Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Wednesday, 16 January 2008
Learning and Skills
16 January 2008
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Jimmy Spratt (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Robin Newton
Mr Alastair Ross
Mr Trevor Carson ) Learning Skills Development Agency
Mr Justin Edwards
Mr David Hattton ) Sector Skills Councils
Mr Jim McIlveen
Mr Ronnie Moore
Ms Gillian Winters
The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Spratt):
I welcome Trevor Carson and Justin Edwards and I thank them for the paper that they have provided, copies of which are included in the members’ packs. This will be a key briefing for the Committee, and will give us an understanding of the work of the Learning and Skills Development Agency Northern Ireland (LSDANI). The briefing will also give the witnesses the opportunity to outline their views on the roll-out of the Training for Success programme and their work and planned work in that programme. LSDANI has a key role in quality and improvement programmes, and is central to training provision.
The Training for Success programme is a formal focus of work for the Committee and a report on it will eventually be published. Therefore, I have asked Hansard to record this session.
Mr Trevor Carson (Learning and Skills Development Agency Northern Ireland):
Thank you for the invitation to make a presentation to the Committee. LSDANI was established in May 2003, and is part of the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), which is an independent not-for-profit organisation. Our core remit, as in our contract with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), relates to quality improvement and covers our services and programmes to support learning providers — governors; first-line managers; middle and senior managers, including principals; trainers and teachers. Our aim is to build the capacity in the education and training sector to embed continuous self-improvement, enabling the quality of the provision for the learner to increase continually.
It is important to point out that in 2003 our work was, initially, solely related to the further education sector. However, since then, it has widened and now includes the work-based learning sector and training organisations. From the start, our support for the Essential Skills strategy covered all of the post-16 education and training sector, including the voluntary, community and training organisations.
DEL’s ‘Success Through Excellence – A Quality Improvement Strategy for the Further Education and Training System in Northern Ireland’ identified a key role for LSDANI to work with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and the Department to provide development and support for the sector with regard to the Improving Quality:Raising Standards (IQ:RS) toolkit for improving quality and raising standards used by the Education and Training Inspectorate to inspect further education colleges and training organisations. The purpose is to work collaboratively with both the Department and the Education and Training Inspectorate so that contract managers and providers ensure the best possible outcomes for learners.
We provide advice and support to further education and training providers as well as tailored quality improvement. That service is not only for Training for Success and the further education sector, but is for all training providers, including New Deal.
It is important to point out that LSDANI is supported by staff with local expertise and relevant skills, and we also use local associates. There is a core staff; however, to provide support for six FE colleges and the training organisations, we have to go beyond that, and associates with recent relevant experience in that sector are used.
When necessary, we bring in experts from outside Northern Ireland, but normally we focus on local expertise to provide local solutions. We provide a range of resources, both in hard copy and electronic; for example, our dedicated website goes right across further education and training.
I want to draw the Committee’s attention to four of our key strands of business. We manage, on behalf of the Department, the successful Lecturers into Industry initiative. We recently celebrated, as 250 lecturers have now gone out into industry for structured placements. The purpose of the initiative is to upgrade the lecturers’ skills so that those are relevant for the current economy, and so that the young people they train will be job-ready when they finish their courses. We work across nine vocational areas, and have had contact with, and use of, over 200 employers. Therefore, the initiative builds bridges between industry and the education and training sector.
We have provided major support for the Essential Skills strategy for Northern Ireland through our contract with the Department. Again, that is focused on providers, including Training for Success providers. The new providers that have been used since September 2007 were given a special briefing so that they understood the Essential Skills strategy, because it is not common throughout the UK.
We take a close interest in supplying leadership and management development programmes that lead to organisational improvement, which is important.
Post-inspection support is another key part of our work. After the completion of an inspection of any organisation — a further education college or a work-based learning provider — we speak with the inspector and are then brought in to help effect changes in any areas that require improvement. That is a major part of our work; however, and Justin Edwards will elaborate on that. It is important that our work to assist in improvements should not only be reactive to an inspection, but should help to build an organisation’s capacity for continuous improvement.
Mr Justin Edwards (Learning and Skills Network):
I begin by highlighting our support programme for Training for Success, which Trevor Carson mentioned in the latter part of his presentation. That support programme was developed in synergy with two critical documents: ‘Success through Excellence’, which is the DEL strategy for improving the quality of education and training provision, and the Education and Training Inspectorate’s document, ‘Improving Quality: Raising Standards’, which is used to assess the quality of education and training provision. We use both of those documents throughout the range of support services that we offer.
The majority of our provision is proactive, supporting and training organisations in the delivery and improvement of leadership and in improving the quality of training and services that are available to learners.
Our provision is also reactive, and that part of our activities is in post-inspection support. After any form of inspectorate inspection, we receive the inspection reports. We are then able to work with a training provider to improve an organisation’s education and training provision in response to the report. Furthermore, we take information from those reports that highlight good practice, and share that with the rest of the relevant sector to ensure that organisations in it understand where there are pockets of good practice and how they work. In the post-inspection support arena, our core staff lead, and, in cases which require specialist subject or curricular expertise, we bring in associates with experience in those fields.
With regard to proactive support, we run training and development events, aimed at leaders and managers, to improve the capacity of strategic leadership in organisations, as well as events to improve the quality of training. We have focused on pedagogy — the science of teaching and learning — to support and increase the capabilities of trainers; and we have promoted understanding of the ‘Improving Quality: Raising Standards’ framework, so that training organisations become more effective at self-assessment and in self-improving the quality of their services.
We have undertaken study visits, during which we have been able to identify good practices throughout the UK, bring those back and embed them in our programmes.
We undertake benchmarking exercises with providers, in which we ask them to carry out surveys and questionnaires with learners, staff and employers to assess and gather data about how their training provision performs.
Moreover, we commission action-research projects, in which we ask providers to research specific training or delivery topics to make information available to other providers. All the information that we gather from those various activities is then fed into the quality improvement unit in DEL, contract managers and the inspectorate.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Thank you for your clear presentation. Do members have any questions?
I too thank you for your presentation. The Learning and Skills Development Agency was established in May 2003. Where did you all come from? Who are you? Is there a list of members? What is your background?
I am happy to field that question.
Did a group of you just come together? How did the Learning and Skills Development Agency come about?
Prior to 2003, the Department provided some support for the further education sector. At that time, I was employed by, and based at, the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges in Lisburn. Support was then on an ad hoc basis, and the Department decided to regularise that into an organisation that would be involved in improvement activity.
At that stage, discussions were held with the Learning and Skills Development Agency in England about setting up a unit, staffed by local people, in Northern Ireland. I applied for a job to head the unit and got it. Initially, we recruited two other development advisers, one person to support the Lecturers into Industry initiative, and some administrative staff to provide the service that had been identified and agreed between the LSDA and DEL.
In your presentation you said that support is provided by staff with local expertise and relevant skills. What do you mean by local? I come from West Tyrone. With regard to Omagh, Strabane or Derry, do you refer to local people or to experts who are in that area?
If we have experts, such as Leo Murphy in Omagh College, we call on them. There may be some local issues. We have a good relationship with both training organisations and the further education colleges. We ask whether, in giving support, we can add anything to enhance the local aspect of our support. We have, for instance, provided post-inspection support at Rutledge Joblink Recruitment and Training in Omagh and Customised Training in Strabane. We have worked with Fermanagh College, and given updates to the new provider’s management team in Strabane Training Services. The core staff has been recruited locally — we all reside in Northern Ireland — and we have 40 associates, most of whom are local and drawn from throughout Northern Ireland. If a specific area of support is required, we try to match their skills with what is required in improvement.
Is there a list of members?
There is a list of employees.
I am trying to make sense of it. That is fine. I have a couple of other points. Have you done any post-inspection support on Training for Success?
At the moment the inspection takes place in a variety of forms, including … (inaudible) … estimations and inspectorate monitoring reports. At the moment, most of our reaction is to those reports. We are waiting for the early Training for Success inspection reports to come back before we can act on them.
I have one final question, and I appreciate being allowed to ask it. What is the Teaching Thinking Certificate?
It is a programme designed to increase the teaching or training capacity of trainers. It was originally operated by Northumbria University, and was a very successful programme in work-based learning, training provision and further education. It is an intensive course of approximately six weeks that looks at training practices and at how our practices can be adapted to the type of learner who is engaged in industry.
When someone is presented with this certificate, is that what is written on it — “Teaching Thinking”?
Yes. It looks at the thinking methodologies of learners and tries to adapt training practice to those. The certificate represents that.
I thank the delegation for coming and for the informative material that it has provided. It covers all aspects of their work and structure.
I will ask about one area: the Lecturers into Industry programme. The initiative is extremely worthwhile, in that it engages industry and lecturers together. Industry will benefit and, no doubt, so too will the lecturers themselves. That initiative has taken place on some 250 occasions: over what period of time? Is there scope for expansion in that area?
They have taken place over the last six years. I can speak authoritatively, because I was involved in setting up the initiative.
For specific reasons, we started by targeting two vocational areas: hospitality and engineering. I had to take a view on the capacity of those sectors to release staff from colleges, because the full-time placements in industry are for between six and 11 weeks and, therefore, require considerable commitment from lecturers, who must be away from college for that period. Some of the smaller colleges did not have the capacity to replace them.
However, by targeting the high-priority skills areas that were identified by the Assembly, we have increased the number of available vocational areas to nine. We targeted high-priority skills areas, as identified by the Assembly. I hope that the six regional colleges will allow further scope and flexibility for more staff to be released, which will increase capacity.
However, it is important to state that the support that we receive from the Sectoral Skills Councils (SSCs) is crucial, because they help to identify appropriate placements in cutting-edge industry and in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There is therefore value to the industry, particularly to the lecturers who return to college, having increased their skills, and whose trainees therefore benefit from the latest industry-standard training.
Is it possible to quantify how far you can take the scheme?
We negotiate with the Department on capacity. Currently, the initiative targets only further education colleges; however, some training organisations have approached us to be involved, which provides some scope to increase capacity. The six regional colleges could facilitate the expansion of the scheme by up to 10% over the next couple of years.
This is a small point. At the start of your submission, you stated that the organisation is part of the Learning and Skills Network, which is an independent not-for-profit organisation. Will you give me some information about the network?
The Department for Employment and Skills in England —
Is it a UK-wide network?
OK. That is fine.
Going back to something said by Claire McGill, I want to confirm that you are not currently in a position to give the Committee any particular advice on how the Training for Success programme is rolling out, or how any of the contractors is performing. Is it too early in the inspection schedule to give the Committee an insight into whether the programme is working?
Although we do not distribute a questionnaire asking providers for their opinions on how the programme is going, the anecdotal feedback is that most have now settled into it. It is important to note that the Education and Training Inspectorate did not start their inspections straightaway, because that would have been unfair to the providers, but we expect the inspections to start soon. Initially, providers may have been uneasy, but they are starting to get to grips with the Training for Success programme.
Across the board, or are there areas in which — anecdotally at this stage — there may be deficiencies?
We have no anecdotal evidence of any downsides to the programme. People are not keen to tell us about major problems, especially in the early stages. If they experience those, our advice is that they contact the Department.
You said earlier, quite properly, that the Assembly and others had identified training priorities, one of which is hospitality and tourism — and I simply use that as an example, because there are other high-priority skill areas. How are the priority skills required by the hospitality and tourism industry put in place by the training system?
It is my understanding, through our contact with training organisations and the further education colleges, that the specific needs of the hospitality and tourism industries are being addressed. The evidence from our Lecturers into Industry initiative shows that we put people into cutting-edge concerns — big catering companies, hotel chains and visitors’ centres. The post-16 education and training sector is reasonably well-geared to provide appropriate training at appropriate levels. It is important that the people delivering those services ensure that their skills are up to date, because it is a fast-moving and growing industry in Northern Ireland.
The draft Programme for Government has set ambitious tourism targets over the next three years. As things are at the moment, is the provision of skills training for an increased tourist market in place? Can we reasonably anticipate, over the next three years, that the skills will be there to meet any increased demand?
I do not have the details to hand of the enrolment numbers in the hospitality element of the Training for Success programme. I will provide those to the Committee, as they give a better indication. Those skills are delivered by the staff of the training organisations and the colleges. I will have to examine the enrolment numbers before I can give a definitive answer.
During your presentation, you said that certain expertise is available only outside Northern Ireland. What types of expertise do you have to go outside Northern Ireland to find?
Occasionally, we draw on the expertise of principals of large further education colleges in England and Scotland, and, to a lesser extent, Wales, that have had a series of grade 1 inspection results. We examine practices in those colleges, and if their principals have something to say to their counterparts over here we would be foolish not to use that expertise. However, we exercise that option only as required. In the light of the college mergers, we saw value in using people such as Dr David Collins of South Cheshire College.
I want to follow up on Mr Newton’s comments about the Lecturers into Industry programme. I am interested in how that works. Do you inform the colleges of the number of placements available, and they nominate lecturers to the programme?
It is a competitive situation. We invite lecturers to apply, and if there are 20 applications for 10 places, we have to decide on the best candidates, and take advice from the Education and Training Inspectorate and the Sector Skills Council. An observer from the Department sits in on that process.
We expect the lecturers to identify the skills that they need to refresh, and the type of company in which they want to be placed. The successful applicants will sit down with a representative of the Sector Skills Council to identify a company.
We support and monitor the programme, and the payback comes not only in the improvement in the individual’s skills, but in the wider dissemination of the experience and the good practice. For example, it was not possible to provide certain vocational training for staff at Omagh College of Further Education, which is a relatively small institution, but the college was able to draw on the experience of other persons who had received training. The investment in the initiative has resulted in a greater impact across the board.
How big is the organisation? How many members of staff does the organisation employ?
There are currently two senior development advisers and me.
If appropriate, I can provide the Committee with an organisational chart.
The Deputy Chairperson:
That would be helpful, as that issue has come up several times.
How well do the colleges receive your work and work with you?
All the activities in which we have been engaged have been well received. We provide a supportive role in the post-inspection and proactive-development arenas, and we are always well received by staff at all levels. We are also well received by the training organisations; I think that we are seen as an independent organisation with a clear remit. Within that remit, we obtain information to allow the training organisations to advance their improvement agenda.
We seek feedback, both positive and negative. It is important that we provide a service and that we reflect on our performance, because it would be foolish if we, as an improvement agency, were to ask other organisations to improve but did not do it ourselves.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation. I have no doubt that we will meet again in the future. Thank you for your presentational pack, which contains a lot of information — we appreciate that.
Moving on to our next set of witnesses, I welcome David Hatton from the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance (SEMTA), Gillian Winters and Jim McIlveen from Engineering Training Services, and Ronnie Moore from Energy and Utility Skills.
This is the first of a number of sessions that we will have to find out the sectoral views of the Training for Success programme. Two of the key sectors are represented today — engineering and energy and utilities. Both sectors are extremely important, not only for the development of local economic manufacturing, but for the water and energy industries, which are high on the Executive’s and Assembly’s agendas.
This is a key briefing for the Committee, as we will hear the sector skills councils’ views on the Training for Success programme. The director of the Sector Skills Development Agency, Laurence Downey, is in the public gallery today, and I thank him for his work in bringing the councils together for today’s meeting. As Training for Success is a formal work stream for the Committee, it will eventually publish a report on it. I have therefore asked that the session be reported by Hansard. Without further ado, I will hand over to Mr Hatton.
Mr David Hatton (Science, Engineeering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance):
Good morning. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the Committee. I will give a brief introduction about the importance of our sector, after which I will hand over to my two colleagues, who will discuss apprenticeship training in particular and put it into the context of Training for Success. I am sure that Ronnie will do something similar when he discusses his sector.
I work for the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland. It was established in 1990, so has been around for a while. It is an employer-led body that comprises representatives of some of the largest employers in Northern Ireland. A couple of smaller companies are also represented on the body, thus reflecting a broad range of interests. The trade union movement is also represented, as is the further and higher education sector.
When the organisation was established in 1990, its mission was to ensure that those who are employed in the engineering industry in Northern Ireland had the opportunity to be trained to the highest international standards. If we cannot train to that level, we will struggle.
I am the chief executive of the Engineering Training Council, and our organisation represents the interests of SEMTA, the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies in Northern Ireland.
One of the aims of the sector skills councils is to put employers at the heart of the process of ascertaining education and employment requirements. Engineering manufacture is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland given that innovation, new technology, and continuous improvements in engineering stimulate economic development. Our manufacturing sector contributes around 25% of our gross value added to the Northern Ireland economy.
In order to be competitive, our sector must have higher value added jobs. That means that highly skilled people are required. They can be either new entrants — such as graduates, technicians, and apprentices — or they can be existing employees who have been upskilled. The jobs that are on offer are normally very well paid. I have only ever worked in engineering manufacture, which is currently as buoyant as I can remember, with many of our companies crying out for technically and professionally skilled people. It must also be remembered that unemployment in Northern Ireland is less than 4%, which is nearly a record low.
We conducted an employers’ survey before Christmas, using a small sample of 30 engineering companies that are based across Northern Ireland. That survey showed that 75% of those companies are experiencing considerable skills shortages. That conservative estimate means that almost 300 skilled people are needed to work in fitting, machining, mechanical and electrical maintenance, design, and toolmaking. Every one of the companies that were surveyed believed that the skills-shortage trend will worsen.
Many of those companies also recruit apprentices, and they indicated that they could not recruit the desired number, given that the standard of applicants is much lower than it was previously. What does that mean for our future skills base? If sufficiently skilled staff are not available to our indigenous companies, what chance do we have of attracting inward investment?
In the past, grants attracted companies to Northern Ireland. However, those are no longer the key incentive. The key incentives are an available pool of technically and professionally skilled workers and a high-quality training and development system. Those are imperative for the future success of the companies and individuals that are involved in the engineering sector and for the future of Northern Ireland’s economy. Unfortunately, such a skills base does not exist. That means that there is now a considerable disconnect between the difficult job that Invest Northern Ireland is doing to attract inward investment and our lack of available and appropriate skills.
It is crucial that such vital engineering skills are developed. The advancement of the apprenticeship programme, aligned to excellent careers advice, is critical if that is to be achieved. If companies decided to relocate their manufacturing facilities to eastern Europe or the Far East because they could not find the much-needed skills here, it is unlikely that they would ever return. That could have a devastating effect on our economy.
My colleagues Jim McIlveen and Gillian Winters, who represent Engineering Training Services, will now talk further about the importance of the engineering apprenticeship training in the new Training for Success programme.
Mr Jim McIlveen (Engineering Training Services):
Thank you. For the past 10 years, I have been quite heavily involved with the Jobskills programme, which has been criticised for various reasons. However, the programme that I run is very successful and also very cost-effective. In 1997, at the request of the then Government, we piloted an employer-led approach to apprenticeships. Of the 34 people that started on that programme, 80% gained the full qualifications.
The programme has evolved over the past 10 years, and we now have 270 apprentices who are employed with 80 employers throughout Northern Ireland. Those apprentices cover most aspects of engineering work — that is, fabrication and welding, and mechanical and electrical maintenance — and they are also training to craft and technician levels. One of the reasons for the success of the programme is that we have a year-round recruitment policy; unlike most other providers, we do not rely on a September intake.
A recent Education and Training Inspectorate audit identified an achievement rate of 97% in our programme. Our achievement rate, therefore, has increased over the 10 years from 80% to 97%. That audit was our first inspection, and it was successful in that we were awarded a grade 3. However, there is room for improvement, which we are working to achieve.
Our programme offers employers and young people a complete package that includes promotion. We often give presentations in schools, and every week we promote the programme to new employers. We advise on recruitment, aptitude testing and advertising, and we provide assistance with recruitment. Upon implementation of a programme in an organisation, we train people in the company to be, for instance, NVQ assessors and instructors. That is very important, given that many Northern Ireland employers are involved in small operations, employing perhaps between five and 10 people. That then means that they do not have the expertise to deal with fair employment issues. As the employers cover the lion’s share of the training, we provide them with 70% of the required funding.
Apprentices on my programme, some of whom are 16- to 18-year-olds who have just left school, can earn up to £300 a week on commencement. They gain nationally recognised qualifications from which they can progress to degree level and beyond. On completion of the programme, there are unlimited opportunities to progress to higher levels. Young people who have completed my apprenticeship programme have progressed to become managers, teachers and employers.
Previously, our Jobskills programme contract allowed us to take young people through to level 3, and, as I explained, the programme was successful and obtained a 97% achievement rate. We were successful in the tendering process for a level 2 contract, but not a level 3 contract. Unfortunately, engineer employers do not rate level 2; to use an old term, they see that as equivalent to semi-skilled. We have the largest recruitment campaign and provide for the highest number of apprentices in Northern Ireland, with an average of 100 apprentices a year.
One frustrating aspect of the new Training for Success programme is that those who were awarded the level 3 contracts have little or no track record in running apprenticeship programmes. If I may return to the selection criteria that was used in the tendering process, the contracts were based on achieving 35% for programme delivery and 45% for previous track record. However, I am aware that some organisations that won a contract did not have any track record in delivering engineering apprenticeships.
Mr Hatton has requested that the Department for Employment and Learning give him recruitment figures as he wants to know how many young people are on the programme this year. I suspect that those numbers will be low. Had I won a contract for the Training for Success programme, the 80 young people who have been recruited this year would be on a level-3-equivalent apprenticeship.
Prior to the award of the contracts, we had secured approximately 120 engineering apprenticeships. Last April, when the recruitment process was under way, employers informed us that 120 jobs were available. For various reasons, we were able to fill only 80. Indeed, David has already informed the Committee that there may be problems with attracting young people to engineering.
The local providers who were awarded level 3 contracts seem to be focused on the non-employed job-ready programme. That is probably because that is what they are used to — they are not used to dealing with employers and employing young people from day one. In our programme, employers are surveyed regularly, and they all state that they would come back to us to recruit their apprentices.
As David indicated, there has been a noticeable decline in the recruitment statistics for levels 2 and 3 engineering apprenticeships. Possible reasons for that is that first, young people are encouraged to remain at school so that they can go on to higher education, and secondly, they may also have the wrong perception of engineering. That it is quite a difficult issue to deal with, and the Engineering Training Council is currently working on that.
One of the big problems with Training for Success was the way in which the contracts were awarded: providers can recruit only from a particular council area. To give an example of how that may not work, I have a level 2 contract for all Northern Ireland. That allows me to recruit young people and employers from all of Northern Ireland and to use a single provider. There are neither enough people nor employers to use all 26 council areas, so along with Belfast Metropolitan College, I have recruited a group of 16 young people to be trained in fabrication and welding. They have been recruited from Kilkeel, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and Forkhill, and one is from Dundalk. They come to Belfast Metropolitan College perhaps once a week for training. The only reason that I am able to do that is because I have a contract for all of Northern Ireland. Belfast Metropolitan College could not do that on its own contract — 16 people on a course is the optimum number that is required to make courses most cost-effective. Belfast Metropolitan College was chosen in particular because young people rely quite a bit on public transport, and it is probably one of the easiest colleges to get to.
When my young people complete their level 2 apprenticeships, they will hopefully move on to level 3. However, at that stage, because Belfast Metropolitan College’s contract does not cover an area outside Belfast, some of the people who are on my programme will have to move on to other providers. That will create difficulties; for example, a course may not be available for the two people who are from the Newry area. I am concerned about what will happen to those young people when they reach level 3 stage. Are any providers available who could continue their training? At the same time, people’s leaving Belfast Metropolitan College to go on to another college will mean a change in continuity, which might affect achievement rates.
My experience tells me that if Training for Success is to be successful, one provider would be required to co-ordinate an engineering programme throughout Northern Ireland. Engineering centres of excellence, to which apprentices would be required to travel and through which practical training would be delivered and technical certificates would be awarded, should be identified.
Engineering Training Services has a proven track record of delivering successfully an employer-led apprenticeship programme that has high achievement rates. Engineering Training Services feels that the quality of delivery is paramount, and that a system such as that which I described would be the most cost-effective way to run the programme.
Ms Gillian Winters (Engineering Training Services):
With regards to the quality of delivery, it has already been mentioned that we received a contract for level 2. We are in the process of undergoing a quality and performance audit by Dell, the target completion date for which is the end of business this week. We are scheduled for another audit by the Education and Training Inspectorate at the end of January, and we will hopefully receive feedback on how we are progressing with the Training for Success contract.
Mr Ronnie Moore (Energy and Utility Skills):
Energy and Utility Skills is one of the 25 licensed sector skills councils. Obviously, I did not come to give a whole spiel about Energy and Utility Skills itself; I came to talk about Training for Success. That said, I will give details of our remit as a sector skills council. Employers are at the heart of the matter, and about 70% of what we do in the Province, throughout the UK and in the South of Ireland is about employers, making sure that they can speak to Government and that their voices are heard.
I will talk about two matters today: first, I have been given the opportunity to build a brand new apprenticeship for the natural gas industry in Northern Ireland; and secondly, the way in which Training for Success will deal with that. That will be the first apprenticeship that we will have taken on board since the bidding system of spring and summer of 2007.
That is interesting, and I am working with the Department to bring the new apprenticeship on board for September 2008. It will involve a cluster of employers in the greater Belfast area and another in the north-west, from Maghera to Derry.
From the brief notes that I have submitted, members will see that Energy and Utility Skills looks after electricity, gas, water and waste management, and it has a strong input into renewable energy and the environment. We look after large companies such as: Northern Ireland Electricity; Northern Ireland Water; Phoenix Natural Gas; and Furness Energy Partnership, which is the asset owner. In Dublin, we work closely with the training department of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), looking after its skills needs, and also with Bord Gáis. We have a remit across the board, which is useful for networking among companies. A couple of years ago, those companies and ourselves carried out a benchmarking exercise. Energy and Utility Skills has been licensed for just over four years, and I have been operating with the company for nearly the same length of time, having come from the electrical engineering world.
Moving on to Training for Success, Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has been running modern apprenticeships for many years. It is a fairly self-sufficient company that has introduced good apprenticeship schemes. It ran successfully the Jobskills apprenticeship programme, which was the only show in town for many years, and it had a good level 3 employer-led apprenticeship. I am delighted that the new standards and apprenticeship methods that were adopted under Training for Success are driven by employer need, are employer-led, and are based on employment. A level 3 apprentice has an employer from day one. It is absolutely critical that a young person knows that they belong to a company and that from day one they are getting a salary, not a small grant that makes them feel that they do not belong, do not have a home, and do not really have an employer. With a small grant, apprentices feel that they are on work experience but do not have a real job. The employer-led route for level 3 apprenticeships is therefore the only way. Some employers might find that difficult in that they might not be able to afford to pay a salary in the first year, but that young person is working for the employer and the employer must find a salary for them. Employers must recruit their own young people and ensure that they are taking part in an employer-led scheme. I like that aspect of Training for Success; that can only be a good thing as the programme grows and matures.
Through its modern apprenticeships, Northern Ireland Electricity has its own training centre in the Province. That is an approved centre for Training for Success that is capable of offering level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships in the electricity sector. It offers a NVQ level 3 qualification, which is a City and Guilds award. It also offers a technical certificate, which is obtained through day release at the Northern Regional College in Ballymena or at Belfast Metropolitan College.
Interestingly, Northern Ireland Electricity feels that there are teething problems with Training for Success and that the scheme was introduced too quickly. For example, particular information being needed by certain dates has meant that it has been difficult to get the training management system (TMS) up and running. The Department has extended the date several times to accommodate training partners and approved centres. There is no doubt that there have been teething problems with the programme.
However, Northern Ireland Electricity has told me that the Training for Success scheme has been an improvement and that it will improve as it proceeds. The company likes what it has seen so far, and it is working with the Department to overcome the teething problems. It thinks that, once those problems have been overcome, Training for Success might prove to be a better system than the Jobskills programme. Although Training for Success is in its early days, Northern Ireland Electricity is happy with it, feels that it is going well and that, in the long run, when the scheme matures, it will result in a better process. It is far too early for auditors and quality assessors to move into training establishments because they would not have enough information or time to bed the young people in and get the appropriate information from them.
The new apprenticeship that I hope to introduce in the Province will be the acid test for the sector skills council in which I am involved. Part of a sector skills council’s remit is to make sure that provision in Northern Ireland, throughout the UK and, in my case, the South of Ireland, is absolutely A1.
It is an employer’s job to ensure that kids who go to further education colleges get the best possible training and that they are not wasting their time reading books or papers. I assure the Committee that I work closely with the colleges to ensure that the students get that training.
We are initiating several new apprenticeships. One example is the level 3 apprenticeship for the natural gas industry. The fact that that primarily involves SMEs is one positive aspect of it. It involves mainly a cluster of companies that would employ not many more than between 12 and 20 people. Those SMEs will therefore be clustered and brought on board for the Training for Success programme. Further to that, as the scheme progresses, DEL will also be brought on board.
I am working with the Department to ensure that the bidding process is sorted out. Given that it is now the new year, I expect the Department to put that out to tender shortly so that all parties, whether further education colleges or independent training providers, will have the opportunity to bid for the apprenticeships. I listened to Mr Hatton and his team talking about the problems with the new bidding process, how those problems occurred, and who received apprenticeships — and who did not — during the spring and summer of 2007. Certainly, there have been problems. I am not so naive to think that everything in the garden is rosy. For me, the acid test will be how the new bidding process is handled.
If they wish, the FE colleges and the independent providers may bid for the apprenticeships and then bid to be the managing agent. That agent then draws down the funding. Another positive aspect of the Training for Success programme is that its funding has increased slightly, from the £9,500 that was available under the Jobskills programme to full level 3 apprenticeship funding. An additional £1,500 has been added, and an employer can receive that directly if he or she has an apprentice who has completed a full level 3 apprenticeship.
I am not sure whether the Committee is aware that the funding for apprenticeships is tiered. For example, the gas and electricity sector, in which I am employed, is classed as engineering. Engineering apprenticeships are highly technical, and the NVQ level 3 is difficult. It requires the completion of 17 units along with work for the technical certificate. It receives the highest level of funding, but it needs it. Some time ago, we carried out a study on engineering. It was found that it would cost an employer such as NIE approximately £65,000 to employ an apprentice from day one to the completion of his or her three and a half years’ apprenticeship. Although the Department is providing funding, right across the board, employers are paying for the apprenticeships. That cost includes the training that they provide to the young people, their salaries, and the resources that are required. That costs at least £65,000 for each apprenticeship, and the figure is rising all the time.
It is a costly business for companies to have and to train apprentices. Undoubtedly, however, apprentices are the backbone of a company because they can be shaped and moulded in a manner that suits the company and that will create a sense of loyalty that will make them want to stay with the company. No matter how we look at the apprenticeship scheme, it must continue and be allowed to grow and mature. It is much needed
My remit extends across the UK. I therefore know the apprenticeship rates and the way in which they are run in Scotland, England and Wales. In Wales, an all-age apprenticeship scheme is running, which includes people aged 16 to 60. I am aware that many employers would like a similar scheme to be introduced in the Province. Many of my clients are utility contractors, such P and J McNicholl, the Morrow Group, and KPL Contracts. Those people cannot take 16-year-olds who have come straight from school — it would be too dangerous to take them on to a site. At that stage, they would not have a licence, and many of those contractors start work at 7.30am. How would those young people get to a site at that time in the morning? Therefore, there are difficulties. However, I am trying to bring apprenticeships to contractors.
Contractors have shifted tremendously during the past 10 years. Some contractors, such as Balfour Beatty plc and Airpac Bukom Oilfield Services employ upwards of 30,000 people and are bigger than some of the asset owners with which they work. They would like to start taking apprentices. Therefore, if we could get the all-age apprenticeships up and running — and I have talked to the Department about that — organisations such as utility companies would benefit.
The Deputy Chairperson:
I thank you and the other witnesses for your presentations. Members can now ask questions of the witnesses.
I have a couple of observations from some of our participating employers, one of which is that no funding is currently attracted into adult apprenticeships, making age a problem for employers. Traditionally engineering has attracted males, so we try to encourage females.
Employers have also noticed a substantial increase in the fees for underpinning knowledge: previously, they were invoiced for approximately £350, and that figure has increased to around £3,000.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Invoiced by the colleges?
The Deputy Chairperson:
Members have indicated that they have questions. This is an important area for the Committee, so I will start with a couple of comments.
We have been concerned with problems surrounding the procurement process of getting out of the old schemes.
Jim, you indicated that you have about 100 apprentices, and that, at the moment, you can move people in only at level 2, which employers consider semi-skilled. You said that, if you could go ahead, you would move people directly into level 3. Is that correct?
The Deputy Chairperson:
What is the point of moving people in at NVQ level 2 if you can move them in at level 3, which is what the employer wants?
Industry needs it.
The Deputy Chairperson:
You said that once people go through the level 2 process you hope that they will move into level 3, but that there is no guarantee. That is a serious concern. Will you elaborate on that, because members have previously expressed concern about some aspects?
The optimum situation for me would be to achieve a level 3 contract. However, I do not bank on that, therefore I work on forming partnerships with level 3 providers, such as the six colleges throughout Northern Ireland. That is in the early stages, but I hope to form a partnership that will take my young people right through to NVQ level 3, including those currently in training.
The Deputy Chairperson:
There is a financial cost, as well as people’s time, etc, for putting them through NVQ level 2, but you would like to move them directly into level 3. It sounds like a bit of a waste to do level 2 if they can go directly into level 3.
Let me clarify one point. Irrespective of whether people go into a level 2 or 3 apprenticeship they still have to cover level 2 as a foundation.
The Deputy Chairperson:
But you would cover that in a shorter time during level 3. Is that how it is done?
Level 2 has to be done.
The Deputy Chairperson:
So there is some sort of shortened level 2?
In the past, with the Jobskills programme, we spent roughly a year to 15 months going through level 2, and the remainder of the time, which is up to four years, going to level 3. The current process allows two years to take them to level 2; the next partner will have a further two years to take them through level 3.
Thank you for your presentation, which, although interesting, nevertheless gave cause for concern.
There is obviously a dearth of engineers in the Province, yet companies cry out for them. Therefore, there are huge career opportunities in that area for any young person, male or female. Time was that many young people, on leaving secondary education, or the old technical colleges, went into engineering on low-paid apprenticeships. Now you tell me that apprenticeships can be quite highly paid; however, young people are not attracted in the same numbers. Why is that? Is it because they might have to get their hands dirty? How do we proactively encourage young people into engineering? There are huge opportunities for anyone wishing to make a career out of it.
There is no one answer to that; however, there are several reasons. Young people are encouraged to stay at school — and more so today than ever before. Schools with no previous track record of upper-sixth classes now offer courses in care, business studies, etc, which are not relevant to engineering, and they encourage those young people to go on to higher education. Parents see a child with a degree as one of the better options available, irrespective of the subject. Many young people may not go on to work in the field for which they have been educated.
The perception of engineering is not great. Typically, a year in which we have done a lot of promotion may appear to be successful, then Bombardier Shorts might lay off a couple of hundred workers, and all our work will be knocked to the wayside. On the plus side, however, not all of those 200 workers will have been engineers, and those engineers that have been laid off will be successful in getting new jobs, but that fact is never made public. We have many issues in trying to get the message across to young people.
The private sector tends to be made up of peaks and troughs. Jim McIlveen referred to Bombardier Shorts, and, a while back, there were redundancies. However, that company now looks for a host of people, and it hopes to get the go-ahead for the C
Series aircraft. That will have a tremendous impact on the organisation. Bombardier’s order books must be nearly full.
We have checked the Belfast Telegraph on Fridays for the past three months, and many companies — including Bombardier Shorts, FG Wilson Engineering Ltd, Gallagher’s and Michelin Tyre plc, which are superb companies — have been looking for people. It is of great concern that those companies will not be able to get the people that they want. Those companies are investigating programmes, such as apprenticeship training and upskilling, and the possibility of employing foreign workers to fill the gaps. Boards of directors will make corporate decisions to look elsewhere for workers if they cannot find the appropriate people in Northern Ireland, and they will consider resiting to a manufacturing facility in another country, where the appropriate skilled labour might be available.
If that is the situation for our indigenous industry, and if the companies here cannot get the skills that they require, what chance is there for getting inward investment? Invest Northern Ireland must have a terribly difficult job.
We have to wrestle with those issues. The press are very good at writing demoralising headlines — and they may be sitting behind me now. The front page of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ could have a headline stating that a certain company has let 200 or 300 people go; however, on reading articles and looking at the research, one would find that the number of companies looking for people far outweighs the number of jobs that have been lost. We do not mean level-2 jobs; our sector employs people with a minimum level-3 qualification, and that is where we can compete. If we do not have those higher value-added jobs and people trained to higher skills, then we will not have the jobs. We need to increase skills.
Ronnie Moore mentioned adult apprenticeships, and I have approached DEL about funding for those. Many companies have good-calibre, semi-skilled workers who may have been employed there for quite a while and who have a good track record. There is a tremendous opportunity for upskilling those workers. However, the companies need support to be able to do that. Ronnie said that it costs in the region of £60,000-£65,000 to train an apprentice, and as much to train an electronics engineer. It is a fantastic amount of money; however, I do not look at the training as a cost but as an investment.
Coming back to the point that the Deputy Chairperson raised with Jim McIlveen, do you have a contract for level 2 training for the entire Province?
You also said that you need 16 people to make a course viable. Do other organisations have level 2 contracts for the entire Province or parts thereof? Who has the level 3 contracts?
Mr J McIlveen:
I am not aware of any other organisation with a level 2 contract for all of Northern Ireland. I am aware of organisations with contracts in particular council areas. My point was that to run a cost-effective course, people must come in from other council areas, and we must use employers in other council areas. My example was Belfast Metropolitan College as the most central.
Taking just one such narrow sector, is it possible to get a breakdown of the numbers of young people taking part, where they go for training and who provides it? It is hard to get a sense of the overall picture, because I do not work in the sector. There seem to be incongruities in the organisation of the scheme.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Could that information be provided to the Committee?
We must bear in mind that Training for Success is in its infancy, and that we are only six months into the programme. Traditionally, in Northern Ireland anywhere between 200 and 250 level 3 apprentices might have been in training, who would have gone through a range of different companies, colleges and training providers. However, far fewer people are going through Training for Success at level 3. Those numbers must be examined.
About 200 people are doing level 2 qualifications, but very few are doing level 3. If we take Bombardier Shorts out of the equation, very few people are doing level 3 apprenticeships. Those are the people that the sector needs. The people at level 2 might never get to level 3. They might get onto a level 3 course, but they might not be successful. We just do not know. Level 3 apprentices are the key workers in my sector, in Ronnie Moore’s sector, in the electrical installations sector and in construction.
The Deputy Chairperson:
The Committee would be interested in the information that Nelson mentioned, along with the number of apprentices at level 3. Perhaps the Department can provide that? The Department is due to deliver statistics on 30 January.
Thank you for the presentation. One of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) criticisms of the Jobskills programme was that there was no system to analyse or predict what skills might be needed in the future. That is particularly the case with engineering businesses. There will be another change in the skills sector, because a commission will be set up. Do you agree with the PAC’s view that it was a serious omission that failed trainees and employers, and that people are being given skills that will not be required?
That goes back to the discussion on level 2 and level 3 qualifications. On the level 2 side —
Sorry, Jim McIlveen pointed out that the Jobskills pilot scheme was a success. However there is a concern.
Mr J McIlveen:
The programme that I ran was not supplier-driven.
The Sector Skills Councils will make a big difference in making the training demand-led, as opposed to simply coming up with training provision. Moreover, that will be the whole approach of the Sector Skills Development Agency and of the new Commission for Employment and Skills.
Traditionally in Northern Ireland, the training-supply side offered a whole range of programmes, irrespective of whether there were potential jobs in those areas. We do not agree. Employers must be asked what they need. We need to know clearly what their demands are now and for the next three or four years, then get the training-provision side to meet those requirements.
I followed closely the Public Accounts Committee’s examination of the Jobskills programme. There was much criticism of the programme and some awful problems were highlighted. However, there were still some pockets of very good work. Some of the work that was carried out by organisations — such as those that Ronnie and Jim represent —tried to meet employers’ needs. Those programmes were always employer-led, and now the whole process is moving in that direction. That is as it should be, so that young boys and girls do not sign up to programmes without knowing the possible outcomes. Indeed, after a year or two, it often becomes clear that there are no possible outcomes. That has happened frequently. As we said earlier, people on a level 3 apprenticeship programme know that they will probably be employed right from the start; they know where they are going, what they can earn and the sorts of knowledge and skills that they need to do the job. The opportunities that present themselves in those organisations can be tremendous.
This matter goes back to the level 2 apprenticeship programmes. Jim is quite right when he says that young people can do a level 2 programme on their way to getting a level 3 qualification, but that happened with Jobskills in the past, too. Thus, as David said, there are some examples that are very good.
Then there are examples of young people obtaining a level 2 qualification and then being kicked out the door as the employer did not want them. That is where the problems began. Those people picked up quite a lot of grant money to reach level 2, but level 2 was no good for employers once the young people were out on the street again. That raises the issue of level 2 and level 3 apprenticeship programmes, and that is perhaps part of the problem.
I thank the witnesses for their evidence. It was sober at times, but it has captured some of the key issues around the Training for Success programme and apprenticeships. The evidence has certainly been very helpful.
I agree with Mr Hatton’s point that there is a disconnection in the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget between trying to attract and develop jobs in the North and the workforce’s having the necessary skills to do those jobs. The Budget lines do not add up. That could, potentially, create a black hole. If jobs develop in the North, or are created from outside through foreign direct investment, I am not sure whether we would have the skills base to service those jobs.
Earlier, we heard evidence from the Learning and Skills Development Agency. To take the tourism sector as an example, the witnesses said that they thought that the training providers for the tourism industry would be able to furnish the employees with the necessary skills to meet future demand. Is that your view? We have heard evidence about one priority skills area, and your sector has various priority skill areas. In your view, are those who are currently providing the skills training providing enough people with enough skills to service future demand? One can consider this issue from the point of view of tourism or from the point of view of the areas in which you are most interested.
From my perspective, we certainly fall short on the engineering and manufacturing side. If, for example, Toyota decided to open a car plant somewhere in Northern Ireland, would the necessary skills be available in Northern Ireland? I do not think so. Those skills are currently with the companies. The last thing that I want is for a company to come to Northern Ireland and take skilled people from other companies. That would solve that company’s problem, but it would create another problem further along the line.
We need a co-ordinated approach to apprenticeship, technician and graduate training in Northern Ireland. As far as I can see, there is no co-ordinated approach by which organisations work together. As a member of the Sector Skills Councils, Ronnie works with the larger companies to co-ordinate a programme; for electrical installation, ETT and SumitSkills will probably work to co-ordinate a programme. There is no opportunity to co-ordinate a programme in engineering because too many organisations do different things. If we train the majority of people only to level 2 standard, companies such as Bombardier Shorts, FG Wilson, Gallaher, Michelin and Ryobi, will not be interested. They need people at level 3, and that is the only area in which we can compete.
Do the other witnesses share that broad view? Ronnie, you spoke a bit more favourably about how things are joined-up.
Yes, I did.
Do we face a black-hole situation where, in the event of jobs becoming available, there are not enough people with the necessary skills?
Yes, we are. In the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ of 11 January, several engineering jobs were advertised, and those jobs will be filled by people who are already in employment.
Gillian, your observations about adult apprenticeships were very useful. In the Budget, DEL bid for a 1000% increase in funding of adult apprenticeships, which is the biggest increase in bid for any area of DEL spending. We have not seen the final Budget and it may have been adjusted — although I do not think so — but it falls far short of a 1000% increase in funding of adult apprenticeships over the next three years. That confirms that there could be a black hole there as well.
My final question relates to what Jim McIlveen said because, as the Deputy Chairperson indicated, the issue of which groups got contracts preoccupies the Committee. Why do you suspect that recruitment has been low in certain critical areas?
I have close working relationships with the main providers, and I talk to people in colleges and other training organisations. The number of level 3 apprentices has dropped dramatically. We were probably the main recruiter of level 3 apprentices, with 100 a year, but can no longer do that. Therefore, the numbers have dropped dramatically.
Does anyone else have any evidence of a decline in numbers?
I have a different story to tell: NIE told me that the number of people who applied for their apprenticeships last year rose for the first time in five years — over 300 young people applied. NIE takes a range of people from 16-year-olds to those at the 25-year-old limit, and some of the young people they take as apprentices already have a BTech qualification and are 19 or 20 years old. We were talking about the downturn in apprenticeships but last year there were more applicants for apprenticeships with NIE than there had been for five years. Does that answer your question?
We will see the evidence when the figures come back at the end of the month. However, your view and Jim’s could be reconciled, because I suspect that some of the previous training organisations recruit a high number of apprentices, whereas the new training organisations have difficulty in recruiting because they are not fit for purpose when it comes to the contracts that they received.
Those training organisations that are already established are doing well, whereas those that have suddenly emerged —
I cannot comment on that because I do not have, and do not know, the figures. However, you are correct that established companies and approved centres are embedded in the system and know what they are doing.
It has sounded like doom and gloom. However, I am here to present that information, as are my colleagues. That is not to say that we do not have certain methodologies that we would like to put into practice. I am currently examining several of those with the Department’s sectoral division. I have written to the Minister, and he wants to meet a small delegation from our sector. I do not want to go to him and say that the situation is awful, terrible and dreadful: I want to show that consideration should be given to certain actions that could help the situation. It is possible that a major engineering campaign will kick off in 2008 through the Engineering and Technology Board. It will have a co-ordinated approach throughout Northern Ireland that will go from schools right through to employers. Therefore, positive steps are being taken.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Thank you. There will be a quick final question from Mrs McGill.
Briefly, what is the availability of electrical engineering apprenticeships in the west? What numbers participate? With regard to a question that was asked by Mr McCausland earlier, what are the figures for the Strabane and Omagh District Council areas? Do young people from those areas currently undertake apprenticeships with NIE?
Yes, I have a good answer to that. It is a good-news story, because NIE advertises its apprenticeships Province-wide. Often, young people from Fermanagh and Tyrone take part. One part of the apprenticeship involves overhead lines — climbing towers and poles. Young people from Fermanagh have a good track record in that type of work. NIE believes that young people from Fermanagh have a good work ethic.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Does that mean that the Fermanagh lines often come down?
I can tell you that NIE is keen to get people from Fermanagh and that part of the world — Tyrone as well, of course — because of their work ethic and their ability at outdoor working.
What about Omagh and Strabane?
The Deputy Chairperson:
We will not go any further into specific areas. You have your answer, Mrs McGill. Apprenticeships are Northern Ireland-wide.
The numbers are not big though.
I am interested in the specific figures.
An apprenticeship runs every year, for which there are applicants from right across the Province. Traditionally, as many young people from that part of the world participate as those from Down and Antrim.
Can you provide in writing the figures for electrical engineering apprenticeships in Strabane and Omagh?
The Deputy Chairperson:
OK. We shall have a breakdown of figures for Strabane and Omagh. I thank all four of you for your attendance. I have no doubt that we will speak to you again in the not-too-distant future. Your presentation was interesting and raised many serious points. The Committee has taken on board the evidence that you have given.