Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Training for Success

30 January 2008

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

Witnesses:
Mrs Catherine Bell ) Department for Employment and Learning
Mrs Nuala Kerr )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
The next item on the agenda is the second departmental briefing on the Training for Success programme. We are going from the frying pan into the fire. I thank Catherine Bell and Nuala Kerr for coming today and for providing a paper. Members will recall that the first in this series of briefings took place on 28 November 2007. Today’s briefing should bring the Committee up to date on developments since then. The Committee staff have also prepared a paper for members that ties together a range of themes.

I remind members that as today’s briefing will form part of a scrutiny exercise, it will be recorded by Hansard. I will hand over to Catherine and Nuala, after which I will open the session for questions.

Mrs Catherine Bell (Department for Employment and Learning):

Thank you, Chairperson. I hope that members will find the paper helpful. One minor amendment has been made to a reference to a meeting between the Committee, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and the Construction Employers Federation (CEF). Only CEF, not CITB, should have been mentioned; I apologise for the error.

Our paper sets out the organisations and individuals that we have met over the past weeks and months, particularly in connection with the Training for Success programme, and the results of those meetings. We have also provided members with a list of inspections from 1 April to 31 March.

The Chairperson:

I am sorry; in my opening remarks, I should have mentioned that the Department has provided the Committee with information, for which I am grateful. The Education and Training Inspectorate operates on a confidential basis, and I know that Catherine will mention that. I hope that members will take that on board.

Mrs Bell:

There is an aspect of confidentiality to the work of the Education and Training Inspectorate. That same arrangement does not apply to the Department.

The Chairperson:

That is understandable.

Mrs Bell:

We have also included a list of CITB proposals relating to the Training for Success programme.

I will separate out the Job-Ready programme and the Apprenticeships programme, around which there is a great deal of confusion. When the Committee completes its scrutiny and provides us with recommendations, we will separate completely the Apprenticeships programme from the Training for Success programme.

I will make a few comments about the Job-Ready programme and the findings that we have arrived at as we have worked with training organisations and colleges. The Job-Ready programme comprises four strands, the first of which is personal development, which is aimed at those young people who have not been attending school and have been placed in a category known as “not in education or training” — generally, young people who have severe personal difficulties and are not yet ready to embrace professional or occupational training. In my view, those are the young people who need a platinum service, because they were failed the first time round.

The second strand is skills for work, which is for young people who have not achieved any qualifications at school, who have severe literacy and numeracy problems, but, in the opinion of our careers advisers, after wider assessment, are able to undertake occupational training. I want to stress that it is at a very low level; the skills for work strand does not prepare young people for apprenticeships.

The third strand is a pre-apprenticeship programme for those young people who have not yet obtained five GCSEs but who want to embrace a skills training programme. Initially, the young people attend college or another training organisation on a full-time basis; after 13 weeks, they go to employers for two days a week; and after 26 weeks, they can go to employers for up to three days a week.

The final strand is employability. This strand sits with the Apprenticeships programme and is for those young people who are very able, who want to be apprentices, who can start a programme at level 3, but who have not yet secured employment from day one.

One strength of the Job-Ready programme is that, having met with colleges and other training organisations, we know that they all welcome up-front training and the fact that young people will be placed in an organisation for a sustained period. The organisations get to know the young people, particularly in relation to their personal development and their skills for work; they understand their strengths as well as the weaknesses; and they can draw up realistic training plans.

A second strength of the Job-Ready programme is that it focuses on the needs of the young person and not the organisation — it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The third major strength is that we have not specified a qualification towards which young people should work. Unlike the Jobskills programme, where young people had to work for an NVQ, we have said that they can work for a broader qualification, which, over time, could lead them to employment and working towards an NVQ. All organisations have welcomed that.

The downside of the Job-Ready programme, and something that we must consider seriously, is that all the organisations have told us that 35 hours of directed training is too long — and I have mentioned that to the Committee before. We recognise that fact, and in the next iteration, the training time will be reduced.

The second issue is that there is a variation in the arrangements for work placements — it was introduced for the best of reasons, but it has caused confusion over when a young person can begin a work placement and for how long the placement can last. We need to give better clarity and adopt a standardised approach to work placements.

The third issue, which is a sensible measure, is that instead of assessing a young person immediately before he or she goes into a training organisation, there will be time for our careers advisers and the training organisations to work together to assess properly the young person to ensure that he or she is at the right level.

Colleges do not like the idea of a 52-week programme: they would prefer the programmes to reflect the academic year, but it remains to be seen whether we can accommodate that.

We have agreed with training organisations and colleges that we will come back to them in mid-February with detailed amendments for discussion. At that stage, we will have individual focus groups on the various strands. That is all that I have to say on the Job-Ready programme.

The Apprenticeships programme has become confused with the Job-Ready programme. The Apprenticeships programme, which now forms part of the Training for Success programme, has not changed from when it was part of the Jobskills programme. From day one, the Apprenticeships programme has offered employment and has worked to the apprenticeship framework set up by employers. Those arrangements have not changed. However, several issues have become apparent. First, many employers, who, in the past, would have taken trainees as part of a traineeship arrangement — under Jobskills, the trainees would have worked for them for four days a week for free — are now being required to participate in the Apprenticeships programme if they want to avail themselves of young people. There is tension there, because the apprentices are employed from day one.

The Electrical Training Trust (ETT) arrangement is working as we would have expected, and there has been no change.

We held detailed discussions with CITB and CEF, and little divides us. They have requested that all young people, or apprentices, spend a sustained period in a college or training organisation before being placed with employers. Those young people would not be apprentices as such: in old money, they would be trainees, who would spend an initial period of between 10 and 13 weeks in a college or training organisation. The Department suggested a 13-week period, and CITB and CEF came back with 10 weeks. We have no difficulty with that, because the employability strand allows up to 13 weeks for college training. That includes instruction on health and safety and a start on skills training away from operational pressures. CITB and CEF are asking the Government to pay for that, and the Department has no difficulty with that either.

The next stage is that CITB and CEF want a 14- to 52-week programme to be made available to young people who have not been employed by the end of the 13-week period. As the Department has a facility for that under the third strand of the Job-Ready programme — the pre-apprenticeship programme — that is not an issue. However, the difficulty is that the Department has not had detailed discussions with CITB and CEF on how that would be handled and how they would select young people from a list to place with employers.

There is a misunderstanding that that method of training would produce savings, and CITB and CEF consider that the Department should pass those on to the employers. The funding required for an apprenticeship in the construction industry is £12,300 per young person. Part of that goes towards a personal training programme, some for completing the apprenticeship framework and some for staged payments for achievement. If a young person completes an apprenticeship, a £1,500 bonus is paid directly to his or her employer.

The Department has considered the proposals and asked CITB to set up a group involving CEF and some of the colleges. There is not much difference between the positions of the Department and CITB. Our only concern us is that the construction industry wants its apprenticeships to be dealt with differently to those in other industries; for example, with the Electrical Training Trust, apprentices are employed from day one, and the trust manages the programme with the colleges and employers. However, it is not an insurmountable concern, and we can get round it. I am happy to take members’ questions on the paper, or on anything else.

The Chairperson:

Thank you, Catherine. I have a couple of questions for you, but I will allow members to put their questions first. Thank you for the paper and the letters. Last week, the Committee was briefed by representatives of the construction industry, who highlighted several concerns. At one point, I picked up on a criticism of the Department. I have read the letters between the Department and individuals in the construction industry, but they make the situation more confusing.

Mrs Bell:

Yes.

The Chairperson:

I would appreciate knowing the current position: you are aware of the issues that the construction industry has raised with the Committee because the meetings have been held in public session.

Mrs Bell:

Departmental officials were upset that the construction industry raised those issues with the Committee, because we have held a significant number of meetings with CITB and CEF. I have met them separately and together, as have Nuala and other departmental officials.

The Committee will see in some of the correspondence that, during my last meeting with CITB, its representatives volunteered, very helpfully, to establish a group to work with the colleges, the Education and Training Inspectorate and CEF to come up with a programme. That confuses the Department, because there is very little difference between what we have and what they are proposing. It all comes down to money. The programme should not be determined by money, but by the quality of training and the opportunities for young people.

We are getting mixed messages. It would be lovely if an organisation, such as CITB, would take responsibility for placements with employers and would work with our colleges and other providers of construction training. That is why I said at the outset that we are going to realign the programme and separate the employability strand and the pre-apprenticeship strand from the Apprenticeships programme.

Another point from CITB confuses me. As the Committee will know, the Public Accounts Committee is strongly against the idea of young people being abused through being required to work for four days a week as a source of low-cost labour. We have pushed the envelope as far as we can by allowing the young people to work for three days a week. That is really pushing the boundaries. However, the young people go out to work only after they have been trained for a sustained period. The Committee must recognise that the colleges, and many of the larger training organisations, have very good facilities that have been forged for skills training. The young people are not sitting behind desks in classrooms all the time. They are allowed to be trained away from operational pressure. They do not have to build a house or do something that could be dangerous. They can learn without pressure.

Somehow, we can work with CITB to make the programme work. I do not think that we are very far apart. However, we want to keep the Apprenticeships programme separate from the Job-Ready programme and the skills for work strand, because those young people have specific needs and they must be dealt with in particular ways.

The Chairperson:

It is good to hear that the issues that have been raised by the construction industry and the Department are not that far apart. You mentioned money. Where is that money coming from and where will it go?

Mrs Bell:

Initially, the money passes from Government to the trainees. We do not have a problem with that, because —

The Chairperson:

Do you mean that the money goes directly to the trainees?

Mrs Bell:

Yes. It goes to the young people. However, the bit in the proposal that we have difficulty understanding is that CITB says that there would be savings and that, in its view, those savings should be passed on to employers. We have not had a chance to go into the details with CITB, and we must do so. However, we cannot see those savings. An organisation that manages a construction apprentice receives up to £12,300 — it is either £11,500 or £12,300, but it is a substantial amount. If the young person completes the apprenticeship successfully, the employer gets a £1,500 bonus. The organisation that manages the contract — for example, the Electrical Training Trust —

The Chairperson:

Sorry, the employer gets £1,500 when an apprenticeship is finished?

Mrs Bell

Absolutely, but employers can get more. For example, if ETT manages the contract, the Department pays ETT. The employer pays the young person a wage, ETT gives the employer a subsidy for having that young person, and ETT pays the college. There are other ways in which an employer can get a grant. We are not asking employers to provide apprentices with training for nothing. Substantial amounts of money go to employers.

The Chairperson:

OK. Thanks, Catherine.

At our last meeting, I asked whether you intended to talk to the young people who are involved in the Training for Success programme. It is stated in your report that you have arranged for five separate focus groups to meet in late January and early February.

Mrs Bell:

One of those groups will include young people. We hope to receive findings from the organisations and test those with the young people.

The Chairperson:

OK. The Committee will probably return to that matter after Easter.

It is stated in point 11 of your report that departmental officials had met with David Hatton, chief executive of the Electrical Training Council, to discuss the issues that he had raised with the Committee. Can you give me an update on that meeting?

Mrs Bell:

The Engineering Training Council (ETC) managed the contract under the Jobskills programme. ETC identified employers and arranged for young people to be placed in jobs. All directed training — or the vast majority of it — is done through the colleges. There may be one or two other organisations that can offer engineering training. ETC, which is out of the loop because the colleges — rather than it — won the contract for the Apprenticeships programme, says that it does not believe that there is a sufficient number of engineering apprentices. We should — in consultation with the Committee — consider the role of bodies, such as ETC and ETT, in helping us with the Apprenticeships programme.

The Chairperson:

Point 12 refers to the expert group for young people with disabilities. The Committee received a letter from the Minister about the establishment of that group. I am putting it on record that I am not happy with the content of that letter.

Mrs Bell:

You are not happy with it?

The Chairperson:

I am not happy with it. I initiated the debate on the matter in the Assembly. The Minister said that he would set up an expert group to deal with it. I have just sent someone to get a copy of the Minister’s letter. The Committee has now been told that there is a disability liaison group in the Department. Therefore, that group has been put in place instead of a discrete group for young people with disabilities.

Mrs Bell:

The disability liaison group includes organisations that are experts in that field. A subgroup of the disability liaison group will be set up rather than a separate group. It is not a case of our not dealing with the matter, specifically. That subgroup will comprise experts in that field.

The Chairperson:

When the group meets.

Mrs Bell:

Yes, when the group meets.

The Chairperson:

That raises a concern for me. Why didn’t the disability liaison group deal with that matter initially?

Mrs Bell:

The reason is the structure of the Civil Service — there are two distinct sides of the house. One group was set up by the disability advisory committee, and we — on our side of the house — dealt with the issue through the Training for Success programme. It was a stupid arrangement, but we are where we are.

We scoped all that was going on in the Department to support disability. The scoping paper has been completed. We have commissioned the Education and Training Inspectorate — in its next programme — to tell us whether there are any missing areas, whereby young people could fall between the cracks in our programmes, and to report back to us. The disability liaison group is representative of all the expert groups on disability. It has agreed that a subgroup of the liaison group will focus specifically on the Training for Success programme.

The Chairperson:

Has that subgroup met?

Ms Nuala Kerr (Department for Employment and Learning):

It has not met, yet.

The Chairperson:

I am not going to labour the point. I will come back to you about it later.

Mr Spratt:

I welcome the witnesses to the meeting. I wish to raise a question about the procurement process, which is mentioned on page six of the paper. The Committee has had some serious concerns about the procurement process. I suppose that the procurement process is a generic one that is applied to all Departments. Your report states:

“it is normally assumed that if a tenderer proposes to use another organisation or an individual as a subcontractor, then agreement is either already in place between those parties, or will be put in place”.

We are where we are with what has happened, and lessons must be learnt on how to tie down future procurement processes, because there was that fiasco when the Donnelly Group wrote a letter. The Committee has had several indications, particularly from unions and some of the colleges, that senior people in those colleges were named when, really, they had not even been approached. In future, we need to have something in writing and someone to contact, so that we are not placed in a situation where what appears to be a wonderful tender on paper does not offer very much at the coalface — in other words, a skeleton with no meat on its bones.

There were some quite short time limits to get some of the programmes up and running, and when they were implemented, negotiations with the Donnelly Group had to be restarted. It is not a satisfactory position.

Have any of those concerns been raised with the Department of Finance and Personnel? Has a process been started to try to tie down future procurement exercises?

Mrs Bell:

That is a valid issue, which Mr Spratt has raised with the Department previously. In future, at the time of tender, we will require a letter of assurance that the organisation that is named has been approached and is content with the arrangement. There is no reason why we cannot pass details of that arrangement to central procurement directorate as being good practice.

When consultants are bidding, they name the people whom they will use, and there is never a letter to confirm that they have been approached. However, in this case, we need to learn that pen and paper refuses nothing. We took the situation in good faith — as we must — but, in future, if someone tells us that he or she has had negotiations with a partner, we will ask for evidence of that in the tender specifications.

Mr Spratt:

The danger that I see is that when bidding, the consultants might name a big company, such as Mr Good or Mr Big, which has been there, done it and got the tee shirt — for want of a better expression — yet when they successfully procure the tender, they will use Mr Cheap or Mr Nasty.

Mrs Bell:

Your point is extremely well made, and in future tender exercises, we will look for evidence that there has been a relationship between the consultant and the companies that are named.

Mr Butler:

Although the Training for Success programme goes up to level 3, a lot of the apprenticeships are level 2. The evidence from some of the sectors is that the level that is really required is 4 or 5, which is the level of training in the Republic of Ireland. That means that we are training people to a level that is not going to meet the needs of the industry, which seems to be the flaw in the system.

Mrs Bell:

At 16, young people make a choice about what they want to do. As the Committee is aware, the focus is on academia. It is considered more important than professional and technical training. The Department wants to change that image, hence its idea to separate out apprenticeships. The Department has said — and it is in the specification — that the new apprenticeships framework can progress to level 4, a foundation degree and, ultimately, to a full degree, if that is what an individual wants.

It is, however, a matter of supply and demand. If young people vote with their feet, stay in school to do A levels, and do not see an apprenticeship as a viable option or a course that they want to take, it is difficult. As the Apprenticeships programme now extends to age 24, the Department is beginning to see people who have degrees taking up the places. Obviously, there are all kinds of questions to be asked, such as why those people did not do apprenticeships in the first place.

Leaving that matter aside, the Department has not secured much money in the first year of the Budget, although it has, certainly, secured money for adult apprenticeships in the second and third years. The Department wants there to be a route to level 4. It is aware that Northern Ireland will only be successful if people achieve levels 3 and 4. However, young people cannot be put on a level 3 programme if they are not capable of starting at level 3. It is, therefore, important that the Department works with the Department of Education to ensure that young people leave school having attained the right standards.

Mr Butler:

If 10,000 training places are to be created, young people who leave school with level-2 qualifications will not be qualified enough to meet the demands of industry. Does the Department have a plan for that?

Mrs Bell:

First, the Department guarantees training places for young people up to 18 years of age. It must work with young people to determine the stage they are at. It is wrong to put a young person on a programme at a level at which he or she is not capable.

Secondly, the Department believes passionately in lifelong learning, and administers the FE Means Business programme. Therefore, the Department wants people to continue to train. Employers have a responsibility to up-skill their workforces. Although the Department did not do as well in the Budget as it would have liked, it has a little money with which it will be able to help employers to up-skill their workforces. Work is focused on level 4, not just through part-time apprenticeships, but through part-time and full-time further and higher education.

Mr Attwood:

Thank you for the extensive briefing papers that you have provided. I am interested in the current occupancy figures. The Department’s evidence states that the total number is now 5,492, compared with 7,664 for the Jobskills programme in 2007. It is suggested in the paper that that can, in part, be explained by the reduction in the population of 16-year-olds. However, that does not fully explain it.

Mrs Bell:

No, it does not.

Mr Attwood:

Even if more young people stay on at school, the reduction in the number of 16-year-olds does not explain a 20% decline in a year. I want a detailed explanation as to why the intake of the Training for Success programme — that great opportunity for young people — has declined by 20%, compared with the figure for 2007.

Mrs Bell:

With any new programme, a dip is expected. However, that does not account for a dip of 20%. A reduction in the population of young people does not account for a 20% drop in intake. That information is unavailable because the figures have not been audited. The Department does not know whether there has been an increase in attendance on full-time further education courses.

In other words, have young people, who, in the past, would have considered an engineering apprenticeship, switched to a full-time level-3 programme at a college? We will not know the answer to that until we get audited figures from the colleges.

We really do not know where those young people are choosing to go, which is an issue that we must follow up. I cannot give a definitive answer. It is an issue that is exercising us greatly. We know that some organisations have not yet completed their personal training plans, and the numbers from those are not yet available. However, those numbers will be small. Therefore, we need to investigate that.

Mr Attwood:

The Committee needs urgently to hear from the Department about this matter. As Paul pointed out, if too few people are receiving training — especially for level-3 apprenticeships — the skills gap that we heard evidence about last week will get more acute. Furthermore, Northern Ireland’s position in being able to take up any inward investment and other investment projects will be compromised.

Mrs Bell:

Another part of the problem is that employers need to buy into the Training for Success programme. In the past, employers had an element of free labour. Therefore, getting them to employ young people — at a cost — is proving challenging.

Mr Attwood:

That is a more likely explanation for some of the shortfall. However, you have to appreciate, as the Chairperson said, that the Committee is receiving evidence on this subject that is at a variance to what employers are saying. If that is not reconciled, I fear that people will be pulling in different directions.

There are 116 people on level-3 Apprenticeships programmes. That evidence being given to the Committee, regardless of whether it is accurate, indicates that level-2 Apprenticeships programmes are viewed by employers as being semi-skilled. Having 116 people on level-3 apprenticeship programmes could be, on one reading, catastrophic. What is your assessment of that?

Mrs Bell:

That issue is a major concern to us. There are substantial numbers on the pre-apprenticeship strand of the Job-Ready programme. However, I cannot go into detail because we do not yet have the evidence. We want the Apprenticeships programme to have the same status as a full-time further education or A-level course.

We also need to consider the assessments. There is an issue about whether some people on level-2 programmes should, perhaps, be on level-3 programmes. However, if that is the case, they will progress quickly to a level-3 programme; there is no barrier to them. I cannot say any more on that issue because I do not have the answer.

Last week, we had a debate with David Hatton of the Electrical Training Council. The issue was that his greatest strength is his link with the employers, but the colleges’ greatest strength is the fact that they can do directed training, and do it very well. Somehow or other, we have to reconcile that, and we need to consider it together.

Mr Attwood:

If it is the case that there are people on level-2 programmes who should be on level-3 programmes, it suggests that there is something deeply structurally wrong, especially given that there are almost 2,500 people on level-2 programmes. In a way, that suggests to me that the answer is probably more complex.

Ms Kerr:

One element is that the level-3 Apprenticeships programme has not changed; it is not that something new has been introduced. There is a possibility for people to progress from level-2 programmes to level-3 programmes. Many people may have chosen a level-2 programme as an accessible point at which they can enter into the Apprenticeships programme and will, eventually, move on to a level-3 programme.

Mrs Bell:

Some of the anecdotes — I stress that they are anecdotes — that we hear is that employers are willing to take people from level-2 programmes because there is less risk than taking those from level-3 programmes. However, at this stage, that is anecdotal and we will not know the true situation until a survey is carried out.

Mr Attwood:

Talking about anecdotes reminds me of Carter and Carter. Is it true that the date by which organisations were required to register was extended to the end of January?

Mrs Bell:

That is true.

Mr Attwood:

Why are Carter and Carter’s trainees not registered under the Department’s management system? If Carter and Carter — and a number of other organisations — were given that extended time, why have they not registered those whom they claim to have on their books?

Ms Kerr:

When we extended the first deadline, some organisations stated that they would still be unable to have the assessments that are required to register the young people completed in time for the extended deadline. The Department had the choice either of accepting that and postponing the date again or, as we did, saying that the deadline had already been extended and that we would have to accept the numbers that were registered at that time. Therefore, a number of organisations, including Carter and Carter, were in the same position. Changes will have to be made to the totals that you have, but, at this stage, we cannot quantify what they are likely to be.

Mr Attwood:

I find it difficult to accept that organisations that were given a time extension have not registered their trainees. According to your figures, Carter and Carter, which claims to have 58 trainees, has a total of 15 registered trainees. Is Carter and Carter in breach of contract for failing to register its trainees?

Ms Kerr:

The Department for Employment and Learning acknowledges that some organisations have experienced start-up difficulties. We have to assess their administration arrangements. We have raised that concern with them and have asked them to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

Mr Attwood:

I am not satisfied that the Department is acting appropriately in consenting to give Carter and Carter — or any other organisation that is in the same situation — a time extension. That is a variation of the contract at a time when, as Mr Spratt said, there are concerns about contracts. Given Carter and Carter’s form on this type of business, I am not satisfied that it is being given such flexibility. I cannot say whether the flexibility that has been given to other organisations is justified, but Carter and Carter has form, and the Department should be drawing conclusions rather than giving more flexibility. One must remember that not one of Carter and Carter’s 15 trainees is registered at level 3.

Mrs Bell:

However, we know that Carter and Carter has level-3 apprentices. I understand what Mr Attwood is saying, and we will follow it up urgently.

Mr Newton:

Paragraph 11 of your paper states that David Hatton is the chief executive of the Electrical Training Council; he is, in fact, the chief executive of the Engineering Training Council.

I agree with the two members who have spoken. It is essential that a pathway is established to take apprentices to levels 4 and 5. If that happens, it will let individuals know that the Training for Success programme — or whatever it is called following the separation of the Job-Ready and Apprenticeships programmes — can be the pathway to a career, rather than merely to a job. Separating the Apprenticeships programme from the pre-apprenticeship strand of the Job-Ready programme is essential in the branding of Training for Success, because it will illustrate to individuals that they are getting a top-class, top-flight opportunity to build a job that could lead to a career.

History shows that many chief executives of companies began as apprentices. Unfortunately, I was not at the recent Committee session when CITB and CEF made their presentations. I am concerned that the framework for apprenticeship training be agreed with the Sector Skills Council. However, I have read in the papers that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between CEF and the Sector Skills Council. If that is the case, will Northern Ireland have a framework for apprenticeship training in the construction industry that may be different from the national framework? Is there a danger of that?

Ms Kerr:

That is an interesting and valid point. The focus group that Catherine described is tasked with trying to chart a way through the processes that allow us to reconcile all those issues. We do not envisage having a separate framework arrangement. We draw our expertise and knowledge partly from the national frameworks; therefore, it would not be our intention to have a different framework.

At this stage, the proposals relate to the process. CEF’s vision is that every apprentice will have off-the-job training before he or she goes into employment, and we will pay them for that training. Catherine explained that we have not evaluated the financial burden of that yet. That will be one of a number of important issues that we will address when we come to progress our proposals.

Mrs Bell:

If the employers in the construction industry say that they are not going to employ young people, the Department is duty bound to provide the equivalent training for them. That is why, at the outset, we came up with the employability skills strand of the Job-Ready programme. However, it is being pushed to its limit. Although the employability skills strand has integrity and rigour in its own right, we must ensure that we concentrate on the framework of the Apprenticeships programme. That is the continual tussle that we have.

Mr Newton:

Several years ago, an attempt was made to create a modern apprenticeships qualification in Northern Ireland. However, it proved to be fruitless, as it did not carry currency outside Northern Ireland. Therefore, if someone qualified here and went to work in England or any other part of Europe, a modern apprenticeship was not considered to be a valid qualification. Our final decision must carry the currency of a qualification that is not just national, but transnational in its value.

Ms Lo:

You mentioned the Jobskills programme. The focus groups found that the colleges believe that training for 35 hours a week is, perhaps, too long. That ties in with some of the briefings that we had last week, at which representatives from the construction industry said that colleges are sending participants from the Job-Ready programme out on placements, and employers are exploiting them in the same way as they did through the Jobskills programme. If employers can get people whom they do not have to pay, why would they agree to take on apprentices whom they would have to pay?

Mrs Bell:

We read about that in last week’s Committee minutes, and our contract managers will pick up on that.

Under the pre-apprenticeship strand of the Job-Ready programme, after 13 weeks, as part of his or her training, a young person can work for an employer for two days a week, and, after 26 weeks, he or she can work for three days a week. However, the trainees have yet to complete 26 weeks.

Ms Lo’s point had not been flagged up to us, and the only way that we will be able to pick up on it will be through our contract managers as they visit and monitor the programme. We can also write to organisations to investigate patterns, but, Ms Lo is right: the last thing that we want is for the system to be abused and for employers not to perceive value in going down the apprenticeship route.

Ms Lo:

Will you clarify a point from the papers that you submitted to the Committee? You have listed the current levels of occupancy for motor vehicle apprenticeships. Does “occupancy” mean the number of people on the programme?

Mrs Bell:

Yes, the number of students on the programme.

Ms Lo:

That is Civil Service language. I am puzzled. For one college, the current occupancy rate at level 3 is one student, and several other colleges show an occupancy rate at level 2/3 of only one or three students. How do the colleges manage with only one student on a programme?

Mrs Bell:

They are put together with students, trainees and apprentices from other programmes. In addition, there may be more students, but the colleges have yet to register them. The colleges and training organisations must manage their classes; however, I know that they would not establish a class for one person — they could not afford to do that.

Ms Lo:

So, is that person being trained?

Mrs Bell:

I honestly do not know. We will have to investigate that point, but we will let you know.

Mr McCausland:

My question concerns the same subject. Obviously, those are interim figures for motor vehicle apprenticeships because the registration deadline is not until the end of the month. What was the previous registration deadline?

Ms Kerr:

Mid-December.

Mr McCausland:

Will you remind me of why the Department extended that date?

Ms Kerr:

It was extended partly because of our computer system and partly at the request of the organisations. Our system is designed, essentially, for payment purposes, and there have been some registration difficulties for companies attempting to record occupancy figures for young people. That is in the process of being changed. Some process difficulties are on the Department’s side and some are on the side of the organisations that are registering the trainees.

Mrs Bell:

Another issue is that the new programme incorporates detailed personal training plans, and it was assumed that they could have been completed much quicker than they have been. When such a plan is well done, it is exceptionally useful for both the organisation and the young person.

Mr McCausland:

Next year, do you intend to set the cut-off date for mid-December or the end of January, and if it is set for mid-December, will that date stick?

Mrs Bell:

We will conduct an assessment. At that stage, we hope that organisations will be much more used to working with the personal training plans and will begin earlier.

Mr McCausland:

As the final cut-off for registration is the end of January, you will be able to produce the final figures within a week of that date.

Mrs Bell:

Yes, absolutely.

Mr McCausland:

Looking at the table on page 5, it is easy to work out where some of the organisations are located. It is clear where the regional colleges are based. However, I have no idea where some of the training organisations are located; for example, Transport Training Services. I have just been told that it is based at Nutt’s Corner.

Have you looked at the spread or distribution by constituency, council area or whatever? Are there any obvious variations, and, if so, why? Can any other lessons be learnt from that? To pick up on Anna Lo’s point, at the moment, a total of five people are registered at Belfast Metropolitan College. One would have thought that a few more people would have been registered in a place the size of Belfast. When the final figures are compiled, could some lessons be drawn from them?

Mrs Bell:

Yes, sure. We tried to ensure that there was a geographical spread.

Mr McCausland:

There is not sufficient uptake in the Belfast area. There seems to be a big uptake in the colleges in the north-east: in Ballymena and north Antrim. If the figures show that there is a greater uptake in some areas than in others, we must find out why that is.

Ms Kerr:

When the figures are finalised, we intend fully to carry out the sort of statistical analysis that Mr McCausland has suggested to ensure that people have the opportunities to take up the training.

Mr McCausland:

I see from the table that the figures for the Northern Regional College (NRC), which is made up of the former North East Institute of Further and Higher Education (NEIFHE) and the former East Antrim Institute of Further and Higher Education in Newtownabbey (EAIFHE Newtownabbey), show that NRC (EAIFHE Newtownabbey) has 10 people and NRC (NEIFHE) has 27.

Ms Kerr:

Some training providers are centres of excellence or have acknowledged experts in particular disciplines, and clusters of people will register with them for that reason.

The Chairperson:

Some themes have emerged in the evidence sessions on the Training for Success programme. As I said earlier, representatives of the construction industry gave evidence to the Committee last week. They told us one thing, and we are getting other information from you. Will you take on board the themes that are emerging in the evidence sessions?

Mrs Bell:

We are in the process of compiling a paper, based on the findings that have emerged in all the discussions that we have had. We will send that paper to all the providers to let them know what we have heard. We will point out the aspects of training that are going well and that we will not change, and the aspects that they have asked us to change. That is what we can do. With all the things that we are being asked to do, we cannot give everybody everything that they want. From the colleges’ perspective, the 20-hour rule is important, but I do not think that the Department will be able to satisfy them in that regard. However, we will try to meet people halfway.

The Chairperson:

I appreciate that. Issues have arisen, and the Department must take them on board. Quite frankly, I would hate to see you both being called before the Public Accounts Committee. John O’Dowd, the Chairperson of that Committee, is a scary man. I apologise for that remark, John —I forgot that this was being recorded by Hansard. [Laughter.]

Last week, CEF told us that there is no guidance for employers to encourage the payment of an industry wage. That concerned me. Although, in the past, decent employers have paid a suitable wage, others have exploited young people. CEF said that if departmental guidance were available, it might make matters easier.

Mrs Bell:

Initially, some organisations asked us to provide guidance to say that, in the first year of an apprenticeship, the young person should be paid £40 a week, which was the old training allowance. We said absolutely not.

That was exploitation of our young people. We are in a difficult position because employers determine salaries and provided that they pay the minimum wage, it is not for the Department to intervene and tell them what to pay their employees. We said that we would work with CEF to make a guide for employers, but I am very reluctant to take the responsibility for salaries away from employers. However, there is a danger of exploitation, which we do not want. Therefore, the Department will work with employers to see what can be done, but it is a difficult area.

The Chairperson:

CEF also stated that, under the Training for Success programme, Jobskills-style free labour has crept back into the training system, and some colleges are placing unemployed trainees with employers for three days a week from the outset of the programme.

Mrs Bell:

That is the first that we have heard of that. We will ask our assistant contract managers to address that, but we can also write to training organisations to get information on the work patterns.

The Chairperson:

Can you understand the Committee’s concern?

Mrs Bell:

Yes, absolutely.

The Chairperson:

My final point concerns the Minister’s commitment, during an Assembly debate, to address the lack of provision for disabled children and young people. In that debate, the Minister mentioned the Disablement Advisory Service and said that it was important to set up a group with expertise in dealing with young people with disabilities and additional support needs. He said that there would be:

“a scoping study to ascertain the full extent of the Department’s current provision for disabled young people and adults.”

Mrs Bell:

That has been done. We have produced a paper showing that we have given all our possible provision to the service and under our service-level agreement with the service for next year, have asked them to tell us whether there are any gaps that we need to fill. That is happening. The Committee can see the scoping paper, which lays out everything that we are doing. I want a belt-and–braces process for young people who are disabled so that no group is missed out.

Some people think that the Department can respond to all the needs of disabled young people. However, some of those people have such severe health problems that they require a form of support that the Department cannot offer. We need the service to provide us with the reassurance that we are doing everything possible for those young people whom we can help as they deserve the best opportunities possible.

The Chairperson:

Will you give me the details of who is on the subgroup?

Ms Kerr:

Following the debate, we considered the options for establishing a group to tackle the issues that people with disabilities have with the Training for Success programme. As Catherine said, we tried to determine who would do that best. As a group that captures as many of the relevant bodies as possible has already been established, it seemed best placed to help us. We put the Minister’s letter to that group to see whether it was prepared to take on the work. The next stage is to begin the work.

The Chairperson:

I appreciate that Nuala and understand your viewpoint. Maybe that should have happened prior to the debate, but the Minister made a public commitment to MLAs, which seems to have been pulled back. If that was the case, the Minister could have announced it.

Mrs Bell:

Yes. The issue is timing, and we should have established the subgroup earlier.

The Chairperson:

I thank you both for coming and for the papers that you gave us — it helps when we get them prior to the meeting. We have requested more information, and the Committee will decide the direction to go on this issue at our next meeting. There is a possibility of another evidence session just after Easter.

Mrs Bell:

By that stage, we should be able to give the Committee a more concrete view on numbers and on Carter and Carter — legitimate concerns have been raised.

The Chairperson:

Ok, thank you for coming and for the effort that you have made this morning.

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