Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Training for Success

30 April 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Robin Newton
Mr Alastair Ross
Mr Jimmy Spratt

Witnesses:
Mr Basil Barnes ) Association of Motor Vehicle Teachers
Mr Martin Hutchinson ) Institute of the Motor Industry
Mr Sean McCullagh ) Transport Training Services
Mr Ken Philpott ) Belfast Metropolitan College

Mr Peter Bunting ) Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Mr Liam Gallagher )
Mr Jim McKeown )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome Martin Hutchinson, Sean McCullagh, Ken Philpott and Basil Barnes. I understand that a number of you have attended previous meetings of the Committee, or have watched from the public gallery, and are consequently aware of the formats for our meetings.

It is important for the Committee to hear from the stakeholders, following the fall-out from the case of the Carter and Carter contract. The Committee is due to report to the Assembly within a few weeks on the issue of Training for Success.

I will hand over to our guests to give their presentation before opening the floor to questions and answers. I thank the witnesses for sparing the time to address the Committee.

Mr Martin Hutchinson (Institute of the Motor Industry):
I thank the Committee for extending its invitation to us. We intend to group our presentation under four headings: the tendering process; the employed-apprenticeship strands and implications; the not-yet-employed options within Training for Success; and, if time permits, essential skills.

Any tendering process that results in the successful training provider’s closing within a matter of months appears flawed. That training organisation has previously produced WorldSkills medal winners, and was the largest body-repair training provider in the Province. The result of its closure is that eight people have been made redundant, 147 apprentices have had their training interrupted, and 40 of them appear to have dropped out of training. It is also disappointing that the promised follow-up by careers officers does not appear to have happened to the extent that it should.

I am no expert in tendering processes, but, having looked into the process, I will highlight a couple of specific points that do not seem to have been rigorously implemented. Page 8 of the Training for Success tender document states that:

“Tenderers who intend to subcontract training are required to provide details of all subcontractors and demonstrate how these arrangements can be delivered.”

If that was done during the tendering process, we wonder why the likes of Carter and Carter, — after being awarded the contract — were seeking subcontracting arrangements with colleges and other training providers. That practice is apparently quite common in other vocational areas, and that situation is a bit puzzling when it has been stated, in writing, that those details should have been included in the tender documentation.

Mr Ken Philpott ( Belfast Metropolitan College):
There is a specific paragraph in the tender document that requires all submissions to include details of how the subcontractors would deliver arrangements. Therefore, it is puzzling that my organisation received phone calls, after the close of the tender, from other organisations, asking us for details of how we might partner them to help them to deliver on the contract for which they had applied and were subsequently awarded — and consequently struggled to deliver.

Mr Sean McCullagh (Transport Training Services):
Transport Training Services (TTS) were debriefed on our tender, and found that the assessment of the bids did not involve assessment against the criteria of the individual frameworks — a snapshot of an organisation was the basis of the awarding of contracts. TTS would have offered motor-vehicle maintenance and repair, body repair, and driving qualifications for the road haulage industry. No one checked whether we had the facilities — for example, the lorries — and the personnel to deliver driver training. We asked if that was the case at the debriefing, and it was confirmed that the frameworks were not looked at. In fact, the notion that the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) should have had time to examine tenders in that detail was considered laughable.

The Chairperson:
Sean, I realise that this is unusual, but can I stop you on that point? Normally, I would let the presentation run its course, but the tender document has been mentioned. Ken, are you saying that the paragraph of the document from which you quoted originated from the Central Procurement Directorate?

Mr Philpott:
Yes, within the 183 pages of the tender document, one of the specific paragraphs clearly states that:

“Tenderers who intend to subcontract training are required to provide details of all subcontractors and demonstrate how these arrangements can be delivered.”

That comes straight from the tender document.

The Chairperson:
As you are well aware, representatives from the Central Procurement Directorate gave evidence to this Committee, because we had concerns about a number of issues. The Committee then pushed the Department for Employment and Learning on that issue, and the Department indicated that the situation was slightly different.

Mr Martin Hutchinson (Institute of the Motor Industry):
I was here, and that also puzzled me.

The Chairperson:
I am glad to hear that, because I thought that I read that wrong. I am glad that you are here, Martin.

Mr Philpott:
I sat a couple of rows back on that occasion, and it also puzzled me.

The Chairperson:
Do you have a copy of that document with you?

Mr Philpott:
I do not have a copy with me, but I have it on a memory stick.

The Chairperson:
I would appreciate it if you could forward that to the Committee. I am sorry to have interrupted you, Martin.

Mr Hutchinson:
The response of Automotive Skills to the Training for Success strategy document, at the end of 2006, expressed the view that subcontracting organisations took money out of training programmes, creating middlemen. That response also indicated that barriers had been created between training organisations and employers.

Mr Philpott:
In December 2006, a DEL document summarised all of the responses, and contained a paragraph on that specific aspect of middlemen and third parties. It was possible for them to take a slice of the cake, without that money going directly to the training of individuals.

Mr Hutchinson:
That somewhat contradicts the policy that seems to in favour at the moment, because having organisations between employers and training deliverers appears to be the preferred model for the delivery of training.

Another important aspect of the tendering process is that an organisation’s ability to deliver training is assessed by awarding one score across all areas. Sean will expand on that.

Mr McCullagh:
Nobody in the CPD checked the availability of resources, facilities or equipment, or checked that personnel were trained or qualified to deliver on the framework. The CPD took an overview of an organisation and awarded a score right across the board. I have a copy of the minutes of a CPD meeting, which I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Those minutes confirm that that decision was made in that way.

Mr Hutchinson:
That scoring method can lead to bizarre anomalies. One training provider could have the facilities to deliver the training, but another provider could be awarded the contract because their overall score was better, even though they might not have the necessary facilities.

Mr Philpott:
The haulage case highlights a concern. If Belfast Metropolitan College had ticked the box for driver training, we would automatically have been awarded that contract, even though it was not in our tender and it was not part of our submission at all. That applies to any organisations that have multiple delivery vocational areas.

The 15 NVQ level-3 frameworks at Belfast Metropolitan College were all assessed with one score that applied evenly to all 15. I would be the first to say that there are some of those frameworks in which we are absolutely excellent and consistently excellent, and have been for years. However, for some frameworks, Belfast Metropolitan College does not deserve excellent scores, yet the scoring process was aggregated to one mark. That methodology of scoring will never produce the right end result for learners.

Mr Hutchinson:
Under the Scottish model — which I had the opportunity to examine — the bids are very clearly separated into different vocational areas, and organisations are required to produce audited accounts. Any new organisation that tenders in Scotland must provide references, which are examined in detail. It seems that the Scottish tendering model is more rigorous. We have to presume that it also complies with EU regulations, which are often quoted to explain the reason why things are done in a certain way.

That concludes our evidence session on the tendering process, on which we will take questions later.

The Chairperson:
We commissioned one of our researchers to produce a paper on the Scottish model, which members are being provided with now. That model has been mentioned a few times; we take that on board and will aim to delve deeper into the subject.

Mr Hutchinson:
I will explain the workings of the employed-apprenticeship strand, following the demise of Carter and Carter. Level-3 contracts were distributed to the 11 runners-up in the tender process, offering employers and learners more choice — which we are pleased about. However, many anomalies remain.

Arguably the best facilities for delivering automotive training in Northern Ireland are provided at North West Regional College. I was at its official opening last week, where I met the capable staff who work at both the new Springtown Campus and the recently opened Limavady facility.

The college has no contract to deliver level-3 light-vehicle apprenticeships. Out of the 26 council areas, it has only one contract — in the city itself — to deliver level-3 bodywork repair. It is likely that it will collaborate with, by subcontracting to, other colleges such as South West Regional College, which has a contract for the north-west area. That is illogical because it requires more administration to make it work.

Mr McCullagh:
That raises a question about contract areas and how the level-3 contracts were awarded across the 26 contract-management areas, which happens to be the almost-defunct local council areas.

That causes all sorts of problems. First, it means that employers do not have a choice of provider. Secondly, it means that trainees do not have a choice of provider. Thirdly, it means that, in certain schemes, which we are involved in and that are manufacturer-led with the employers’ support of their dealers, we cannot recruit for each location from which dealers operate in Northern Ireland. We are talking about high-quality apprenticeships; we are talking about trainees gaining a level-3 modern apprenticeship, a manufacturer qualification and a manufacturers’ certification, which is valid throughout the dealer network in Europe.

No one in Northern Ireland has a contract that can deliver one manufacturer’s programme across Northern Ireland. We do not know the rationale for the 26 contract areas. I have asked DEL about that, but I have not received a response, which I understand. It has been mentioned that it had to respond to the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism of Jobskills. From my point of view, that criticism was not about the employed level-3 content of Jobskills — rather, it was about the people down the line who were non-employed, who were not being paid, and who were potentially being exploited in the workplace. That did not apply to level-3 employed modern apprenticeships.

Mr Philpott:
It is also fair to say that that will become an increasing problem over the next year. Although it is already problem, it will increase in its complexity over the next year. Freedom of choice has been removed from individual students and young people, and from employers, as to where training is carried out. The Careers Service would readily state that it should be up to the individual or employer to decide where training takes place. That aspect of the contract has been removed with the introduction of the 26 areas. That will become an increasing problem over the next year and, therefore, must be dealt with at this stage.

Mr Hutchinson:
Recruitment for Training for Success began in September, with trainees working towards a level-2 contract. However, problems are going to arise when they want to progress to level 3, the effects of which will be felt this time next year, or perhaps slightly earlier.

Transport Training Services, which is based at Nutts Corner, was awarded only one contract area — Downpatrick — to carry out light-vehicle repair apprenticeships. We interpret that to mean that Ford apprentices in the Downpatrick area only will be will be able to avail themselves of the Ford-supported programme at Nutts Corner, and the rest of the country will be at a disadvantage.

Mr McCullagh:
Under our contract, if people from east Down — Ardglass, Saintfield, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and Newcastle — ask a job centre where level-3 motor-vehicle training is provided, they will be told Nutts Corner. That is not satisfactory for those people. How will we service the population of east Down — by setting up a caravan on a Saturday morning at Downpatrick market, if there is one? That will not work.

Mr Hutchinson:
We are concerned that our manufacturer sponsorship — for example, Ford at TTS and Toyota in Ballymena — which addresses much of the criticism from employers that training resources are out of date, is in jeopardy. That support gives added value to all the training; for example, the Toyota training at Ballymena has put a lot of investment into hybrid training, which benefits all the students who attend those training providers, not just the Toyota students or the Ford students at TTS. The council-area restrictions will deter manufacturer support.

We ask the Committee to recommend that the council area restrictions be removed, or relaxed, so as to allow learners and employers more choice. That reinforces a recommendation that we made in our submission in February 2008 — that contracts be awarded to a range of high-quality providers in Northern Ireland, including employers who which to set up their own professional-training provision.

If we went back in time, we would want to establish how many apprentices the industry requires, and where they are located. Under our sector skills agreement, we are committed to doing that research, which will tell us the number of apprentices that our sector requires, what skills they need, and where they are located. From that, we can apply some logic to where the training provision should be located. However, in 12 months’ time, the council area restrictions will have had a dramatically detrimental effect on level-3 training provision.

We have some serious reservations about the options in Training for Success for the not-yet employed. Although such people are often referred to as the non-employed, we prefer the term not-yet employed. What happens if a young person on a pre-apprenticeship programme does not secure employment at the end of the 52 weeks? Although the bulk of people in work placement are likely to secure employment, there are some people in that position who will not. Basil, what feedback have you received?

Mr Basil Barnes (Association of Motor Vehicle Teachers):
Employers, most likely from the independent sector, will employ people who have done the pre-apprenticeship training because they have grown familiar with the motor-vehicle repair environment. Those people are more useful than someone who has just left school and has not been in a motor-vehicle repair environment, because they do not require as much management and supervision.

The problem with pre-apprenticeship is that some employers see an opportunity to get someone on work experience for two days a week, rather than taking on apprentices. That eats into the apprenticeship programme, which is the ideal route for any trainee because it has better results. An unscrupulous employer could take someone on work experience for a couple of years and then drop them when that they have finished, and do the same thing to another person.

Therefore, there are good and bad aspects of pre-apprenticeship. The bad aspect centres on the way in which it eats into apprenticeship provision or the likelihood of an employer’s paying the student or trainee. There is a demand for people who have completed the pre-apprenticeship scheme, but — as Martin said — if people do not progress from it, where do they go? In that way, the programme is similar to other educational courses and other occupational training.

Mr Hutchinson:
There is no doubt that the not-yet-employed options deter employers from employing apprentices. Why should they employ apprentices when they can get them for free on a scheme? As has been mentioned, there are too many confusing options and the careers guidance is not clear to young people and their parents. The training programmes tend to narrow their experience. Reviews of Training for Success are under way, which particularly consider the not-yet-employed options, but the programmes look increasingly like Jobskills, in that they increase the work-experience or work-placement content. That has to be a bad development.

Mr Philpott:
Some of the proposed changes for placements are welcome. For example, the consultation document recommends that students be allowed to go out on work placement from week 4 onwards. Although that is welcome from the perspective of students and of training providers, it has the negative effect of potentially undermining the apprenticeship programmes. Such matters always lead to tension, and a tightrope must be walked when running the two schemes in parallel.

Mr Hutchinson:
At the end of 2006, we heard that there would be no more Jobskills programmes, and we told employers that they would have to employ more young people. Although the uptake of employment was strong, we had the embarrassment of looking for work placements for young people who were on not-yet-employed schemes. We went to the same employers and said that we wanted to put someone else on work placement with them, even though they had already employed someone. From an employer’s point of view, the credibility of the scheme must be questioned. I suspect that employed status will be reduced this year because employers will be more hesitant to employ someone, given that they did so last year, but were then asked to take someone on work placement.

At our last presentation to the Committee on 27 February 2008, our second recommendation was for a full-time training and education programme, which would allow progress from level 1 onwards. Most importantly, those students would be a source of recruits for the industry. That appears to be what happens in Scotland — if a young person leaves school and does not join an employed apprenticeship, they will go to a further-education course. In Motherwell, approximately 25% of students transfer to apprenticeships either during or at the end of their further education course, and most of the others go into different job roles. Those young people have an educational background with a bit more maths, English and science, and they will go to into job roles in, for example, parts departments or sales. That model seems to work well in Scotland.

As mentioned before, research shows that students will learn numeracy and literary skills — known as essential skills — more effectively if those skills are an integral part of vocational work. Essential skills are best learned when contextualised, rather than maths and English simply being taught in a classroom. We recommend that the skills of vocational teaching staff to deliver literacy and numeracy be improved so that those skills can be integrated.

Mr Barnes:
That is correct. Essential skills are a vehicle on their own, and some vocational people would say that the young people are there primarily to learn essential skills while they learn plumbing or motor vehicle repair, as opposed to the other way around. The students say that they are there to train to be a mechanic and wonder why they are sent to learn maths and English. A professional maths teacher would not necessarily know much about vehicle repair or plumbing, but essential skills are best taught in a contextualised environment.

The old key-skills approach was to integrate those essential skills with vocational training, so when teaching about area, for example, one could have opened up an air filter, flattened it out and got the trainees to measure it. In the same context, the trainees could have been taught about air filtration or fuel filtration. The trainees now learn about area as they would have done at school, which leads to disengagement with the subject. The other difficulty is that the teaching of essential skills is time consuming: there are restrictions in the numbers of hours and weeks.

That time has to be provided. The occupational setting has to fit in around the time provided for essential skills, and, if there are reductions in time, that constrains the time that can be spent on occupational learning. Employers have difficulty in understanding the rationale behind that, and the students definitely have difficulty understanding it. They go back to their employer and tell them that they spent the previous day learning maths. Even though they did work on motor vehicle repair, that seems to be a smaller element — it is that aspect of the program that gets a lot of bad PR.

There is still a need for the participants to be taught English and maths, but I am not sure that the essential-skills program is the best vessel for delivering that. There were problems with the key-skills program, but those problems concerned the way in which the program was managed, rather than the qualification itself.

Mr Philpott:
Another aspect of essential skills that will have an effect over the next couple of years, particularly on the driver-training element of the automotive industry, is the five-year rule, which we are told has been taken from European legislation. Effectively, that means that any GCSE qualifications that were obtained more than five years ago are now out of date.

That is an issue for other sectors, but not yet an issue for the automotive sector. However, it is a concern that, for example, people who have completed A-level and degree programmes, and are now at the age of 21 or 22, are now being told that they must complete a minimum of 40 hours learning maths, and 40 hours learning English. That is a significant concern to employers, because it constitutes 80 hours to be spent out of the workplace, and the employer is expected to pay the person for those 80 hours, with no perceived benefit.

That is also a problem for the participants in the program. To have completed A levels and a degree, and then to be told that one must complete courses in English and maths, which are the same as, or below, GCSE standard, is an anomaly that we really need to find a way out of. That would really begin to affect the motor trade in September of this year, when driver training becomes mandatory.

Mr Hutchinson:
In summary of our presentation, there are four main points, which I will outline in order of priority. In order to avoid a situation similar to that involving Carter and Carter, the tendering process needs to be a lot more rigorous, and the rules contained in the tender document must be enforced. Another point concerns the council areas: we do not know how the council area restrictions are to be applied — are they determined by where the young person lives, where they are employed, or where they come from? That is not clearly defined.

Mr Philpott:
Is that determined by the location of the head office of the employer, or the site location where the person is working?

Mr Hutchinson:
Our recommendation that the 26 council areas should no longer apply would allow learners and employers more choice. The not-yet-employed option should be simplified so that there is one clear option if a young person has not yet secured employment. Finally, the essential-skills element should be integrated with vocational delivery. Those are the four points that we would like to put to the Committee. Thank you very much. We welcome any questions.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation. I want to take the opportunity to thank Martin for all the help, support and information that he has given the Committee over the last number of months. That has been quite useful, and it is important that a number of issues were raised to the Committee, leading to the Committee’s decision to hold an inquiry into Training for Success. That shows that members of the public can have an impact, and are listened to when they raise points at Committee meetings.

I appreciate the point that Ken made concerning the tender document; it is a valid point. On the issue of the pre-apprenticeships, or the not-yet employed, I am not for one moment indicating that all employers exploit young people, but if, after 52 weeks of pre-apprenticeship, an apprenticeship is not secured, where does that person go? Could the employer then simply take on another person for 52 weeks? If so, that leaves a margin for the exploitation of people on a pre-apprenticeship, who, we are told, are the most vulnerable. One of the criticisms of the Jobskills program was that the most vulnerable were being exploited. Is there an indication that that could happen with pre-apprenticeships?

Mr Philpott:
Yes, that potential does exist. There is no clear pathway for the person after 52 weeks, and, at this point, there is nothing in place to prevent unscrupulous employers from taking on a second person.

The Chairperson:
I am aware that there is a departmental official in the public gallery, but can you tell me whether the Department keeps records of employers?

Mr Hutchinson:
I do not know.

The Chairperson:
That should be checked out, especially considering the level of criticism that was directed at the Jobskills programme. The students could be monitored during their training. That would provide another safety net.

Thank you for you presentation. The Committee is due to report on this issue in a couple of weeks.

Mr Spratt:
Thank you for your presentation. You have been very helpful. I want address the Carter and Carter contract and its subsequent failure. You said that 40 young people dropped out of the programme. Was the Department involved in trying to facilitate those young people? My recollection is that the Department would facilitate and guide those young people to ensure that they were put on to alternative programmes if necessary. Therefore, I am alarmed to hear that 40 young people dropped out of the programme. I do not recall how many students signed up to the programme at the beginning.

Mr Hutchinson:
Some 147 young people signed up to the programme.

Mr Spratt:
Almost one third have dropped out, which is very alarming. Were those young people not given any guidance? Was no follow-up service provided to try to facilitate those people?

Mr Hutchinson:
It would appear that the follow-up service was not as rigorous as we would have hoped, and the guidance was not as clear as we would have hoped. Some young people contacted the training organisations directly to ask for a place. They said that they were told to phone around to find an organisation that would train them. I raised that issue with the Careers Service and was told that someone would deal with it. Employers were told that they would be contacted, but I know that some employers were not contacted.

The follow-up service may not have been as rigorous as we would have hoped. We would still like to rescue the 40 young people who dropped out of the programme. A proposal is being put together that will hopefully retain the expertise that delivered WorldSkills medal-winners in the training environment. We have not given up on those 40 people, and we hope that they will be rescued in the near future.

Mr Spratt:
Is it fair to say that the Department has given up on them, or that it did not even try to do anything to help them? That is the point that I am trying to get to.

Mr Hutchinson:
I do not know. However, some employers were not contacted directly, so the guidance given to those people was not as clear as it could have been.

Mr Spratt:
Therefore, it appears that those people received little or no guidance from the Department?

Mr Hutchinson:
Some 22 of those 147 people were trained in England, so they were not really affected. Of the remaining 125 people, 85 appear to have been picked up and have carried on, but 40 are still in limbo. Work is ongoing among the training providers to try to rescue those 40 people.

Mr Spratt:
Would it be fair to say that the geographical spread is Province-wide?

Mr Hutchinson:
Yes, that is correct. The training centre at Blackwater House provided training in mechanical repair, but there is a gap in this part of the Province for training in paint and body repair. It has been hard to fill that gap.

Mr Spratt:
Perhaps we need to get those answers from other people.

Mr Butler:
Thank you for your presentation. Mr Philpott mentioned that 15 level-3 apprenticeship frameworks had been scored. Was that only at Belfast Metropolitan College?

Mr Philpott:
That is across the board. That is how the tenders were scored for all the submissions.

Mr Butler:
Are you saying that Belfast Metropolitan College still got a score, even though it does not offer the course?

Mr Philpott:
The organisations’ tenders were not assessed against their ability to deliver in a specific area; rather, they were assessed against all areas. One score was given that included our strengths and weaknesses, and that same rationale was applied to all organisations, including Transport Training Services at Nutts Corner.

Mr Butler:
What is the rationale for GCSEs not being recognised if they were gained more than five years ago?

Mr Philpott:
No clear indication has been given as to the rationale of that. We simply have to enforce it.

Mr Butler:
Is there some confusion about the training being provided in each of the 26 district council areas? DEL came up with the formula. Are you clear about whether people are limited to training in the council area in which they live?

Mr McCullagh:
One contract has been awarded for each of the 26 district council areas. People cannot be recruited from other districts.

Mr Butler:
That is strict.

Mr Hutchinson:
We do not know how that is going to be implemented.

Mr Butler:
Has DEL not given an explanation as to why that is the case?

Mr Hutchinson:
That was part of the tendering process. It was specified that bidders who could facilitate all 26 areas would be preferred.

Mr Butler:
You talked about integrating essential skills into the course, rather than making it separate. Has that been brought to the attention of the Departments? The literacy and numeracy strategy is a cross-departmental issue.

Mr Barnes:
The essential skills strategy does not come from the vocational training. It has been the other way round. That is part of the attempt to improve the maths and English skills of the general population. The problem is that there are restrictions as to how that fits into any occupational area. For example, because someone gained their GCSEs seven years ago does not mean that they cannot drive a vehicle. Their literacy would probably have improved with time, rather than regressed. The rules about essential skills create the biggest hurdles. Most organisations want to deliver the programme; however, the problem is that the rules and regulations are restrictive.

Mrs McGill:
Thank you for the information that you provided in your presentation. Do you believe that the training restrictions that apply across the 26 district council areas should be removed?

I come from a part of the west that is equal in distance between the north-west and the south-west colleges. My question is without prejudice. Were that restriction removed, would young people in those areas be able to access training without having to travel long distances? I asked the same question when the issue of Carter and Carter first came to light.

Mr Hutchinson:
The answer is yes. They would have a choice of what college they would prefer to attend. From an employer’s point of view, that would instil a competitive element, which would create higher standards.

Mrs McGill:
Again, my question is without prejudice. Some groups claim that the colleges cannot deliver satisfactory courses because of equipment being out of date, etc. Do you believe that that is the case?

Mr Hutchinson:
There are strengths and weaknesses in the delivery of the courses across the Province. Part of our sector skills agreement involves working closely with all the colleges to try to raise standards. That is an ongoing process. We are embarking on a programme to encourage training providers to consider a national quality-standard system.

I have been in the job for just over six months. During that time, I have had two meetings with quality-improvement groups about raising standards, and all the training providers were represented at those meetings.

We are putting on events to help them raise their standards. The Association of Motor Vehicle Teachers will also hold events to raise the knowledge levels of staff who deliver training.

Mrs McGill:
Does that mean that people from the west, the north-west and the south-west would not have to travel long distances?

Mr Barnes:
That is a problem under the current scheme. If someone gets a job as an apprentice motor mechanic in Derry, he or she will have to travel to Omagh for training, rather than to Derry or Limavady.

Mr Hutchinson:
That is a specific problem that exists in the north-west; if that were enforced in the way that the contracts are issued, the north-west does not have a contract to deliver level-3 light-vehicle car repairs. We asked the Department and the colleges about that, and they agreed that it does not make sense for a young person to travel from Derry to Omagh. Their solution is a subcontracting arrangement whereby a college in Omagh would access the funding and commission a college in the north-west to deliver the training. As I said, that would create more administration to make something work that is not sensible.

Mrs McGill:
You mentioned the procurement document. Did you say that the process would be OK if the Department followed its own rules and regulations in the procurement document? Clearly, it has not followed them. You quoted a particular paragraph —

Mr Hutchinson:
We cherry-picked that paragraph.

Mr Philpott:
It depends on the interpretation of:

“required to provide details of all subcontractors and demonstrate how these arrangements can be delivered.”

It depends on to what level of detail and to what extent.

Mr Hutchinson:
That is pretty clear. [Laughter.]

Mrs McGill:
If the Department had followed what it had written, would there have been a different result?

The Chairperson:
Yes — if the Department interpreted its document in the way that we wanted it to. You are putting Ken on the spot, and he does not want to answer.

Mr Hutchinson:
There may be something in that 180-page document that contradicts that.

The Chairperson:
It is an interesting point.

Mrs McGill:
Could you repeat your example on how the scoring did not deliver what it should have?

Mr Philpott:
Tenders were submitted by all those who were bidding. A significant number of those organisations were tendering for more than one framework area. For example, there is a minimum of four framework areas in the automotive field: selling vehicles, selling parts for vehicles, repairing vehicles and repairing body work. Therefore, any organisation in the automotive field that is tendering must do so on each of those four areas.

The ability of any organisation to deliver on all of those is variable, because no organisation is excellent at selling parts, selling cars, fixing cars — including the fixing of commercial vehicles and the electrical aspects of vehicles — and making body repairs. No organisation is able to deliver quality training to the same standard in all four of those areas. Despite that, the process involved one score for the ability of an organisation to deliver on all the frameworks for which they tendered.

Mrs McGill:
What did the Department say about the debriefing?

Mr McCullagh:
The Department said that it did not have time to examine the bids and compare the criteria against each framework — it did not look at the frameworks, just the organisation.

Mrs McGill:
The Department examined the overview of the organisations, and decided which one got the contract on that basis.

Mr Hutchinson:
There seems to be a lack of understanding about training a heavy-vehicle mechanic. That is different to training a painter, a body repairer, a car mechanic or a motorcycle mechanic. The nature of our sector is that there are diverse skills requirements, so to lump them together and ask an organisation to deliver the training is virtually impossible.

Mr Attwood:
Thank you for your evidence. You represent a range of groups, including private training organisations, the FE sector, business and your own organisation. I find it impressive that the evidence from such a broad spread of people is on the same page, so we should listen carefully. I was not at the evidence session on procurement, but given what the Chairperson said earlier, we must probe the tension between what we say and what they say.

You mentioned the ongoing review by departmental officials. On 23 April 2008, the Committee was given evidence that some progress had been made on funding for the not-yet-employed trainees and how to adjust training provision. Are you getting any success in the broader area of employed-apprenticeship strands? Have any conversations taken place with officials and have you received any positive responses to those?

You gave a heavy warning about the problem that will arise in 2009. Can you reiterate what you expect the scale of that problem to be one year from now as TFS rolls out for people who are moving from level 2 to level 3?

The Committee has been told that, because of concerns following the withdrawal of Carter and Carter, sample inspections will take place of organisations that have been awarded contracts. It is approaching two months since those contracts were awarded, so it may be too early for any sample inspections to have taken place, but are you aware that the inspectorate will inspect organisations that were awarded the contracts that were formerly held by Carter and Carter?

Mr Hutchinson:
No one would disagree that not a lot was wrong with the employed-apprenticeship strand of Jobskills. The change is the imposition of council area restrictions, which will create problems. The problems of Jobskills were to do with the not-yet-employed strands, rather than the apprenticeship strand, which was working well.

I will explain why the progression from level 2 to level 3 has not yet impacted. The young people on Training for Success were recruited in September 2007, and most of them had 78 weeks in which to complete a level-2 framework. That brings them into February or March of 2009. All the training providers have a contract for level 2, but only the selected ones have a contract for level 3. Therefore, we do not know what will happen when the young people achieve their level-2 qualification and want to progress to level 3. Will they have to move to a training provider that has a contract for that area? I do not know the answer to that, but that is where the first impact will be felt.

I heard that there were to be inspections.

Mr Barnes:
South Eastern Regional College will be inspected on Tuesday 6 May. I suspect that that is the first inspection; I have not heard of any others.

Mr McCullagh:
We will be inspected next week.

Mr Attwood:
Given that some recommendations have been made following the review, what conversations have you had with departmental officials?

Mr Philpott:
There are four aspects to the job-ready component of the programme. Working groups have been set up to address the issue of those who are not yet employed, but it is early days and a report outlining proposals for the way forward has not yet been produced.

Mr Attwood:
Officials presented a paper to the Committee, outlining their recommended changes to date.

Mr Hutchinson:
We read that draft document, but it seems to place too much focus on work placement, which concerns us, as it seems to be straying towards the old Jobskills programme.

Mr Newton:
I apologise for being late. Has the situation improved since the Jobskills programme was replaced? The GTG training programme in Scotland deals with 800 apprentices. Is there any merit in adopting such an approach?

You talked about the sector skills agreement. When was that approved? Work must be done to find out the number and type of apprenticeships that are required for your sector. When will that information be available? The Minister has committed himself to a demand-led strategy, so that is the sort of information that will underpin such a strategy.

Mr Hutchinson:
Speaking from the perspective of my previous job in the Northern Regional College in Ballymena, the Jobskills programme seemed to work quite well. However, when the Public Accounts Committee quoted the facts and figures about achievements, and so on, I did not recognise them from my corner of the world in Ballymena. I do not know whether anyone else here would agree with that view.

Mr Newton:
The Jobskills programme was described by the PAC as putting £500 million down the drain.

Mr Hutchinson:
I know only about how the programme worked in my little corner of the world, and it seemed to work quite well there. In fact, the majority of learners went straight from school to a funded training programme. They achieved their level-2 apprenticeships, and 89% of them progressed to employment in my corner of the world. I do not know whether the situation was similar at Belfast Metropolitan College and at Lisburn Institute.

Mr Philpott:
The situation would be very similar in those colleges. The main measurement that was taken from the PAC report was the ability to get people into jobs, with no significance given to the actual distances that those people have to travel. Many of those people come from very difficult circumstances, and they have improved themselves through education and gone into other aspects of life.

Mr Hutchinson:
Unofficially, we would prefer not to place young people with certain employers in Ballymena, as they may exploit the system by continually attempting to replace one trainee with another.

The impact of essential skills has been minimal for those deliverers that were providing key skills separately. They were bringing in maths and English teachers to provide those skills, so now they are simply doing something different. That has been devastating for the training providers who were attempting to fully integrate numeracy and literacy into vocational training. They were teaching key skills as part of the vocational training. That has been removed, and it has created all sorts of problems. I cannot see any significant improvement for our sector through the Training for Success programme.

Mr Barnes:
Many of the changes were implemented for providers at level 3, but, in my view, level-3 apprenticeships were very effective through the Jobskills programme. The apprentice was employed and the only necessary funding was for training. Level-3 key skills would have been sorted out at that stage, whereas now that might not be the case.

Under Jobskills, the companies employed the apprentices, who stayed. The odd person may have dropped out, but that was probably because something else came along or they wanted a career change, and that will remain the case for Training for Success.

However, the way in which we provide level-3 training has changed. Under the Jobskills programme, there was no exploitation of apprentices at level 3, because they were employed. Exploitation was a problem only at level 2, and its provision has not really changed. Despite all the talk about change, the rules and regulations are much the same as before.

Mr Newton:
Has the employed strand had a big effect in your council area?

Mr McCullagh:
We have been involved only with employed level-3 apprentices. Under Jobskills, we received funding, and we were able to recruit and service employers anywhere in the Province. Since that funding was withdrawn, we and the employers have been worse off.

Mr Hutchinson:
What about the investment?

Mr McCullagh:
We had to put the investment plans for our company on hold, until we knew whether there would be a future in training for motor-vehicle qualifications. Subsequently, through exactly the same process, we were awarded a huge body-repair contract. The strength of our business is vehicle maintenance and repair, but the process threw us a contract for 14 local government areas in Northern Ireland, and we now have to accelerate our development to be able to cover it.

Mr Hutchinson:
You mentioned the GTG Training model in Scotland, and it was fascinating to see that in operation. The GTG model has only employed apprentices, and it works with local colleges, some of which offer work-based training provision. We visited Motherwell, where a substantial number of employed apprentices have the option to be full time, and it seems to work well. It is not perfect by any means, but the Sector Skills Council will certainly look at provision elsewhere, particularly south of the border. There was a friendly rivalry between the private organisation, GTG Training, and the colleges, notably Motherwell College.

It is ironic that the institute put forward common-sense recommendations in February 2008, when I was not fully aware of what was happening in Scotland, and GTG Training seemed to be operating to standards contained in those recommendations.

The research is under way, and we have employed an organisation to phone every motor business in the automotive sector to find out how the number of employees, an email addresses and the boss’s name. Using that base data, we can start to calculate the demand for trainees. The report is due at the end of 2008, which will be in time to inform the teachers who give career guidance before the new intake of trainees in September 2009.

Mr Newton:
How much investment is required?

Mr McCullagh:
We are ready to spend £1·25 million. We have received planning permission, the drawings are finished, and the provisional costings have been calculated — which is what held us up over the past year.

Mr Newton:
Is the £1·25 million to purchase a site?

Mr McCullagh:
Yes, at Nutts Corner.

The Chairperson:
Thank you again for your presentation. Our report is due to be signed off in the next couple of weeks, and the information that you have given us to date has been useful.

Mr Spratt:
I am seriously concerned, as I am sure are other members of the Committee, about the young people who have not been placed. We need some feedback from the Department on exactly what it has been done, what it is doing, and when it is likely to pick up the people who have dropped out. That serious issue must be dealt with immediately. That runs contrary to what the Department told us earlier.

The Chairperson:
The Deputy Chairperson is absolutely right. If the Committee has any concerns after receiving a presentation, those concerns will be followed up. The Committee will be reporting to the Assembly at the end of May, so it would be beneficial if you could forward any information that you think could be useful.

Thank you very much. You have been quite helpful over the last number of months.

Agenda item 3 is the briefing from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) on Training for Success. Members will recall that ICTU made a request to provide the Committee with a briefing of its view on Training for Success. I welcome Peter Bunting, Jim McKeown and Liam Gallagher. Jim is a regular at this Committee — perhaps we should move him around the table and he could become a full Committee member.

I hand over to the ICTU representatives for the presentation, followed by questions and answers. You are more than welcome to the Committee. We are quite open to accepting any information that you can provide on Training for Success or issues associated with it.

Mr Peter Bunting (Irish Congress of Trade Unions):
Thank you very much for the invitation to provide oral evidence to the Committee. ICTU is deeply interested in making a contribution to Training for Success, and giving our views on how best to provide the young people concerned with further education. The only way that that can be done — particularly for those people who have fallen out of the education net between the ages of 15 and 18 — for the success of the Northern Ireland economy, is to ensure that they are provided for in a manner that encourages them to take up sustainable further education. Whether that is done through apprenticeship schemes or similar, it is absolutely necessary.

My colleagues — both Jim McKeown, who is the regional official for the University and College Union in Northern Ireland; and Liam Gallagher, who is also an employee of the North West Regional College — have far more expertise in this area than me.

Mr Jim McKeown (Irish Congress of Trade Unions):
Thank you, Peter. As far as Training for Success is concerned, it is still early days. The scheme only commenced in September 2007. We are in a transitional year in which the old Jobskills programme is finishing, and the Training for Success programme is beginning to roll out.

Before I say too much about the programme, I pay tribute to the work of Nuala Kerr and Des Lyness from the Department for Employment and Learning, for the hard work and effort that they put in to get the scheme up and running. From my own experience, I found them extremely helpful and committed to making this scheme work. They listen when points are made, and if they can address those points, they treat them seriously.

I am sure that the Committee is aware that a number of issues appear to have caused concern. One of those was the tendering process, particularly with regard to the allocation of lead roles in respect of level-3 apprentices.

There have been a lot of rumours and discussions, particularly in the aftermath of the Carter and Carter debacle. It might be helpful from the Committee’s point of view, and from the wider trade union movement, to know what was involved in the tendering process. We would like to see some sort of analysis, explanation or justification as to why organisations were awarded tenders, particularly in relation to the delivery of level-3 programmes. Perhaps, as Training for Success is kept under review, we might see some sort of report into that process.

Initial research has been conducted by the Learning and Skills Development Agency, which looked at a snapshot of the early introduction of Training for Success. Having read that report, the agency is very positive about many aspects of the scheme and — at least in the initial rolling-out of the scheme — there appears to have been encouraging developments, compared with people’s experiences under the old Jobskills programme.

As Members are aware, the scheme has two strands: the apprenticeship strand, involving level-2 and level-3 apprentices; and the job ready-strand, which encourages people to become job ready. The numbers involved in the apprenticeship strand appear to be holding up well, compared with Jobskills programme at the same time last year. The numbers involved in apprentice training have increased by about 12%.

As for the job-ready strand, there is an issue regarding the recruitment of potential trainees, whereby the numbers are down by approximately 2,000. There are issues about where those young people have gone — the young people who leave school at 16 years of age, who are pretty far from the labour market and who have difficulty getting employment. Schemes such as Training for Success are available to help make those young people job ready. However, if they are out of the cohort that was expected, then about 2,000 are missing, and that will require investigation. It may be that there is a blip in the demographics and that the numbers have gone down; it may be that some of those young people have found jobs. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know what has happened to that substantial number of young people.

As for the apprenticeship stand, one of the concerns of the trade union movement is that no data is kept on the number or types of employers involved in the scheme. We are interested in the issue of access and in ensuring that young people — particularly in rural communities — have access to high-quality training. However, if we do not know which employers are engaged, where those employers are based and whether they are small or large employers, there is a gap in our knowledge as to how the scheme is working.

We have a small- to medium-sized-employer economy. One of the criticisms of the Jobskills programme was the lack of engagement by small employers. It would be interesting to see to what extent the small employers are engaging now with Training for Success. Our anecdotal evidence is that the small employers are still facing the difficulties that they experienced under the Jobskills programme regarding high insurance costs for taking on trainees and having to pay travel costs if a young person has to attend college two or three days a week. We need to see data regarding the small employers.

We also need data in relation to wages. The notion behind Training for Success was that anyone who was on the apprenticeship strand was a paid employee. No data is kept on whether the young people on the programme are receiving a wage from their employer, and that situation must be looked at. The national minimal wage applies only to people who are 19 years of age and older. We have some knowledge of young people under the age of 19 being recruited, and their wage is £40, which is the minimum training allowance available to people on the job-ready strand.

For those young people, even though they are apprentices, wages are pitifully small. There must be some requirement in the arrangements between employers and the Department so that, when a young person is taken on, a declaration should be made as to the salary that will be paid. We ought to monitor that: both training and wages should be monitored. There is a need to build into the contractual arrangements a facility to ensure that young people receive a proper wage for their work and that they are not paid the basic minimum or, even lower, the equivalent of the educational maintenance allowance.

Travel is another problem that has emerged with regard to allowances that are paid to young people. Level-2 or level-3 apprentices must attend local colleges or training organisations for two or three days each week. Travel costs are involved. Whereas the Department makes a travel allowance available to young people who are not employed, the employer has to meet the travel costs of apprentices attending college. There may be an equality-of-treatment issue: the travel expenses of young people who are not employed, and who are on the job-ready strand, are paid. To encourage employers, and ensure that young people get the underpinning knowledge and theory associated with their classroom activities, perhaps employers should be able to claim travel expenses for their apprentices. There may be a case for that.

Another concern that we have, with respect to the apprentice strand, is that in some industries there is an issue of access for level-3 apprentices. Such higher-qualified young people are training for plumbing and electrical engineering. That strand is working pretty well, apart from the access issue. Organisations such as the Electrical Training Trust (ETT) engage with big employers in Northern Ireland, and young people on the programme are trained to industry-led standards. However, the urban/rural divide presents difficulties, in that it is mainly the bigger, urban-based organisations which take on apprentices. In areas where there are no large employers, young people do not have the same access to training opportunities as those in urban areas. That must be addressed.

In the construction industry particularly, we begin to see a downturn and employer organisations are downsizing. In Tyrone, young people who were recruited as apprentices are being laid off. My evidence for that comes from the reports of members in colleges. As a result of that, they are put off the apprentice training programme. That is something that needs to be looked at. If a young person is recruited as an apprentice, there should be a binding obligation on parties to ensure that they have an opportunity to serve their time.

I hark back to the old days of indentured apprenticeships: they existed when I was an apprentice, many years ago. That system has long gone. However, when a young person is recruited as an apprentice, he or she should be given an opportunity to complete that apprenticeship and attain qualification. The present scheme does not permit that. A young person who becomes unemployed, or loses his or her job for whatever reason, is off the apprentice strand. In England, when employers lay off apprentices, there is a programme for them to carry on with their apprentice training at a college or some other training organisation and, in that way, complete their apprenticeship. There is a need for something similar to be done here.

Another issue that the trade union movement has with the scheme is that it focuses primarily on the private sector. At present, only private-sector employers can engage in Training for Success. I have raised this issue with Department for Employment and Learning officials, who say that the public sector is not involved because, if it were to draw down money from the training scheme, that would represent double funding. The consequence is that good major employers, such as the Housing Executive, local authorities and the Health Service, which have standards for the delivery of services, and so on, are not in a position to recruit and train apprentices. Perhaps, there is a need to relax the system.

I can understand the Government’s desire to grow the private sector. However, there is also a need to grow young people’s skills. If no employers are available in certain areas, why not involve the public sector in those areas to deliver apprenticeship training? There is no reason why that could not happen. It would encourage more people into the scheme.

I will finish by discussing briefly the job-ready strand of the programme. As I have said, almost 6,000 young people are recruited into that strand. That figure is down on the equivalent figure for 2007. There are three main aspects of the overall strand: pre-apprenticeship; skills for work; and personal development. The pre-apprenticeship strand encourages young people to obtain a technical certificate that would enable them to get into level-2 apprenticeships and to progress to level 3. That is good because it offers a progression route for those young people.

However, for the other two areas of the strand, there are no progression routes. Young people are engaged in a 52-week programme with a college or a training organisation. They are not employed and there is nothing at the end of it. If they cannot find employment, where do they go? At present, we just do not know.

Thought must be given to opportunities for progression for young people who may not obtain a technical certificate. Colleges tell me that, realistically, the people who are on the programme are unlikely to attain a technical certificate in one year. Although they could complete, perhaps, 60% to 80% of it in a year, most of them would find it difficult to achieve the full technical certificate in that time. Therefore, we must consider some flexibility in the scheme that will allow those young people to carry on.

There are also issues about placing people in the correct area of the programme. There is, perhaps, a need during the first month of the programme to carry out an in-depth assessment of young people’s capabilities, aptitudes and so on — more diagnostic testing — to ensure that they are put on a career path that is appropriate for them. One of the big criticisms of the modern apprenticeships programme under Jobskills was its high drop-out rate. The reason for that was that many young people who were recruited into modern apprenticeships found it difficult to achieve the high degree of rigour that was associated with the programme. That must be avoided in the new programme. The way to do that is to ensure that young people are put on a career path that is most appropriate for them.

Those are the main issues that I have with the scheme’s functions. At present, the new scheme appears to be an improvement on the old Jobskills programme. However, as I have said, it is early days. We must keep the situation under review, and ensure that the type of situation that arose under Jobskills, whereby young people were seen as free labour and given little by way of training, is not repeated.

The Chairperson:
Thank you, Jim. Before I open the floor for questions and comments, I want to address a few housekeeping matters. Several members must leave the meeting to attend to other Committee business. Two members have indicated that they wish to ask questions or make comments. I want to know whether any other members wish to do so, so that we can work out a time frame before the Committee loses quorum.

This is the Committee’s last formal session on Training for Success. We will then go into Committee business and sign off on our report. We have, I dare say, saved the best until last, because you have raised valid issues and made useful suggestions and proposals. I acknowledge your tribute to Nuala Kerr and Des Lyness from the Department; and — credit where credit is due — you said that they listened to your points. It might now be useful if those points are taken on board.

Although Training for Success and the tendering process are the remit of another Committee and another Department, this Committee requested the continuing professional development map, and we met those representatives formally because the Committee had queries and concerns about the tendering process. The Committee is, therefore, taking Training for Success seriously.

I raised concerns with the Comptroller and Auditor General, John Dowdall, about the tendering process. That goes beyond the remit of this Committee, but we were given the authority to do that. We are not just looking at apprenticeships; we are also looking at the wider issue of Training for Success. It is valid to raise the issue of the public and private sector. However, can the community and voluntary sector avail themselves of Training for Success apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeships?

Mr McKeown:
I do not know.

The Chairperson:
There is an issue about double funding, which we will probably examine. You have raised a valid point on area-based apprenticeships — if there are public-sector services available, there could be a way to get people apprenticeships or a route into apprenticeships.

Thank you for your presentation, and I want to thank Jim for the paper that you provided for the Committee, following our discussion last week.

Mr Ross:
I have four points to make in respect of your presentation. Why have so many people dropped out, and is there any contact with them after they leave? You said that there was a lack of data in many areas. Has the Department indicated that it will try to collate that data in order to establish which parts of the scheme are successful and why people are leaving?

My third point relates to the minimum wage and the exploitation of young workers, which have been mentioned time and again during these evidence sessions. How can employers be encouraged to pay a fair wage? Obviously, the Department cannot dictate salaries to employers, because that would turn employers away. Finally, what discussions have you had about public-sector buying?

Mr McKeown:
On first point about data and drop-outs, we are in the first year of the scheme and the civil servants who are responsible for setting it up have, I imagine, had all their time occupied with getting the scheme rolled out and dealing with providers. There is a need to collate data, and that seems not to have been done. I am not sure how that can be done, but it needs to be done. Collaborating with schools and colleges might show how many school leavers went into training or further education or to university. In that way, we might be able to identify localities where people are missing out on the training programme. Data on employer numbers is not collated, but it would not be too big an effort to arrange for that data to be collated.

Mr Liam Gallagher (Irish Congress of Trade Unions):
No one is suggesting forcing employers to pay a fair wage. However, it is the employers’ side that is saying that there is a skills shortage and that they need people in key industries.

We can set acceptable practice for employers, which should be based on a percentage of what a craftsperson or tradesperson would earn. Employers would buy into that. Employers often ask how much they should be paying an employee.

Mr Bunting:
Although we should not dictate to employers, there should be a norm in the industry. That norm could be established through the Construction Employers Federation or the trade union movement, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Agency. We must protect people from exploitation. We are morally obliged to ensure that there is not a race to the bottom and that there is a norm that all employers in the industry pay — that happens at various levels in the construction sector and various industries. The absence of an accepted norm attacks good employers by undercutting them. Good employers want to take on apprenticeships, make a contribution to society and upskill young people, but they are undercut by employers who want to exploit young people.

It is in all our interests, and the interests of the Northern Ireland economy, to have a norm. Under the auspices of the LRA, there are mechanisms that can provide that norm.

Mr Attwood:
Thank you for the extensive presentation, which touched on a range of recurring themes from past weeks and raised new issues.

At last week’s Committee meeting, the departmental officials did not seem aware that a problem is developing around level-2 and level-3 apprenticeships in construction. I checked with one college, which confirmed that, in its view, a problem is developing. Although it is early days and the evidence is anecdotal, given that a significant proportion of total apprenticeships are in construction, can you tell the Committee anything more about that problem? Given the property and credit situation, a problem for apprenticeships in construction is expected. However, getting to grips with the scale of that problem will be important.

There is a way to deal with the wages issue without the Labour Relations Agency. In England, the level of wages paid is a condition of contract. Therefore, mechanisms can be built into contracts that require employers to step up to the mark. Have you discussed the issue of wages with the Department? I ask that because, last week, I was surprised to hear that the Department had only begun to talk to people in England about the models of better practice that have employed in apprenticeship training contracts heretofore. I was surprised that the Department had not been working on that issue more robustly.

Mr McKeown:
The Department regards wages as an issue between an employer and an employee — it is not a matter for a Department. We disagree, because this is a training scheme and, given the bad publicity that surrounded the Jobskills programme and the evidence that it was being used to exploit young people, there is an onus on the Department to ensure that wages gap is plugged. There is an opportunity to do that by insisting that employers indicate what they are paying. That will vary from area to area, but it is likely that a norm will emerge.

That issue has been raised with the Department. I expect them to examine it in the fullness of time, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Mr L Gallagher:
I will provide a north-west perspective, having assessed the regional disparity in the uptake of the construction scheme. We are constantly told that the scheme’s raison d’être is to engage the disengaged, and I accept that the scheme is an improvement. However, there is a serious problem in that people in areas of high unemployment and social deprivation in Northern Ireland are often denied access.

There are 34,000 disengaged people in the north-west: 9,600 of those people receive incapacity benefit; 6,000 are full-time carers; and 5,500 are on the live register. There are also people who leave school with four GCSEs but are denied access to the scheme because they do not have an employer. There is something fundamentally wrong with that system. For example, a kid may have grown up surrounded by endemic second- and third-generation unemployment, never having known their parents or grandparents to be working. That youngster may attempt to rise above the circumstances into which they were born by accessing a skills training course. There is something badly wrong if we cannot grant them that access.

The solution is a mixed model, which works successfully in England. Employment-led schemes are fine — if there are sufficient employers. However, youngsters should never be denied access to a scheme due to a lack of employers.

The Chairperson:
Jim McKeown made a point earlier about the public sector, and the community and voluntary sector. Would that help to alleviate access problems for people in the north-west?

Mr L Gallagher:
It would go some way to resolving the problem. However, ultimately, a mixed model is the best solution. Employer-led schemes are excellent in an ideal world, but we simply do not have enough employers. The Electrical Training Trust (ETT) has 70 apprentices in Ballymena, but, unfortunately, had only four in Derry in one particular year. If you are beside the fire, you get the heat; if you are at the back door, you get the draft.

The Chairperson:
That is a good saying; I may use that in future.

Mr Butler:
Thank you very much for your presentation. It emerged from one of the evidence sessions that level 3 is the highest apprenticeship qualification that can be achieved under Training for Success. Some people have told us that the standard of apprenticeship qualification is much higher in the South. Given that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has an interest in both jurisdictions, is that of concern to you?

Representatives of the motor industry — who were with us earlier — mentioned that essential skills have not been integrated into the apprenticeship, in the same way that the key skills have. You did not mention the integration of the essential skills, which seem to improve numeracy and literacy among the general adult population.

Are you concerned that the 26 contract areas are based on the 26 district councils? DEL seems to be confused about where the providers, and the people, come from.

Mr McKeown:
I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that the standard of apprenticeship is higher in the South. Fermanagh College ran apprenticeship training courses on behalf of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS) for a number of years, in association with the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.

If the standards were lower here, that course may not have been available. I am not convinced that that is a valid argument. The essential skills of literacy and numeracy are included in the level-2 and level-3 programmes. There may be some issues at the job-ready strand that are not employer-led. All colleges and training organisations are required to integrate skills such as literacy, numeracy, computer skills and so on, into training programmes. Therefore, I am interested to see the evidence that such skills are not taught as part of training programmes.

The monitoring system based on local council boundaries is the system that is available to the administrators. Perhaps there is a better method; I do not know enough about that.

Mr Bunting:
I do not know whether the Republic of Ireland has a higher skill level, but I can find out in a matter of days, and I will send the relevant information. It is easier to become an apprentice in the Republic primarily because of the trade union organisations and the social-partnership line between the trade unions and the Construction Industry Federation in major urban areas.

The difficulty in Northern Ireland is that the construction industry is deregulated and everyone is self-employed. As Jimmy McKeown outlined, it is difficult for such a vast range of small employers to support apprenticeships. For example, in Strangford, a builder requested that a potential apprentice take out £3,000 insurance prior to employment. Insurance for apprentices costs £5,000 for a small builder.

At some stage, deregulating the construction industry might have been a good idea. However, we have shot ourselves in two feet on issues such as tendering, public procurement, infrastructure and so on. The largest building firm in Northern Ireland employs approximately 20 people. However, Laing O’Rourke — a GB company that has secured contracts in Northern Ireland — ensures that everyone on the site is employed by them.

We have moved away from that system because it has posed huge difficulties in encouraging a consistent number of young people to learn skills through an apprenticeship. Northern Ireland’s economy will be damaged, and we will lose out on investment in infrastructural building unless we identify and rectify the problems in the construction industry.

Mr Butler:
Does the social partnership in the South between the Government, industry and trade unions make it easier for people to secure apprenticeships?

Mr Bunting:
They work together in a very controlled system. Apprenticeships are well catered for because of economies of scale, and so on. I am not sure whether the Republic of Ireland has a higher skill level than us. It may, perhaps, be a bit lower. Sometimes, we over-egg the pudding when we talk about how wonderful the Republic of Ireland is. However, I will research the comparison in skill levels and send the information to the secretary.

Mrs McGill:
I am glad that you raised the issue of travel; it was raised by the Chairperson and others during last week’s meeting, at which you were present. Did you write or talk to the Department about that matter? If not, it would be worthwhile to do so, and to hear your suggestions on how to improve the inequality of treatment.

You made a critical point about employment and lack thereof.

Mr Butler:
Jimmy McKeown is always contacting the Department. [Laughter.]

Mrs McGill:
Did you talk to the Department about the issue of travel?

Mr McKeown:
We raised that issue with the Department, but I am quite happy to write to them about it and a range of other issues. I am also happy to send a paper to the Committee, based on the presentation that I made this morning.

Mrs McGill:
You raised some good points about travel that you should make to the Department.

The Chairperson:
Those points will be recorded in the Committee’s minutes and in Hansard, so we can also make them to the Department. Thank you for your presentation.

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