The government appears committed to implementing many, if not most, of the recommendations of Doug Richard’s review on Apprenticeships. If you haven’t read the Review so far, you should try and do so. Unlike many past tomes, it is short, easy to understand and eminently readable and should therefore stand as a beacon for future such reports.
Most independent observers have quite rightly in my opinion, welcomed the review and the government’s commitment to its implementation. However, I wonder how many people have thought through the implications of these changes?
No More Apprenticeships for Competent Staff
Firstly, the government have made it clear that Apprenticeship funding will no longer be available for existing competent staff. That seems entirely appropriate. In the last couple of years, there have been too many examples of large programmes aimed at such staff whose purpose seemed to be little more than to gain access to huge amounts of funding. In the short-term, this could result in a significant fall in the number of new Apprenticeships.
However, there is a second more serious concern. Whilst existing “competent” staff should not be doing an Apprenticeship, there is every possibility based on government figures, that they will lack functional competency in Maths and English. Previously these skill deficiencies could be addressed within the Apprenticeship framework, but that route is no longer available.
Of course there will be those who say “So what – checkout staff and warehouse workers don’t need the equivalent of GCSE Maths and English in order to perform their job”. I think that is cynical, very short-sighted and in all probability, plain wrong. Our experience is that learners of any age and background who gain Functional Skills qualifications, become more confident in their own abilities, perform better, are more likely to seek and find career progression and are more engaged. Surely that is a scenario which any decent employer would want to encourage.
We would therefore urge employers who can no longer offer Apprenticeships to existing staff, to consider Functional Skills programmes as an alternative entry route back into learning. Unlike Apprenticeships, these courses are fully funded and can be run either as a standalone programme or in conjunction with other in-house training.
Are You Level 2 Ready?
The second area of the Richard Review which I want to highlight is the government statement that as from August 2014, all new Apprentices should be working towards a Level 2 (GCSE A-C Grade) qualification in Functional Skills. To date, the vast majority of learners on a Level 2 Apprenticeship have been working towards Level 1 Functional Skills qualifications and raising the bar is likely to result in a number of challenges.
Most Functional Skills practitioners would agree that the difference in standards between Level 1 and Level 2 is significant and inexperienced trainers who may have just about managed to get their learners to Level 1, will struggle without the necessary expertise, to get them any further. Employers therefore need to start planning now and ensure that their providers have the necessary expertise to deliver Level 2 Functional Skills. If not, their whole Apprenticeship programme is at risk
Implementing the Richard Review will therefore not be without its challenges. However that shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing. Challenges are there to be tackled, not avoided and the UK desperately needs a workforce with the appropriate skills for the 21st century. Like it or not, functionality in Maths and English has to be the basis of that skill set and we should therefore take advantage of the excellent levels of funding and the government commitment, to produce a more confident, engaged, higher-performing workforce.
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