Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Training for Success

24 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mrs Catherine Bell, Department for Employment and Learning
Ms Nuala Kerr, Department for Employment and Learning

[The first six minutes of proceedings were not recorded due to technical difficulties.]

Mrs Catherine Bell (Department for Employment and Learning):

At the time, the Department would have welcomed the opportunity not to be in the spotlight. However, with hindsight, it was extremely useful, and we made a lot of changes in the light of the Committee’s recommendations.

As usual, we will present to you as a double act: Nuala Kerr and I will both contribute. I will ask Nuala to begin by talking about procurement.

Ms Nuala Kerr (Department for Employment and Learning):

The Committee made a number of comments about our procurement process. Although the opportunity has not yet arisen for us to look again at the procurement for Training for Success, we have applied the Committee’s recommendations to the procurement for the Steps to Work programme. We want to highlight three key points in that regard. First, we requested that the contract bids in relation to the Steps to Work programme be supported with formal written documentation, which demonstrated the willingness of third parties to be considered as part of that submission bid. They were subject to a rigorous, qualitative assessment.

Secondly, DEL, in conjunction with the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD), held information sessions in January 2008 to provide information on the programme and the contract model relating to the tendering process.

Thirdly, we sought confirmation, where appropriate, on whether the premises required for the delivery of the programme would be available from the start of the contract. Those considerations were incorporated into Steps to Work, and such considerations will be included when we look again at Training for Success.

Mrs Bell:

The Committee raised a number of issues that should be considered as we move towards recontracting — or whatever we are going to do — in 2010. The first issue related to looking at the scope and the criteria for selective tendering procedures, and the other related to reassessing whether a single contract, which covered the whole of Northern Ireland, was appropriate. We will address both of those issues as we move towards 2010. We will return to the Committee early in the process to tell you how we intend to go forward.

We have the scope to extend the contract, which is due to end in 2010, for a further two years, but we do not want to do that. We want to be in a position to take on board your recommendations and have new contracts in place from 2010. We will return to the Committee as quickly as we can and let you know what we are doing. We have already started to do some work on the recommendations.

The programme itself has been one of the most successful changes that we have made. Apprenticeships were grouped together in the original Jobskills and in the subsequent original Training for Success. With hindsight, we should not have done that. From September 2008, apprenticeships have been completely separated from the training. Through Training for Success, we have focused on people who have not yet got employment, and programmes have been developed for three groups of people. That has been done in conjunction with our stakeholders. The first group comprises the young people for whom abuse problems, refusal to attend school or reluctance to be involved have created significant barriers to getting jobs. The aim of the Skills for your Life programme is to re-engage those people. There is very little professional and technical training in the early stages. We focus on how we overcome those barriers and engage those young people. However, we include literacy, numeracy and ICT training.

Skills for Work is the starting point of a training course that leads to professional and technical qualifications. Again, it focuses on young people who leave school with no qualifications. We are talking about a programme which focuses on NVQ level 1 qualifications — the equivalent to five GCSEs at D to G grades — not what an employer is looking for. It is a low-level programme; nonetheless, it is a start on the ladder. It focuses on young people receiving skills training rather than repeating GCSEs, where we know there is a high failure rate.

The third element is the pre-apprenticeship programme. Currently, that is for young people who do not have a job but have a good idea of the area of skills training that they want to get into. It is based very much on the apprenticeship model, but, again, it is only at NVQ level 2 — equivalent to five GCSEs. We attest that a young person should leave school with five GCSEs, at grades A* to C, including English and maths. However, we are where we are, so we have developed this programme.

In the early months of the programme, the idea was that the young person would spend some time in college and some time with an employer — although not four days a week, as was the case with Jobskills. We still believe that to be the best model. However, as the economic difficulties continue and bite even more, it is becoming more difficult to get work experience. Therefore, we are currently looking at other ways of training those young people.

The college or training-organisation component will continue, but, as it becomes more difficult to obtain work experience, we will have to think imaginatively about what we do. Some people say that keeping a young person in college for 35 hours a week will not work, and there is an element of truth in that, but all colleges and training organisations have well-equipped skills areas. It is not necessarily true that we would be keeping people in a classroom.

As regards the more general recommendations that the Committee made, we have implemented changes to the programme. A training organisation now has up to 12 weeks to work with our careers officers to develop a training plan that focuses specifically on the needs of the individual young person in order to overcome his or her barriers and to ensure that the programme is tailored to the needs of the individual.

The Committee recommended that we remove JobReady, and we agreed with that. JobReady simply confused the issue, so, for clarity, we have removed that term. There are now the separate strands of Training for Success and the apprenticeship programme.

The other recommendation was that the 13-week employability strand should be integrated into the programme, and we have done that. It is incorporated at the beginning of the Training for Success programme and is an integral part of assessment and the induction phase.

Those are the substantial changes that we have made to Training for Success. The information that we have already received from the Education and Training Inspectorate is that it is a much better programme. We will continue to make the changes, and improve as we go on. Ms Kerr will talk about what we are doing for young people with disabilities.

Ms Kerr:

Based on the Committee’s advice, we asked the disability working group — a subgroup with the advisory group to the Department on disability — to look at Training for Success. It presented us with a report, and the Committee has a copy of the Department’s response to it.

That response sets out in detail the ways in which the Department has responded to the individual recommendations. A significant portion of recommendations deals with how we make available the information about the various programmes that we offer. Marketing and promotion should be better focused and better orchestrated with regard to young people with disabilities. Members will see the various responses that the Department has made to ensure that information is available in the right formats, is promoted in the appropriate manner and recognises the success of people with disabilities through, for example, the Apprentice of the Year awards.

The most important aspect of the report concerns the support that the young people receive when they enter, and prepare for, the programme. There are also a number of recommendations about the role of specialist support.

We will institute almost immediately — during April and May — and draw down on the provisions for the specialist support in order to ensure that the young people who are making the transition from school into those training programmes have the right level of support as they make their choices, as they use the careers service and as they join in the early part of those programmes. That addresses the most significant elements of the disability working group’s concern about the way in which young people are assimilated into the new programmes and whether they have the right level of support before they even join. It will mean a significant improvement in the experience of the young people concerned, and members will see that when they read the report.

Our written submissions explain how our careers service, the specialist support providers and the support groups will be engaging in different ways with the young people as they make the transition from school into the programme. Members may wish to consider the disability report separately. I am happy to come back to that issue.

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Newton):

The report arrived only this morning, so we will come back to it at a later stage.

Ms Kerr:

We intend to ask the working group to continue in its role and to monitor our implementation of its recommendations and the impact that that will have on the young people. We will do that also, but we will rely on the good advice of the working group to see how its approach operates and how it affects the young people as they join the programmes.

Mrs Bell:

I will move on to the apprenticeship programme. The Committee is carrying out a study and will make recommendations as a result of that. The biggest change that we have made is to move the apprenticeship programme out of Training for Success. It is now marketed and branded as ApprenticeshipsNI. It is our flagship programme, and we want it to continue being our flagship programme. We are working with employers to try to raise the profile and importance of ApprenticeshipsNI.

Some changes have been made. A young person can work now for level 2 or level 3 qualifications. In the highly skilled areas — the construction, engineering and automotive industries — an apprentice must achieve level 3 qualifications, and there is no doubt about that. We must ensure that young people who are making choices at school see the apprenticeship programme as a realistic and good alternative to staying on at school or moving on to a full-time further-education course.

We had some success when we opened up the apprenticeship programme to people of all ages. Now, a number of graduates are joining the programme and are being retrained. People coming through with that sort of profile will help the programme. Obviously, the apprenticeship framework is determined by the appropriate sector skills council and the employers that it covers. The main thing is that apprentices work to obtain the technical certificate, the appropriate national vocational qualification and the essential skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT. As we have said, the pre-apprenticeship programme is based on what the sector skills councils have said, and we have lifted the age restrictions on that programme.

The Committee made many recommendations on quality and contract management. However, there is a mistake at paragraph 3(a) of the Department’s written submission, which says that a quality improvement strategy has almost been completed. We already have a quality improvement strategy, a review of which has been completed. That review takes account of the specific recommendations made by the Committee, and it is being carried out in conjunction with the Education and Training Inspectorate. At the same time as reviewing the Department’s element, the inspectorate is reviewing its contribution. We expect that report towards the end of April.

We have agreed with the Education and Training Inspectorate that organisations that have contracts for Training for Success and ApprenticeshipsNI will be subject to a full institutional inspection every three years. There are ongoing specialist inspections, and there is a requirement to complete a quality-improvement plan every year.

We have strengthened our monitoring procedures. As well as ongoing liaison with contract managers, our assistant contract managers receive two formal visits every year in order to test their compliance with our operational guidelines. The Department’s financial audit support team (FAST) visits those organisations regularly. Organisations that have new contracts have had early financial visits.

We have in place a process for removing an organisation that receives a poor inspection report. Obviously, we initially give support and help to improve that. However, if there is no significant improvement, or there is non-compliance with the operational guidelines, we remove the contracts. We asked the Education and Training Inspectorate to send the Committee a copy of its annual report, and I hope that you have received it.

There are other changes that the Committee will be aware of. We have introduced a £40 educational maintenance allowance. Unlike the educational maintenance allowance for school and FE pupils, the family benefits are not affected by that allowance, so that is a good move. I suppose that the biggest disappointment is the economic downturn. Just as we were putting in place the marketing for the apprenticeship programme, persuading employers to take on apprentices became very difficult. We will continue to encourage apprenticeships, and we have been working with the sector skills councils. However, it is going to be a difficult year.

One of the things that we have turned our minds to is the creation of a programme that will allow young people who want to be apprentices to begin training, even if we cannot get them into employment. In its report, the Committee recommended piloting a programme-led training provision, and we now have the opportunity to do that. That is not where we wanted to go, but it might be what we have to do.

One area that sometimes causes difficulties is that of essentials skills. The Department is determined that essential skills will be part of the apprenticeship programme and Training for Success, because if people are not competent in literacy and numeracy, they will not benefit properly from training.

In conjunction with the Education and Training Inspectorate and sector skills councils, the five-year rule on GCSEs was removed. However, when the Department sought advice from the inspectorate on the delivery of essential skills, it was told that clients had to do 40 hours of literacy, numeracy and ICT. That is fine if the client is doing a full-time programme in a college, but it is very difficult when they are employed. Nevertheless, the Department is reluctant to go against professional advice; therefore, the inspectorate has been asked to revisit its advice and to consider whether other delivery methods are possible. We have also asked where the figure of 40 hours came from, and we have set up a steering group with the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils to look at that issue. We will certainly not remove essential skills from the apprenticeship programme: we are looking at its delivery.

Those are the main changes. We are more than happy to take questions on the detail.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Will you comment on the figures on the final two pages of your written submission?

Mrs Bell:

The programme was introduced in 2007, and the figures represent a snapshot, because that is the only way in which we could present them. If members look at the snapshot of this time last year — when we were operating under Training for Success mark 1 — numbers had dropped substantially. That was not unexpected with a new programme. However, the Department believes that it now has a better programme. Members will see that the numbers have gone up in relation to Training for Success and the apprenticeship programme. The figures have risen for the apprenticeship programme because it has been opened to adults. We would love to take credit by claiming that the increase was entirely due to young people, but that would be disingenuous.

As placements, or even full-time employment, become more difficult for young people to find, more of them turn to Training for Success. Therefore, the figures are good, but they mask the boost that has been afforded to the programme by other developments in the economy. Nonetheless, the Department is determined to have an excellent provision for young people who were failed by — or who failed in — the schools sector. They must be given a second chance. Hopefully, that is what Training for Success will do. Rather than being about failure, the apprenticeship programme is about providing training for the best people as technicians and advanced technicians.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you very much, Catherine. I thank you, on behalf of the Committee, for the complimentary remarks that you have made about our report and for the number of points that you have incorporated.

Before questions are taken, I have received a letter from the Minister — which you have seen — in respect of the figure 10,387 placements and 1,200 early leavers. Does the 10,387 incorporate those 1,200 early leavers?

Mrs Bell:

No, that was a snapshot at the time; more figures would have been added. Because Training for Success is a roll-on, roll-off programme, it is very difficult to provide a complete picture. However, it has been successful. Two things have happened to the apprenticeship programme — it was opened to adults and, under the 21-hours rule, to people who work part-time, which means that people can combine reduced-hours working with an apprenticeship programme.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Therefore, some of those 10,000 people are in part-time work while they are working for their qualifications?

Ms Bell:

Absolutely.

Ms Kerr:

It is worth noting that the effect of all that is to increase the participation of women in the programme. We are up to about 46% at present, and we were running at around 30%. The national figure is around 30%, so those changes seem to have impacted positively on women.

The Deputy Chairperson:

That is largely as a result of incorporating the part-time workers. Presumably, a lot of those people come from the retail sector?

Ms Bell:

Yes. The Committee asked us to consider the retail sector. However, we will have to keep an eye on the money in the apprenticeship programme to ensure that the retail sector does not run away with it, because our big aim is to support the high-skill areas and to get more people into those. However, at the moment, we are pleased to be able to offer apprenticeships in retailing, hospitality and tourism, and so on.

Mr Easton:

Thank you for your presentation. Obviously, the economic downturn is making it very difficult to get apprenticeships and work experience sorted out. Are you using the public sector to assist in that, because there are a lot of new building projects in the pipeline, including hospitals and schools? I come from a health sector background. I worked in medical records for 15 years, and, during that time, I never saw anyone come in for work experience.

Should we not try to use more of the public sector to make up that shortfall in the interim period?

Ms Bell:

Two things are happening. I cannot remember the exact numbers, but contracts worth over a certain amount of money must have a certain number of apprentices. A ratio of £2 million to three apprentices is in my mind, but I will confirm that for you. Therefore, we have that built in now under procurement.

Furthermore, our permanent secretary recently met with Government Skills, which is the sector skills council responsible for apprenticeships in government, and an agreement has been made that apprentices will be placed in the public sector. Our Department will lead the way, and we are going to run a pilot programme. There is a myriad of jobs in our Department, but the view is that the programme will be rolled out across other Departments in the public sector. Therefore, we are well aware of that issue. We will lead the way, and we are trying to encourage other Departments to follow.

Mr Easton:

Would a good debate in the Assembly help?

Ms Bell:

I could not possibly comment on that. [Laughter.]

The Deputy Chairperson:

Will that include arm’s-length bodies that the Government have formed?

Ms Bell:

There is no reason why it should not include them. In fact, Northern Ireland Water launched an apprenticeship programme last week. We have been pushing the apprenticeship programme as much as we can, but we will keep an eye on it and do more with arm’s length bodies.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Security of tenure in today’s economic climate is probably more solid with those types of bodies than it is in the private sector.

Mrs McGill:

Thank you for your briefing. I commend you for taking forward some of the recommendations on apprenticeships for young people with disabilities. I attended your event in the Long Gallery, and I was very pleased that Mr McConnell, who is a young man from my constituency, received an award.

The Deputy Chairperson:

What constituency is that? [Laughter.]

Mrs McGill:

Now that you ask, it was the Omagh campus of the South West College in West Tyrone. It was a good event, and I was delighted about that award. Recommendation 16 concerns travel costs for people in rural areas, which is an issue that I, and other members of the Committee, have raised previously. As the Deputy Chairperson said, we received the Department’s response on disability only today. I have not seen any information on travel costs.

Ms Bell:

We did not include everything, but —

Mrs McGill:

Could I finish my point on travel costs for young people from rural areas? I remember raising the issue with Nuala in the Senate many months ago. Has there been any progress on that matter?

Ms Bell:

We considered travel costs. The rule is that the young person covers the first £3 of the travel costs. Thereafter, they receive funding for additional travel costs. The Department did not feel that it needed to make changes because travel costs are covered.

Mrs McGill:

I have to dispute that assertion. Initially, I spoke to a young person who wanted to take up an apprenticeship, but was concerned about travelling from a rural area in west Tyrone. First, that person had to travel to a bus stop that was not on their doorstep. Thereafter, the individual had to travel to the Omagh campus to do a course. The young person’s parent contacted me and explained the difficulty of getting to the course and making it worthwhile. In the end, that young adult decided against attending the course because it cost too much. I am rehearsed on that story, which I raised previously and to which Nuala responded. I thought that the matter would be examined.

Ms Bell:

I am sorry, I misunderstood you. Under Training for Success, travel costs are paid for young people who are unemployed. Under the apprenticeship programme, there is no facility to pay travel costs for young people in employment who receive wages. We can reconsider the matter, but we have not assessed travel costs for apprentices. The only difficulty is that we are not the employer and have no way of obtaining the necessary information. Under Training for Success, young people are on the books of a training organisation. I am sorry; I misunderstood your question.

Mrs McGill:

I accept that, but —

The Deputy Chairperson:

For clarity, are you talking about the £40 educational maintenance allowance?

Mrs McGill:

No; I am talking about travel costs.

Ms Bell:

Young people on the Training for Success programme receive educational maintenance allowance and travel costs, and their parents’ benefits are not affected. A person who is employed, or is an apprentice, receives a wage or salary from the company. In that case, the Department pays for training, but has no locus on travel. Off the top of my head, the only problem would be determining travel costs. However, that does not stop us considering the matter. We do not want people to leave an apprenticeship programme because they cannot afford the travel costs. We will re-examine that specific issue.

Mrs McGill:

If I remember correctly, that young person wanted to do an automotive apprenticeship, and they ended up not proceeding with it.

Ms Bell:

We will certainly look at issue that again to see whether we could even fund travel for the training part of the apprenticeship.

The Deputy Chairperson:

When you look at that, will you write to the Committee?

Ms Bell:

Absolutely.

Mr Attwood:

I agree with you on one point: it has been too long since you have been before the Committee. I have some dissatisfaction with how the Department has handled this issue. It is nine months since the Department received our report, and, as far as I understand, this is the first time that we have had an update on its implementation.

It should be a convention that Departments, including DEL, respond to every recommendation in a Committee report. That is emphasised by Claire’s point, because our report recommended that a travel-cost scheme be introduced to all schemes, irrespective of what programme a young person is undertaking within Training for Success, yet you have said that you need to look at that issue again. If we had received a full response to all our recommendations sooner than nine months after the report’s publication, we might have been able to address that issue earlier.

Ms Bell:

At the outset, I said that I welcomed the opportunity to speak to you about what the Department has done. We have responded to all of the recommendations. When I first responded on the issue of travel, I was thinking of the new Training for Success programme and not the apprenticeship programme, so that was a misunderstanding. I also said that, after today’s meeting, the Department will make available a fulsome response to every point that the Committee has made. That response has already been drawn up, and you will have it for your next meeting. We were only providing a summary today. In our response, I will make it clear that I read the report’s reference to Training for Success as such, and not as a reference to the apprenticeship programme, and that that was my responsibility.

Mr Attwood:

How long have you had the Department’s full response?

Ms Bell:

We have had it for a considerable period.

Mr Attwood:

Why have you not sent it?

Ms Bell:

We wanted to talk to the Committee and take it through the response, point by point.

Mr Attwood:

How can the Committee respond in full to the Department’s overall response if we do not have a document that you have had for some time? We are unsighted, and all that I am saying is that it would have been much more helpful to Claire and I, for instance, if we had had your response to the points that we are making.

It is nine months since the report was published, and it is well into the second year of the Training for Success programme. The point is emphasised by the fact that the Committee wrote to the Department on 18 November 2008 about the recommendations of the disability subgroup on Training for Success, and we received your response this morning. That is not an efficient or prompt response to what the Committee was looking for.

Ms Bell:

I can only apologise for the fact that you did not receive the detailed response. We have been working through the Committee’s recommendations, point by point. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in future we will respond more quickly to reports from the Committee. The problem is that, if we had responded straight away, we would not have had the opportunity to work through some of the issues that you raised.

Mr Attwood:

You could have provided a preliminary response. I am not happy with that sort of time lag before we get information from the Department. You had information to give us, albeit on a conditional basis. You said that you have responded today to all of the Committee’s recommendations, but you have not responded to all of them.

There is a whole series of recommendations that you have not responded to today. Many of the concerns that were expressed about Training for Success centred on the Carter and Carter matter. What discussions have you had about the automotive sector? There is no mention of that in your report.

Let me give you some other examples: what has or has not happened on the subject of enforcing minimum rates of pay via contract arrangements? That matter was flagged up to you long before the Training for Success report was endorsed by the Assembly. Where are we, a year or more later, on minimum rates of pay, which, again, was the subject of an explicit recommendation by the Committee?

Please answer those questions, after which, Chairperson, I have a second set of questions to ask.

Ms Bell:

Let me deal with the issue of the automotive sector first. As you know, we commissioned the inspectorate to report on the matter, and we have accepted that report. At the same time, however, we have been working with Transport Training Services Ltd and we have been to see its facilities. Departmental officials have looked at similar provision in England; in the next phase, we will hold a conference with the key stakeholders in the automotive sector so that we take their views. We recognise that it is not a huge sector, but it is an important one, and the key issue is to ensure that there are proper facilities for all the different types of cars that have been made.

We have not come to a final decision on the automotive sector, but the other big issue is the contracting arrangements that we put in place with the colleges, which are still working on those contracts. I appreciate that what happened with Carter and Carter was not satisfactory; that is why, when it comes to contracting, we are looking radically at how we will take Training for Success and ApprenticeshipsNI forward after 2010.

The Minister wrote to the Committee on the minimum wage issue to say that we were part of the review by the Low Pay Commission, which has been in touch with the Department to say that it will report by 1 May this year. We will implement whatever recommendations it makes.

Mr Attwood:

That was not what the Committee recommended. The Committee recommended that the Department should introduce and enforce a minimum rate of pay via contract arrangements similar to those that apply in the system in England. Whatever the Low Pay Commission recommends or does not recommend is different from what we recommended. What have you done in respect —

Ms Bell:

We have not done anything about that, because the Minister agreed with us that the Low Pay Commission was undertaking a review, that we would be a part of that review and that we would implement whatever came out of it.

Mr Attwood:

That is news to me. That seems to be a different question, which might have a different answer about what the rate of pay might be, as opposed to enforcing contract arrangements. For clarification then, you have done nothing about that because the Minister decided that it was not the way to handle the situation.

Ms Bell:

The Minister decided that we would be part of the Low Pay Commission’s review. Rather than us start a piece of work that may or may not have been overtaken by recommendations from the Low Pay Commission, we are waiting for the outcome of that review.

Mr Attwood:

Is the Low Pay Commission looking at contracting arrangements?

Ms Bell:

No.

Mr Attwood:

So why are we not looking at what the Committee recommended? We must pursue that matter, Chairperson.

The Deputy Chairperson:

When will the Low Pay Commission publish its report?

Ms Bell:

1 May.

Mr Attwood:

It is reporting on a different matter. The Committee made different recommendations.

Ms Kerr:

I am sorry to interrupt, Mr Attwood. We have taken on board the Committee’s comments and the fact that it has recommended that we consider what enforceable contractual actions we can take. The Low Pay Commission is considering apprentices’ pay as part of the remit of its report.

Within that context, we certainly intend to take into account the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission.

Mr Attwood:

Unless there is a contractual relationship between the Department and the training organisation — or whoever — whereby minimum rates of pay for apprenticeships are guaranteed, it makes not a whit of difference what the Low Pay Commission recommends in respect of apprenticeships.

Let us move on, I conclude from your last answer on the automotive sector that it could be 2010, when the next Training for Success programme is contracted, before the outworking of recommendation 24 arises.

Ms Bell:

I did not mean to give you that impression. At present, our colleges are going through a process of looking at centres of excellence and the national skills academies in England. We also had to take that into consideration. Contracting will start in 2010, but we will make changes before that if we deem it necessary.

Mr Attwood:

That would be more helpful, because from now until 2010 is too long a period. The uptake of Training for Success apprenticeships is very good, and the figure for that is more than the 10,000 target. How many of those people are over 25?

Ms Bell:

Of the new apprentices that started on 1 September 2008, 46% were over 25. I do not have the precise figures to hand, but I will come back to you.

Mr Attwood:

I already knew that to be the case, because we previously got information. However, the target for under-25s is 10,000 apprentices. Therefore, when you said the target of 10,000 apprentices has now been exceeded, half of those were actually from the over-25s category that has only just been allowed to join. Therefore, the reality is that only around half of the 10,000 target of under-25s is being reached. Is that the case?

Ms Bell:

No. That 46% represents those apprentices who joined in September 2008. Therefore, significantly more apprentices are under 25 than over 25. You are absolutely right; we want to see the number of apprentices in the under-25s category increase substantially; however, it is incredibly difficult to get companies to employ people at this moment in time.

Mr Attwood:

I appreciate that, but the target was to have 10,000 under-25s on Training for Success apprenticeships. Therefore, how many are under 25?

Ms Bell:

We will give you those figures separately.

Mr Attwood:

Is it about 5,000 or 6,000?

Ms Bell:

It is probably more than 6,000.

Mr Attwood:

It is not much more than that, as far as I can recall.

Ms Bell:

I do not think it is much more than that.

Mr Attwood:

My point is that you gave us those figures to show that you are now above your target, without differentiating between the fact that some of the apprentices are over 25, and not part of the original target — that does not seem to represent a full picture.

The Deputy Chairperson:

The original target for apprentices was 10,000. Although the recommendation of the Committee was to remove the age barrier — and that helped — you had some concerns about how much of that would be in retailing. However, the fact is that the removal of that age barrier has helped you to reach that target of 10,000. There are now 10,300 apprentices; do you want that figure to perhaps increase by another 46%?

Ms Bell:

We want many more young people in our apprenticeship programme, particularly in high-skill areas. We also want young people to progress from the stage at which they start. We particularly want level-3 apprentices to progress onto a foundation degree and for engineers to progress to professional engineering.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Alex’s point — which Catherine just indicated — is that you want more younger people to start apprenticeships as opposed to older people.

Ms Bell:

We want both types of people to start apprenticeships. We see adult apprenticeships as a fundamental part of adult upskilling, because we know that 70% of that workforce will still be there in 2020.

Consequently, the more adults that we can get to join an apprenticeship programme, the better.

Mr Attwood:

I welcome that because a cap at the age of 25 made little sense. However, the Committee was told by the Department that between 10,000 and 25,000 apprenticeships were necessary to provide the skills base for Northern Ireland in the future. Two years into the programme, the number may be approximately 6,000. That raises issues.

My final questions are —

The Deputy Chairperson:

We are running short of time.

Mr Attwood:

I will take one minute.

The Deputy Chairperson:

The Minister is due to arrive at 12.00 noon.

Mr Attwood:

Ms Bell, will you come back to the Committee in relation to last week’s evidence from ANIC about the Department considering apprenticeships in non-traditional areas? ANIC considered that some sectors skills councils operate a closed shop, and they gave plumbing as one example.

You need not necessarily respond to my final point, but I do not think that the Department learned anything from errors made in the procurement exercise for Training for Success. It learned nothing about having guarantees for subcontracting arrangements. The Department did not learn, and even compounded the errors, during the procurement process for Steps to Work. I am corresponding with the Minister about that, but he will not reply because of legal reasons, which I do not accept.

Ms Bell:

Will you let us know what specific issue was raised about the closed shop? That is the first time that anyone has raised it.

The Deputy Chairperson:

The Committee Clerk will drop you a line about that.

As there are no further questions, I thank you for attending today, Catherine and Nuala. You intimated that you were disappointed that such a long time had elapsed since you were last here.

Ms Bell:

That is not really the case. [Laughter.]

The Deputy Chairperson:

When Alex was welcoming you, he said that he thought that you might have been here much sooner. Thank you for coming.

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