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18 June 2012
Young people who leave school with few or no qualifications need a better ladder to get on the much-in-demand apprenticeship programme.
The call from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) on the eve of its annual conference follows reports from training providers that employers are raising the bar for full apprenticeship entry requirements.
With a further 156,000 young people starting apprenticeships in the first 6 months of 2011-12 to add to the 275,000 who started last year, AELP is pleased with both the programme's popularity and the increasing high regard that employers are showing in terms of the perceived value that it brings to their business.
However AELP members, who help train in excess of 70% of apprentices in England, are anxious that the tougher entry requirements do not completely remove the possibility of some young people securing an apprenticeship place, particularly those from a disadvantaged background and when there are nearly 1 million young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).
AELP wants to help the government construct a comprehensive range of pre-apprenticeship or preparatory training provision which providers can tailor flexibly to meet the specific needs of individuals. This would build on the moderately successful Access to Apprenticeships programme that the government introduced last year with an initial 10,000 places available.
Independent training providers want a ladder to full apprenticeships for young people which brings together aspects of the NEET provision which the Department for Education funds for 16 to 18 year olds, training funded by the BIS department for 19 to 24 year olds, Youth Contract elements and closer links to the DWP's Work Programme. A solution must include the growing number of Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs) where young people are on the books as employees of ATAs but not yet employed by local businesses.
AELP chief executive Graham Hoyle said:
“The aim must be to devise and develop urgently a mix of options firmly aimed at progressing the young person into a full apprenticeship at the earliest opportunity.
“There has been much debate in recent months, including the evidence offered to the Commons select committee inquiry, about protecting the apprenticeship 'brand'. By placing more young people with insufficient basic skills or qualifications in the pre-apprenticeship arena, providers can help trainees achieve the prestigious apprenticeship designation when they gain full employment with their ultimate and hopefully long term employer. This will certainly make a difference in protecting the brand.”
Graham Hoyle added:
“The big growth in apprenticeships is a sign of their value to businesses investing in the skills of their workforce and to the economy as a whole, as borne out by the recent NAO report. But AELP members believe that the programme also has a vital role to play in terms of the social inclusion of young people and a more comprehensive range of pre-apprenticeship preparatory training will support this objective.”
AELP pushes for flexible vocational learning provision to tackle unemployment
At its annual conference in London sponsored by Pearson Plc and chaired by the BBC's education correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti, AELP will continue to press for the integration of education, employment and skills policies as an important tool for driving the country's economic recovery.
In his keynote address, the AELP chairman Martin Dunford is expected to press for providers to have more flexibility, for example using the DWP's 'black box' model to tackle the NEET issue.
Martin Dunford will reaffirm AELP's welcome for last year's introduction of the flexible adult skills budget under the Skills Funding Agency, but he will express concern that the otherwise welcome continuing focus on apprenticeships within an overall tightening budget threatens independent providers with the prospect of being pushed back and locked into being providers of apprenticeships only.
Many AELP members, for example, who are active in both the employment and skills markets are keen to use the adult skills budget to provide their unemployed clients with the skills needed to secure sustainable employment. They believe that it would be very damaging if access to this particular funding stream was cut off for them.
The AELP chairman will urge providers to make maximum use of the flexibilities in both DWP's Work Programme and those available in the SFA's single adult flexible budget to offer appropriate preparatory training with the shared aim of gaining the sustainable employment which full apprenticeships can ultimately provide.
View from the front line
The AELP conference will hear from a group of provider members how the funding system across the three principal government departments is benefiting or hindering the young people that their teams on the front line are trying to support. In response, the funding agency viewpoint will be offered by Peter Lauener, chief executive of the new Education Funding Agency, and by Kim Thorneywork, the newly appointed interim chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency.
The full speaker line-up and programme for the AELP annual conference on 19-20 June 2012 at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel (on Edgware Road very close to the underground station) are available at: http://bit.ly/Jd5jBE.