One in four businesses unhappy with their apprenticeship providers

Survey finds concerns over quality of tutoring and availability of programmes is leading employers to consider switching suppliers

Over a quarter (27 per cent) of businesses are considering changing at least one of their apprentice providers, according to new figures which suggest the introduction of the apprenticeship levy has led to concerns about the availability and quality of training.

The poll of 500 HR decision makers, by Paragon Skills, found that 15 per cent had lost trust in a provider and 25 per cent described providers as “letting them down”.

In particular, 44 per cent of employers in the technology sector expressed disappointment, with 55 per cent considering moving to a new provider. In the finance and accountancy sector, 38 per cent were debating a switch. 

Overall, however, employers seem to have a positive outlook on apprenticeships. More than four in ten (45 per cent) said their business had become more positive about apprenticeships in the past 12 months, with over half (56 per cent) feeling positive about the impact apprenticeships were having on their business.

Mark Botha, chief executive of Paragon Skills, said providers must “listen and learn” as the levy matured and markets evolved. 

“It’s tempting for some providers to minimise the pitfalls and likely bumps along the road when they pitch for a training contract to get an agreement across the line,” said Botha.

“But in our experience, if providers aren’t honest and instead overpromise, they invariably under-deliver. Every business has a distinct set of needs and they have to be carefully calibrated to the requirements of an apprenticeship programme.”

The introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017 saw an explosion in the number of independent providers in the market, with commentators expressing concern that many lacked a track record of quality apprenticeship provision. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has claimed many new providers have “questionable credentials”.

Apprenticeship training providers are subject to regular audit checks by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which ensures learners are registered correctly and withholds funds from providers if they do not meet standards. 

Independent providers are inspected by Ofsted, which said that 78 per cent were rated either good or outstanding in December 2018. Of 42 providers found to be inadequate or requiring improvement, 30 were new independent providers.

All providers are currently having to reapply to appear on the ESFA’s register of providers (RoATP), which the agency described as a “redesign”.

The biggest problem, according to a third (32 per cent) of employers in the Paragon Skills survey, is a lack of suitable apprenticeship programmes that meet the needs of their business. 

More than a quarter of businesses (26 per cent) feel the available programmes aren’t suitable because they are not materially different to the qualifications colleagues already hold or will not help them acquire new skills. 

Another key issue remains the quality of tutors, which is said to be “poor” by 26 per cent of employers. And 40 per cent of employers are struggling to meet the minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement mandated under the apprenticeship levy. 

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the AELP, has called for a “considered discussion” with the new ministerial team at the Department for Education on where the reforms need amending. 

However, Dawe said the number of employers who were positive about the impact apprenticeships have had on their business showed the government was “absolutely right” to introduce the levy.

The CIPD has called for the levy be broadened to cover all forms of training, citing the stagnation of the provision of broader training since its introduction.

“The report makes it clear there is some way to go in having a full array of standards to meet employer needs,” said Dawe. 

“We note that only 13 per cent would have used a different provider, but where the quality of training is an issue, it is important to recognise that delivery of the new standards has to be properly funded.  

“As the Commons select committee has observed, you can’t expect quality to be delivered on the cheap.”