a low tolerance for being stuck in a rut, in which case, the system is almost fundamentally designed to fail.

Bob Hughes: The Henry Ford quote: “What if we train our people and they leave? What if we don’t train them and they stay”? is a neat fit. That is central to the dilemma. You have made an investment in a person, but if your investment is carried outside the company, you retain the benefit of having better people in your talent pool, but have also added to the wider attraction of your particular sector. And don’t forget that a passport can bring you home as well as take you abroad. Jason Spiller: Katie, people would naturally assume Starbucks is a particularly transitory employer, that must pose some challenges.

Katie O’Hare: And it is, which is why we re-embedded apprenticeships in our recruitment strategy. So for us, when we’re talking about Return on Investment, this is about retention, that’s our biggest issue, that’s our long-term goal. We’ve seen some benefit in our first full cycle and we have another 400 apprentices coming in later. So our focus is on attraction strategy, around progressing retail career paths and genuinely because we are addressing a retention problem, we are very much looking for local talent.

Let us move on to the revised framework and whether there’s any discernible improvement in the efficacy and performance of apprenticeships, as well as promoting the accountability of employers.

Nick McGlashan: In order for us to make our apprenticeship programme as stretching as possible we have moved all our level 2 programmes up to Diploma level so that when colleagues complete they can genuinely feel proud of their achievement and have a much greater understanding of the business.

Andy Smyth: I don’t think anybody here is necessarily arguing against the fact that somebody needs to achieve at an overall standard – Richard requires an end loaded summative assessment of standards. However, this model prevents people from actually accessing that opportunity and that’s where I think the missed opportunity sits. Compare with the German model, whereby employers work with education establishments, so they have cohesion.

Damian Brown: That was what QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) was meant to deliver.

And that’s exactly the point about employers owning the assessment decisions, rather than abdicating it to an awarding body.

Jennifer Lee: Agreed, we ‘assess’ our people every day, whether it’s a new hire, or a promotion, or to put an employee forward for a development centre. We look at approved prior learning, and we model it against our own performance management system and our own set of competencies. If not in our organisation, then somewhere else.

Andy Smyth: Open Badges is like a certificate, like carrying currency for the employee and is useful for the employer. But what we businesses really need is less clutter and more clarity on what those certificates look like and what they mean.

Barry Brooks: I would always advise people to go back and look at the documentation. In my view all of the flexibilities and opportunities you’re seeking are already there, and employers should take advantage of the opportunities that are being offered.

Nigel James: Going back to the funding, one of the reasons why the softer skills are not there is because the funding was taken away from these. There used to be six core skills that tutors and learners worked on; the softer ones, like employability, were taken away. That would be relatively simple to put back into a framework.

Andy Smyth: But that’s a Government policy decision stating very clearly employers must pay for that. But the question of whether you would have maths and English in your own in house programme, if it would make them to function better? Absolutely you would have them.

Nia Golding: If it was left to us we wouldn’t do maths and possibly not English qualifications because in the care sector, an awful lot of our colleagues don’t have English as their first language. So in terms of delivering the apprenticeship, it’s where the majority of the money goes to our training providers. So I think the apprenticeships certainly work for us from the point of view of developing the skills, and colleagues actually appreciate the opportunity to do them, but given the opportunities to review the actual sort of structure of the qualifications, we would make changes.

Nick McGlashan: Our stores typically employ a cross section of the communities that they serve. In some areas where a large number of the local population do not have English as their first language, this can prove to be challenging for those completing an apprenticeship.

David Massey: There’s always potential for a conflict between what employers want, which may be something very specific to their jobs and their industry, and what the Government is trying to do in terms of the young person’s education which sets them up for a career.

Let’s consider school leavers and people coming into the workforce for the first time. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that they are woefully unprepared for the workplace.

Katie O’Hare: It’s the whole employability thing, that’s down to manager’s common sense. A big portion for our workforce is 16-24 year olds, so this is their first job ever in some cases, and that is a significant focus for us.

Jo Cantrill: More could be done within the education system especially with careers advice. It would be beneficial for children to have more direction with career choices available.

Jennifer Lee: We work with an organisation called Believe in Young People, a charity supported by UKCES which operate in approximately 3000 schools, where children from age 11 to 16 study hospitality on the curriculum. Partner hotels support the schools by hosting events, providing team members to talk to the students and there are interactive web based learning sessions which give a great taste of what it is like to work in hospitality.

Katie O’Hare: We’ve seen some of our biggest successes when we’ve recruited directly through council bodies, with colleges that offer pre-employment training that helps the students find their niche.

David Massey: We find that most employers find the young people they recruit to be well prepared for work. But where they don’t, it’s down to experience and attitude as opposed to particular skills. Where’s the best place for a young person to get employability skills, is it in a classroom or is it in the workplace? At the same time access to part-time work during full-time education for young people who are 16 or 17, has been falling for about the last 15 or 20 years.

No career’s advice, no part-time work, no contact from potential future employers. Surely this has to be addressed?

Barry Brooks: It’s the disconnect between the workplace, the employer and some educational bodies. Yes, employers would like to get into schools, but actually some schools don’t particularly want employers to come in because they now want to keep their young people until they are 18, because actually, it’s a good income stream. We have a fantastic solution from Government around this preparedness for work, a form of preapprenticeship stage – the Traineeship. The UKCES had a very interesting launch last week, Not Just Making Tea… Reinventing Work Experience, but at the moment we’re not actually dealing with the issues because of the major disconnects in the system.

Damian Brown: Teachers aren’t products of the apprenticeship system so they just have no idea about how it works, and so I think employers are going to have to get more involved with schools.

Nick McGlashan: As Tesco employs over 70,000 young people aged under 25, we are able to support them with gaining invaluable work experience and general life skills which helps them when applying for full time jobs. We also deliver CV writing and interview skills workshop in schools through Inspiring the Future, as many schools don’t have the resources to do this.

David Massey: Obviously, it’s resource intensive for employers to do that but it delivers such good outcomes and I believe that there’s a net benefit for employers. There are lots of exceptional schemes, for example CIPD, the HR professional body, are connecting thousands of HR professionals with young unemployed people to mentor them up and down the country.

Andy Smyth: We have to ask the question what does work experience really provide? Traineeships are just too vague in their definition. Going forward hopefully that will start to take some form.

It’s been some time since the Richard Review, are there signs that recommendations are having an impact?

Barry Brooks: Richard challenged Government about cherry picking its favourite recommendations. The Apprenticeship implementation Plan that set out Government’s response to the Review actually accepted Richard’s line and has set these out in a co-ordinated way, indeed many of them as they are being taken forward by the STEM Trailblazers and Phase 2 of the Apprenticeship trailblazers have been announced. So Richard’s recommendations are now real and are being implemented albeit in a phased way. One recommendation that continues to cause greatest concern across employers and providers is the ambition for English and maths, which we have discussed, and what Richard recommended and what Government has becoming increasingly wedded to is the notion that Level 2 Functional English and maths are not ambitious enough and the target should be GCSE level English and maths. That’s their ambition. It is early days but Phase 1 Trailblazer have just had their National Occupational Standards with the high level assessment approved and published. The next stage is to look at the detail of implementing these new apprenticeship standards and associated qualifications as well as what does employer ownership really mean?

David Massey: As you’ll know from the Autumn statement, there was an announcement that funding would go to employers using “HMRC systems” and that a further consultation is due out any day now.

Nick McGlashan: The options for the routing of funding will be crucial going forward as currently we are unsure of what the back office changes will be.

Andy Smyth: It’s thrown up many problems for us as it actually genuinely started to provide solutions. A paid consultant came in to tell us what we already knew, sorry that probably sounds ungrateful. I don’t know whether there was influence on the maths and English, but in my view, the focus should be training people to improve performance.

Damian Brown: I don’t believe the mechanism for funding is the problem, how you claim it; it’s how you get the calculation in the first place. That’s where the complication in the system is I believe. We’re in a situation where we had to deal with that, so for us to deconstruct our current funding and replace it with something else is going to cause us a whole load of grief. The latest I heard was rather than going through the sort of the PAYE system, it was going to be more of a case of demonstrating your contribution via some kind of portal, which was linked to your provider statement of training and working it out from there. There’s a difference between internal mechanisms which might go wrong, or the complication of the funding means you may make mistakes, which is fundamentally fraud. My concern around funding is that our brand is much bigger than the funding.

Andy Smyth: The existing system isn’t massively broken, it needs shall we say more appropriate policing, greater transparency, and there are some bits that need evolving. There are no risks with the NI system or the PAYE system. Some of the providers that have abused the system previously are also employers, they won’t in any way take that money into their PAYE exemptions and not spend it on the intended cause.

A part of the Richard Review focused on the issue that there was no legal definition of an apprentice, leaving the system open to potential abuse. The recommendation was that apprenticeship required a new role, that is new to the individual and requires them to learn a substantial amount before they can do the job effectively. How practical is this for employers to accommodate?

David Massey: The apprenticeship agreement was brought in to attempt to close that loophole. For embedded programmes you had to have the apprenticeship agreement and for recruited apprentices you had to have a satisfactory contract of employment that stated you were an apprentice. I don’t think any training provider legally challenged the definition of an apprenticeship to defend themselves in court.

Barry Brooks: There is a big difference between the experience of those employers who have their own direct contract with the SFA and the majority of those who have to work through providers. In a way ‘employer ownership’ already exists with those employers who have their own contract and I can see why they say the system is not broken, but I do think there is an issue about control and how this is exercised.

Andy Smyth: The responsibility on the employer and the rules were already there to prevent this poor practice. They needed to be policed and, if this had been done thoroughly and effectively, then these non-apprentices would not be there. So did we need to change the whole model to achieve that or is it that the audit process was deemed to be too hard?

Is there a definition or identity problem, insomuch as, do some apprentices realise they are apprentices?

David Massey: Certainly most people would think that if you’re doing an apprenticeship then you are an apprentice, but there were other issues too. One in five apprentices don’t get any training at all and this was explained thoroughly to them. This is a minority case but it definitely does exist.

Jennifer Lee: At Jurys Inn our young chefs were invited to join an apprenticeship under our ICQ (I Can Qualify) programme. It acknowledges the training funding from the Government, but it’s only part of the overall package of learning & development supports. These chefs are employed with us and they see themselves as no different to the other commis chefs who are not on the programme.

Damian Brown: People doing embedded programmes, whilst the individuals might understand they are doing an apprenticeship, do they consider themselves as apprentices?

Bob Hughes: There are perfectly good reasons why you might want to “brand” your training whilst retaining compliance to an apprenticeship framework. It’s about ownership, after all, so there should be no problem with calling it something else.

Andy Smyth: Agreed, the term apprentice in a job description wouldn’t work for some, particularly in leadership and management training programmes.

David Massey: On the subject of more senior apprenticeships, we are going on to level 7 frameworks. Now at this level the word apprentice will not be appropriate.

Barry Brooks: The data suggests that around 90 percent of apprenticeships at the moment are at Level 2. The word will have to disappear because someone who is at undergraduate or Post Graduate level is unlikely to define themselves as an apprentice.

How can internal training programmes be accredited and mapped against appropriate work-based qualifications and what are the perceived obstacles to meaningful accreditation. And how can apprenticeship performance be benchmarked cohesively and comprehensively?

Jennifer Lee: As part of the process in securing the contract, surely you are assessed as an employer. So would it not be more appropriate to agree that it’s at this stage you are assessed by a third party, not for every single apprentice that goes through the system?

Nick McGlashan: I come back to the point, no business is going to be certifying or signing colleagues off who are not competent because it is self-defeating as a business to have people who are not competently trained to do

David Massey: One of the ideas behind employer ownership is that employers know best when it comes to their staff reaching the expected standard. I think it’s one of the things that will become clearer as the trailblazers develop.

Nick McGlashan: I come back to the point, no business is going to be certifying or signing colleagues off who are not competent because it is self-defeating as a business to have people who are not competently trained to do whatever the job is.

David Massey: In say a factory, it will be the operational manager that assesses them. They’re not going to sign them off if they don’t think they’re fit.

Nia Golding: In the care sector, a lot of the times it’s the managers that are signing the people off as competent and they wouldn’t sign them off if they were not, because they are accountable if something goes wrong.

Should Government hand over funding reins to employers? Are employers best placed to determine the training agenda and self-appraise?

Andy Smyth: If we are deemed to be delivering against receipt of public money, then we will be whiter than white, in terms of demonstrating and evidencing that. In terms of self-appraising, personally I don’t think there is a problem with having an inspectorate or a body that takes some role in quality assurance, I think that’s healthy.

Nick McGlashan: In principle, you’re absolutely right. It is important that there is such a body as Ofsted but let’s not forget that in addition to any internal audit of your programme you also have the awarding body who audits, plus the Skills Funding Agency.

Jo Cantrill: We support OFSTED and the external measures in place, and we acknowledge that there should be a governing body to ensure that employers deliver a quality programme and that key standards are met.

Andy Smyth: You would expect the employer to be more discerning about how they spend their own money, but this is about behaviours. The current set up enables you to manage this process, it just hasn’t been fully implemented and used properly.

Bob Hughes: The question is, is your focus on accrediting and recognising your own people or simply how you get ready for OFSTED coming in and “ticking all the boxes”? Most employers that I talk to start from the basis of “We don’t drive for “outstanding” from the beginning, that’s for later”, meaning that they want to build quality organically rather than race to the tape. That is, as far as I’m concerned the ideal strategy.

Barry Brooks: I’m confident that by the time we come to 2016-2017 everybody will have a very clear idea of what those governance arrangements are. In respect of OFSTED, I am aware that there is a fear factor associated with an OFSTED inspection, but they can identify something that’s not working right, and advise on how to improve things.

Nick McGlashan: Agreed, the 48 hours’ notice you get is quite a challenge and it does take over your week, but it’s the practicality of managing an audit, not the ethos of why they’re coming in.

Barry Brooks: This whole set of reforms is about workforce training and as we have discussed at length, employers are key. In terms of the implementation of these reforms, my advice to the employers around the table is to be proactive and responsive. Where something is clearly out of kilter with the rhythms and the patterns of your business, do not be quietly acquiescent, raise it as an issue. And finally, make sure that in future, the language of workforce training is the language of business, employers, industries and sectors, not that of academics and educationalists. If you can describe these latest workforce reforms in a way that employers and employees understand, in a context which works for the sector, this will be true employer leadership and ownership, and the latest reforms will have a real chance of succeeding.

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