Archive for March, 2013


Over the years, the word “collaboration” has often had a bad press, not least during the Second World War when the words “…with the enemy” were almost invariably added at the end. Yet 70 years on, it’s almost impossible to pick up a management, education or HR journal or blog and find a sentence where collaboration does not appear.

So what have we got here, another buzzword which will shortly pass into the great archives of management-speak (alongside “Talent Management” and “Human Capital” etc) or are we talking about a new way of learning and working which could genuinely have a huge long-term impact on both the commercial and educational sectors and radically change the way we learn and the way we do business?

I tend towards the latter and I can say that coming from an era when “collaboration” at school was called “cheating” and was met by the usual forms of punishment. To be fair, my take at the time on “collaborative learning” was to copy out the answers to the German homework produced by the school swot. Of course, I learnt absolutely nothing but suppose instead, the afore-mentioned swot and a group of lesser academically endowed peers had sat around and worked together as a team through some tapes (no YouTube in my day) to help us appreciate how German really sounded and suppose at the same time, we had been given a project to look at the impact of post-war economic aid on the recovery of the German economy. Suddenly it all becomes so much more interesting than the past passive tense of some obscure verb.

Whilst Michael Gove may still think we need to memorise vast amounts of facts (which are all available to us at the touch of a browser button anyway), I believe we should be teaching young people how to think, problem-solve and most importantly, how to work together because those are the skills that are required in the real world and those are the skills which employers constantly tell us are not available. Social Media, of course, is a wonderful enabler for collaborative learning and there are many Apps now available which whilst originally being designed for business, can support and help the collaborative learning process – Evernote, Yammer and Scoop-it to name but a few.

That is why Creative Learning Partners are looking very seriously at how we can encourage collaboration amongst work-based learners. We have a number of ideas and platforms that we are actively investigating and are looking to incorporate them into our delivery model for Functional Skills later in the year.

In the commercial world “collaboration” is now becoming the norm rather than the exception. Internally, teams are becoming much more fluid. Individuals with specific skills come together and “collaborate” on a specific piece of work and then form new teams with different goals and objectives.

Externally, more businesses are starting to look at competitors in a different light. Whilst I don’t see Pepsi and Coke-Cola getting together and walking hand in hand into the sunset, savvy leaders are looking at ways in which they can co-operate and work together with potential competitors, simply because in so doing , there is added value for both parties and in difficult economic times, that added value becomes even more important.

So overall I am a great believer in the power of collaboration in all its guises. Like any other way of working there are rules and guidelines which need to be followed and I am going to focus on these in my next blog. However, collaborators are no longer in the pocket of quisling governments or Nazi occupiers. They are people who believe that the Social Networking revolution has stimulated a whole new way of working and learning and I for one am on their side.


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apprentices-370x229The end of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is always a good time to reflect on the current status of the scheme – the successes that can be built on and the issues that need to be addressed. This year is a particular important one because the government chose NAW to launch its long-awaited response to the Richard Report on the future of Apprenticeships.

So first the good news. Apprenticeships are clearly continuing to gain in popularity Applications are up by over 40% year-on-year and over 13,000 new Apprenticeships were announced by employers during NAW. However, there is still clearly a lot of work to be done if Apprenticeships are going to gain widespread acceptance as a genuine alternative to University. A recent survey by the CIPD amongst parents showed that only 20% viewed Apprenticeships as being on a par with a University degree. Similarly, over 80% of respondents felt that schools were not doing enough to promote the Apprenticeship route. These are statistics which we urgently need to turn around. There is clearly now insufficient careers advice in schools and that to some extent must be driving parent perception. If parents still see University as being the pinnacle to aim for and Apprenticeships as a route for those without the qualifications (or money!) to get into University, then we will be constantly fighting an uphill battle.

There is no doubt as well that the Apprenticeship “brand” has been tarnished over the last few years by a number of large training providers who whilst not doing anything illegal, have stretched the funding rules to the limits and provided “Apprenticeships” which in effect were little more than validation of existing skills and training, to thousands of current employees in supermarkets and call centres. The government have made it clear that this practice will end and this has to be very good news because it means that funding and Apprenticeship places can be allocated to people who really need them.

There are two other commitments in the Richard Review response which I fully support and which I believe will help to raise the status of Apprenticeships. Firstly, the government clearly wants employers to be the beating heart of the programme. But Apprenticeships will now be targeted at a skilled job which involves substantial new training and most importantly is seen as the first step in a career and a genuine opportunity to progress. Once people see that Apprentices can progress just as quickly as graduates into more senior roles within an organisation, then we really will start to have parity between the two career routes.

Secondly the government is committed to making progression to Level 2 Functional Skills in English and Maths, a compulsory component of all Apprenticeship programmes from August 2014, thereby guaranteeing that all new Apprentices have the equivalent of GCSE A- C Grades in maths and English. Whilst I welcome this development and believe it is the only way we can seriously address the current skills crisis in the UK, there is no doubt that it will run into opposition from traditional training providers many of whom are still struggling to deliver successful Level 1 Functional Skills programmes.
Our experience suggests that the gap between Level 1 and Level 2 Functional Skills is significant and it will require dedicated support from fully trained practitioners to enable many learners to reach this level. Whilst we have already been successfully delivering significant numbers of Level 2 qualifications, we are not resting on our laurels and we are continuing to develop both our delivery methods and the skills of our people to ensure that we are ready for August 2014. Many training providers left it far too late to prepare for the introduction of Functional Skills and it is vitally important that any organisation with a large Apprenticeship programme checks whether their provider is “Level 2 Ready” now rather than in 12 months time.

So there will be some significant challenges ahead in the next 12 months, but I am very confident that if the Richard Review proposals are fully implemented, then Apprenticeships will continue to grow in quality and standing and finally be seen as the important career alternative which they clearly represent.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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The government will shortly be announcing the names of those organisations who have successfully applied for the second round of Employer Ownership Pilot (EOP) funding.  The principle behind this scheme is very straightforward – employers rather than the government (via the Skills Funding Agency) take the lead in determining  the training programmes which are most important for their own individual business and determine the best way to utilise the available funding to maximise the benefits for learners and for their organisation.

Whitbread Plc were one of the successful bidders in the first round of EOP funding and at Creative Learning Partners, we are very proud that they have chosen us as their partners to deliver the Functional Skills element of their programmes. The cornerstone of their bid was the recognition that Whitbread needed to help smaller businesses in their supply chain who would not necessarily have the resources to run their own training programmes.  The company realised that raising the English and maths skill levels of workers in their suppliers, was just as important as developing their own people through their hugely successful Apprenticeship programme.

It all makes huge sense to me and I do hope that it isn’t just seen as another one-off new initiative, but a deeper recognition that when it comes to government-funded training, the previous “one size fits all” strategy, is simply not the best way of addressing the current skills crisis that exists in the UK. The recognition that  individual employers rather than civil servants, are the people who are best placed to understand their own training priorities, strikes me as a major step forward.

I therefore hope that the same principles will underlie the proposed introduction of Traineeships in September.  These programmes are a combination of work experience and pre-employment training designed to more effectively prepare young people for the work environment. In principle the idea sounds great (as long as this doesn’t just prove to be an attempt to rebrand previous programmes).  However, I believe that Traineeships will only be effective if employers are given the freedom to adapt the courses to the specific needs of their industry or sector.  So whilst there is an obvious need to put clear standards in place, a Traineeship in for example Hospitality, should be a very different experience from one in Construction.  I’m convinced that any attempt to impose a generic  qualification will not get the employer buy-in which is essential to the success of the initiative.

Currently the whole Traineeship project is going through a detailed discussion phase and as far as I am aware, no final decision have yet been made.  However, with less than 6 months remaining before the proposed introduction date, employers and their training provider partners, urgently need to understand where the government intends to go with this scheme.  What we don’t need is the procrastination and uncertainty which surrounded the introduction of Functional Skills with revised implementation dates and then a total rethink on funding levels.

There seems to be almost universal agreement on the need to make a reduction in the levels of unemployment among our young people, a key priority. Traineeships could be the answer, so let’s get them going now rather than in 18 months time and let’s make sure that they are fully aligned to the needs of employers.


Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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