Reasons to be cheerful about next 5 years, say training leaders

Employment and skills issues are at the top of the political agenda as we move towards the next general election.  Developing skills and improving productivity are at the core of sustainable growth.  Training providers can be at the centre of that debate and be the key driver to grow the programmes which will deliver improved skills for individuals and employers. 

That can means there are significant opportunities for good quality providers delivering government employment and training programmes over the next five years despite the continuing budgetary pressures on Whitehall departments.

This was the key message from the leadership of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers today at its 2020 Vision Conference and Debate on Employment and Skills in London which is looking ahead at what needs to be done to ensure that more employers, learners and the unemployed benefit from high quality programmes under a new government.

AELP highlighted that all of the main political parties are committing to grow the Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes as stated priorities with the additional government investment.   Training providers would have to deliver a 10% annual increase in apprenticeship starts during the next Parliament.

Providers have also welcomed the focus on the need for greater integration of employment and skills programmes, currently split between BIS and DWP.  AELP believes that if real progress is made on this front, significant savings on the operating costs of programmes can be made by both providers and the taxpayer, while employers will be less confused by the number of different schemes to choose from.

The AELP leadership set out for delegates the likely policy context which will shape the environment in which providers will be operating over the next five years.  This covers:

  • challenging budgets for the duration of the Parliament
  • moves to fund the customer directly, e.g. loans and employer ownership of skills funding
  • higher quality benchmarks for providers to meet
  • continuing drive to generate new initiatives
  • possible devolving of procurement to city regions and LEPs
  • a danger of government departments not working together.

 

Simplification of skills system will drive greater efficiencies

At a time where providers are delivering more for less, there has to be simplification of funding and contracting arrangements with a focus on longer term planning and commitments. 

The contracting arrangements for independent providers differ from FE colleges and AELP is hopeful that we will see much greater progress towards a level playing field where funding is more responsive to demand rather than based on the type of institution supplying the training. 

AELP has also highlighted the dangers of moving procurement to a local level where there is a real risk of creating different programmes and complex contracting arrangements.  There is nonetheless a strong role for local partnerships to set priorities, influence contracting and monitor the local impact.  Above all, AELP will want to see reforms that preserve choice for the customer through a system that enables providers to be flexible.

 

Importance of Apprenticeships in the next Parliament

At the 2020 Vision Conference, sponsored by City & Guilds, AELP will emphasise the need for the changes to apprenticeships to build on good practice with reforms being evidence based and constructive.

The Skills Minister Nick Boles has rejected the previous reform proposals and is now consulting the sector on how the funding of Apprenticeships should be taken forward.  AELP has always stated that direct employer funding and mandatory cash contributions will be a barrier for many employers. With proposals based on employer choice, AELP believes that we can grow the programme over the next five years.

AELP is also part of an alliance (http://bit.ly/1EP2yDJ) that is publishing at this conference a full report called ‘Remaking Apprenticeships’ which focuses in particular on ensuring that the apprentice as well as the employer will benefit from the new apprenticeship standards that are now being piloted under the Trailblazers. 

AELP CEO Stewart Segal said:

“Today we will be debating how we can reform the employment and skills system over the next five years to reduce unemployment faster and respond to employer demands on skills.  Key to this is preserving flexibility and customer choice when the new government brings forward proposals for change.  Despite the pressures on funding, AELP is confident that providers can and will deliver more, but ridding the system of some of its complexities would go a long way to making that happen.”