Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Committee: Employment and Learning

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 17 June 2009

Reference: NIA 42/08/09R

ISBN: 978-0-339-60280-9

DEL Response to the Committee Report on the Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Session 2008/2009
Second Report

COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

Inquiry into the Way Forward
for Apprenticeships

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the committee
relating to the report and the minutes of evidence Ordered by the Committee for Employment and Learning to be printed 17 June 2009
Report: 42/08/09R (Committee for Employment and Learning)

This document is available in a range of alternative formats.
For more information please contact the
Northern Ireland Assembly, Printed Paper Office,
Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, BT4 3XX
Tel: 028 9052 1078

Membership and Powers

The Committee for Employment and Learning is a Statutory Departmental Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order 46 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Employment and Learning and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Employment and Learning.

The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons and papers and records that are relevant to its inquiries.

The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of 5. The membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton * (Deputy Chairperson)

Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter **
Mr Alex Easton ***
Mr David Hilditch ***
Mr William Irwin ***
Ms Anna Lo Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Jim Wells on 29 May 2007

* Mr Robin Newton replaced Mr Jimmy Spratt as Deputy Chairperson on 10th June 2008

** Rev Dr Robert Coulter replaced Mr Basil McCrea on 15 September 2008

*** Mr Alex Easton, Mr David Hilditch and Mr William Irwin replaced Mr Nelson McCausland,
Mr Alastair Ross and Mr Jimmy Spratt on 15 September 2008

Table of Contents

List of abbreviations used in the report

Report

Executive Summary

Key Conclusions and Recommendations

Introduction

Consideration of Evidence

Appendix 1:

Minutes of Proceedings relating to the report

Appendix 2:

Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 3:

Written Evidence Submitted by Witnesses

Appendix 4:

Research Papers

Appendix 5:

Correspondence

Appendix 6:

Additional Papers

List of Abbreviations
used in the Report

‘The Committee’ Committee for Employment and Learning

‘The Department’ Department for Employment and Learning

‘The Executive’ Northern Ireland Executive

‘The Minister’ Minister for Employment and Learning

‘ANIC’ Association of Northern Ireland Colleges

‘ASSC’ Association of Sector Skills Councils

‘ATAs’ Apprenticeship Training Agencies

‘BMC’ Belfast Metropolitan College

‘CAD’ Computer Aided Design

‘CAFRE’ College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise

‘CBI’ Confederation of British Industry

‘CIFNI’ Construction Industry Forum for Northern Ireland

‘CITB’ Construction Industry Training Board

‘DBIS’ Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

‘DE’ Department of Education

‘DEL’ Department for Employment and Learning

‘DFP’ Department of Finance and Personnel

‘DIUS’ Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

‘EMA’ Educational Maintenance Allowance

‘ESB’ Employment Services Board

‘ETC’ Engineering Training Council

‘ETI’ Education Training Inspectorate

‘FE’ Further Education

‘FOSEC’ Foyle School and Employer Connections

‘FSB’ Federation of Small Businesses

‘GTA’ Group Training Association

‘ICT’ Information and Computer Technologies

‘ILT’ Information and Learning Technologies

‘ISNI’ Investment Strategy of Northern Ireland

‘NAS’ Role of the National Apprenticeship Service

‘NEET’ Not currently in employment, education or training

‘NICS’ Northern Ireland Civil Service

‘NIE’ Northern Ireland Electricity

‘NI Water’ Northern Ireland Water

‘NOS’ National Operational Standards

‘NVQ’ National Vocational Qualification

‘QCF’ Qualifications Credit Framework

‘QPANI’ Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland

‘SSC’ Sector Skills Council

‘SEMTA’ Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies

‘SME’ Small and Medium Enterprises

‘STEM’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

‘WDF’ Workforce Development Forum

Executive Summary

At its meeting of 19th November 2008, the Committee for Employment and Learning (‘the Committee’) agreed to investigate how apprenticeship programmes need to evolve to be responsive to the skills requirements of the modern global economy and how they might be designed to better weather an economic downturn. The stimulus for this Inquiry was the Minister for Employment and Learning’s (‘the Minister’) statement to the Assembly on Tuesday 11th November 2008 with regard to contingencies he is seeking to put in place to help apprentices that have been made redundant in the recession. The Committee is specifically looking at how the current system of apprenticeships might evolve to be more robust in the face of an economic downturn, or recession, and to be more responsive to the fast-changing requirements for particular skills and skills pools in the global economy. This would seek to take the situation regarding the position of apprentices to a new level, beyond the contingencies. In addition, new contracts for Apprenticeships NI will be awarded in 2010, with preparatory work starting in 2009. Ideally, the work coming from this Inquiry will allow the Committee to partner the Department for Employment and Learning (‘the Department’) in shaping and informing that process.

On 26th May 2009, during the compilation of this report, the Minister announced further contingencies for apprentices, particularly focusing on those on short-time working in the manufacturing engineering sector. The ‘Skillsafe’ scheme that the minister announced is aimed at providing additional funding for training for these apprentices with the aim of boosting their wages and ensuring that they remain seen by their employer as an appreciating asset, rather than a drain on resources.

In judging the way forward for apprenticeships, the Committee asked two key questions: “Why don’t employers take up apprenticeships in greater numbers and why do apprenticeships lack status and profile? How can apprenticeships be better protected in a downturn?" At its core this Inquiry is seeking to get to grips with why so many employers, especially SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), which form such a big part of our private sector, do not take on apprentices, and how to make apprentices less vulnerable to redundancy in an economic downturn. All of the stakeholders from whom the Committee heard evidence were obviously supportive of apprenticeships and clearly wanted to see them succeed. It was acknowledged by all those who gave evidence that apprenticeships have an important role to play in providing a broad range of technical, professional and employability skills that employers need. It was also widely accepted that the journey from Jobskills to Apprenticeships NI, via Training for Success, has been challenging but worthwhile, providing great benefits to employers, employees and training providers.

In terms of issues that are holding back the uptake of apprenticeships by both employers and individuals, there was a significant degree of agreement on the factors perpetuating this, such as:

  • expense;
  • burdensome bureaucracy and excessive administration;
  • perceived flaws in the funding mechanism;
  • the duplication of auditing and inspection;
  • problems surrounding Essential skills provision;
  • a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; and
  • apprentices’ travel costs and wage levels;

In addition, it was apparent that apprenticeships do not enjoy a high degree of status and are often seen as a second choice career pathway when compared with the university route. This perception has hampered the recruitment of the highest calibre of candidate to apprenticeships. In sectors which relate to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) it has become increasingly difficult to recruit enough apprentices. These STEM subjects have seen a decline in uptake from schools right through to Further and Higher Education. However, it is the STEM sectors which drive the economy forward and require the highest numbers of ‘replacement’ staff and new staff to drive forward workforce and economic development.

This Report details ways in which these issues can be taken forward, with a number of these provisions having the added benefit of making apprenticeships less exposed to an economic downturn. There are recommendations for better marketing and recruitment of apprenticeships, better ways of funding and providing more structured incentivisation, and alternatives to existing forms of administration, auditing and inspection of apprenticeships.

The Committee considered evidence on a variety of innovations that could provide a useful way forward for apprentices, such as: Centres of Excellence and exemplars of Good Practice; areas of expansion, such as non-traditional apprenticeships, public sector apprenticeships and ‘technician’ apprenticeships; quotas of apprentices within the workforce of employers as a pre-requisite to them being awarded public procurement contracts; apprenticeships being a clearly signposted and open-ended career pathway; the shortening of apprenticeships and the creation of ‘fast-tracking’ where appropriate; greater embedding of transferable skills within apprenticeships and the expansion of multi-skill apprenticeships; broadening participation and widening access, with particular reference to all-age apprenticeships and the participation of existing and part-time staff in upskilling and reskilling; the benefits, particularly for SMEs, of Group Training Associations (GTAs) and Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs). The Committee viewed a number of these ideas specifically in the context of whether they would encourage greater SME participation in apprenticeships. The Committee also believes that the construction industry would benefit greatly from the application of GTAs and a Centre of Excellence to give greater consistency of training across the sector. The Committee examined the structure and position of the pre-apprenticeship programmes and how these might be used to allow a ‘safe haven’ in times of economic turbulence for apprentices who have been made redundant.

Finally, the Committee considered the respective roles of the colleges and the employers and employer groups in the provision of apprenticeships. Weighing up the evidence gathered throughout the Inquiry, the Committee made the overarching recommendation that the future of apprenticeships lies in the hands of employers and employer groups. They should be the drivers of how apprenticeships should evolve. In this way the issues that act as a disincentive for employers to take on apprentices can be properly tackled and apprenticeships can be seen as an essential part of every business, large or small. In this way too, the poor image of apprenticeships should also be improved as it will be in the direct interest of the employers and their groups to encourage the best candidates to enter apprenticeships. This is also likely to discourage employers from seeing apprenticeships as a boom time ‘luxury’ and more as an ongoing investment in productivity and profitability. The colleges will maintain the role in which they excel - the provision of directed training and certification.

The Committee offers its recommendations from this Inquiry to the Department for consideration and looks forward to further discussion and agreement in laying the foundations for Apprenticeships NI for 2010.

Key Recommendations

1. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department seeks to make Apprenticeships NI for 2010 employer-focused and configures the contracting process to make this possible, including measures that give employers or employer bodies more responsibility for recruitment and the running of apprenticeships, and those which will encourage the involvement of SMEs. The Committee commends the work that the colleges have done in responding to the needs of employers and their primary focus should remain in the area at which they excel - the provision of directed training and certification.

2. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department engages with employers with respect to the introduction and enforcement of a minimum wage for apprentices and reviews the funding structure within Apprenticeships NI to examine:

  • the options for greater funding at the start of apprenticeship programmes and for incentivising during programmes, particularly the move from National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 2 to Level 3 when employers are likely to have higher costs;
  • differential funding for apprenticeships where the training requires a higher level of specialisation and is therefore more costly; and
  • targeting the support of apprenticeships where the skills will add value to the economy, as the Committee realises that resources are not unlimited.

3. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department engages with colleges and employers to broker more flexible arrangements for the delivery of the colleges’ elements of apprentices’ training, with particular regard to timing, location, cost and the structure of the training – part of this must be a review of the fees structure of Apprenticeships NI.

4. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department examines the feasibility of providing a single point of contact in the Department to deal with the training providers involved in the Apprenticeships NI programme. This single point of contact should have the necessary authority to resolve and action all queries regarding the Department’s input to Apprenticeships NI. All reviews of Apprenticeships NI should be underpinned by the imperative of ensuring that the programme is constantly streamlined and that any unnecessary bureaucracy is identified and eliminated. Streamlining would particularly involve key processes such as administration and inspection. There is a need to ensure that duplication and inefficiency are avoided.

5. The Committee strongly supports any and all efforts by the Department, and other relevant departments, to engage with schools and employers to boost the status and perception of, and recruitment to, apprenticeships. This should include the use of the new Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Strategy in conjunction with the Careers Service to raise the profile of apprenticeships in schools. The Committee would suggest that the importance of this strand of our workforce and economic development makes it worthy of action across the Northern Ireland Executive (‘the Executive’).

6. The Committee urges the Minister to seek the support of his Executive colleagues in establishing in legislation that an appropriate quota of apprentices should be involved in the workforce undertaking any public procurement contract. It is also important to ensure that these apprentices remain employed with the contractor beyond the period of the contract.

Other Recommendations

7. The Committee commends the Minister on the introduction of the ‘Skillsafe’ scheme. The Committee recommends that the Minister considers its expansion into other sectors beyond manufacturing engineering, particularly prioritising areas where skills add value to the economy.

8. The Committee recommends that the Department, through contracting arrangements and engagement with suppliers and employers, makes every effort to ensure that the transition from an NVQ Level 2 to a Level 3 apprenticeship is as seamless as possible, with continuity of provision to the apprentice being the priority. The Committee would also advocate that movement beyond NVQ Level 3 into Further and Higher education should also be as straightforward and fluid as possible.

9. The Committee urges the Department to engage with training suppliers and employers to explore the possibilities for Information and Learning Technologies within apprenticeship programmes and for apprentices’ independent learning and actively supports and encourages the use of these kinds of facilities.

10. The Committee recommends that the Minister searches out examples of former apprentices who have reached management level in companies such as Bombardier, NIE, Phoenix Gas and geographicially representative SMEs. Such individuals must be put at the heart of future advertising campaigns for Apprenticeships NI, illustrating that apprenticeships are an open-ended career pathway. Media formats more readily accessed by young people should be targeted and less traditional apprenticeships should be highlighted.

11. The Committee recommends that the Department undertakes an analysis of the reasons for non-completion of apprenticeships and factors this into the model for Apprenticeships NI.

12. The Committee recommends that the Department continues to engage with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and the representatives of the construction industry and its employers to identify ways to eliminate some of the structural obstacles that exist within areas of the sector to the provision of broader and better supported training for apprentices. The Committee further recommends that the Centre of Excellence and GTA models are examined for their appropriateness in meeting these sectoral needs.

13. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department examines all the issues and suggestions that have been made by stakeholders with regard to Centres of Excellence, with a view to proceeding towards the establishment of such facilities.

14. The Committee recommends that the Department examines the opportunities for establishing apprenticeships (and pre-apprenticeships, where appropriate) in the health service here as this has been undertaken successfully within the NHS in England, and that the Minister engages with the Education and Local Government sectors via the Executive to examine the opportunities for establishing apprenticeships (and pre-apprenticeships, where appropriate) in these areas.

15. The Committee recommends that the Department engages with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) and other stakeholders to examine the options around Group Training Associations (GTAs) providing apprenticeship services to employers.

Introduction

Background

1. During the 2007/2008 session of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Committee for Employment and Learning (‘the Committee’) undertook an Inquiry into the Department for Employment and Learning’s (‘the Department’) Training for Success programme. One of the key responses to a specific recommendation made by the Committee is that the Department launch apprenticeships as a stand alone brand. The Committee commends the Minister for doing this in September 2008 with the launch of Apprenticeships NI.

2. At its meeting of 19th November 2008, the Committee agreed to investigate how apprenticeships need to evolve to be responsive to the skills requirements of the modern global economy. The investigation resulted from the Minister for Employment and Learning’s (‘the Minister’) statement to the Assembly on Tuesday 11th November with regard to contingencies he is seeking to put in place to help apprentices that have been made redundant in the recession. The Committee took this as an opportunity to undertake, earlier than planned, an Inquiry into Apprenticeships NI, specifically looking at how the current system of apprenticeships might evolve to be more robust in the face of an economic downturn, or recession, and to be more responsive to the fast-changing requirements for particular skills and skills pools in the global economy. This would seek to take the position of apprenticeships to a new level, beyond the contingencies. In addition, new contracts for Apprenticeships NI will be awarded in 2010, with preparatory work starting in 2009. Ideally, the work coming from this Investigation will allow the Committee to partner the Department in shaping and informing that process.

Objective and Terms of Reference

3. The objective of this Investigation is:

“To collate and consider the opinions and views of the providers, recipients and the utilisers of apprenticeships, and to seek useful regional and international examples of good practice in apprenticeships, with a view to producing a report of recommendations to the Minister for Employment and Learning".

4. In meeting this objective, the Committee received briefings from departmental officials and also took evidence from a range of stakeholders. The Committee sought to:

  • Establish the expectations and requirements of those undertaking and providing apprenticeships and to relate this to the changing needs of the economy with regard to skills;
  • Identify and analyse relevant experience elsewhere in terms of structures, practices and key targets/outcomes; and
  • Consider the approach to apprenticeships required by different sectors and determine how this might shape policy interventions and programmes.

5. The Committee hopes that the recommendations flowing from this Investigation will form the basis of a consensus between the Committee and the Minister’s department. From there the Committee hopes that this consensus will inform the evolution of policy on apprenticeships to meet the skills requirements of a modern economy.

The Committee’s Approach

6. A methodology based on evidence gathering (oral and written) was used as the basis for the Committee’s investigation programme. Written and oral evidence was gathered from:

  • the Department;
  • the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges;
  • the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils;
  • the Federation of Small Businesses;
  • the Confederation of British Industry;
  • Bombardier (operators of their own apprenticeship scheme);
  • Northern Ireland Electricity (operators of their own apprentice scheme);
  • the Education and Training Inspectorate;
  • SEMTA and the Engineering Training Council (NI);
  • the Construction Industry Training Board;
  • individual apprentices; and
  • individual small businesses;

7. Submissions received and minutes of evidence are annexed to this report.

Consideration of Evidence

Context

8. As indicated above, the Committee examined apprenticeships at part of its Inquiry into the Training for Success programme, which reported in May 2008. Flowing from the Committee’s specific recommendation in that Report, the Department removed apprenticeships from the Training for Success programme and established Apprenticeships NI in September 2008. As the economic downturn began to bite more noticeably in the last two quarters of 2008, Committee members were made aware by constituents and other stakeholder groups that growing numbers of apprentices were being made redundant by their employers, effectively preventing them from completing their apprenticeships. The most acute situation appeared to the Committee to be in the construction industry, which had the highest number of apprentices being made redundant and also seemed to be one of the hardest hit of any industry by the economic downturn. The Committee was also made aware of growing numbers of redundant apprentices in other industries.

9. The Committee expressed its concern regarding this situation to the Minister and suggested that his Department should investigate how it might provide options for redundant apprentices that might allow them to continue their apprenticeships. In response, the Minister indicated a number of contingency arrangements that his Department would put in place in an effort to address the situation regarding redundant apprentices who were unable to complete their apprenticeship. The Minister made a statement to the Assembly on 11th November 2008, publicly announcing the contingency arrangements for redundant apprentices in the construction, engineering and motor vehicle industries, as follows:

  • the Department will engage with the ASSC and other relevant employer bodies, to encourage alternative employers to take on any apprentices who have been made redundant. These ‘Foster Employers’ will include employers with a history of investing in apprentices, as well as employers who perhaps have not done so before. To support this commitment the Department will contribute a small amount of conditional funding towards the additional wage costs;
  • for those apprentices who have been made redundant, but are unable to find a Foster Employer, the Department will put in place provisions to permit them to continue training, and work towards the completion of their Apprenticeship Framework;
  • for apprentices aged 18 and over within the construction, engineering and motor vehicle sectors, the Department will use the Steps to Work employment initiative to offer NVQ Level 2 or Level 3 placements with employers of up to 52 weeks. This will allow these apprentices to continue their NVQ training and assessment under this programme, whilst separate arrangements will be put in place with Further Education (FE) colleges to offer a Technical Certificate and Essential Skills training - free of charge - through either evening or weekend classes. Whilst on Steps to Work, apprentices will be entitled to a benefit-based training allowance and may also qualify for other benefits; and
  • for apprentices who are aged 16 and 17, and have been made redundant, the Pre-Apprenticeship component of Training for Success will allow them to return to training, and complete the Technical Certificate and Essential Skills elements of an Apprenticeship Framework. It is anticipated that this training period will make these participants much more employable, allowing them to complete the NVQ qualification once back in employment.

10. The Minister acknowledged that the success of the contingencies depends on employer placements and conceded that falling numbers of placements had created the redundancies in the first place. He further indicated that, should the contingency arrangements seem no longer appropriate that he will ask his officials to examine other interventions.

11. The Minister also confirmed that the basic tenet of apprenticeships is that apprentices must be in employment to complete their framework and demonstrate competence in the workplace and that the full time training option cannot deliver that.

12. The Committee commends the Minister on his actions in putting in place contingency arrangements for the benefit of redundant apprentices; however, the Committee believes that the arrangements are too heavily dependent on employers being able to take on additional apprentices without sufficient incentives being put in place to facilitate that. The Committee regards the apparent failure of Foster Employers coming forward as an illustration of this. The initiative would therefore seem to have been announced prematurely without sufficient preparation and would appear to reflect poorly on the advice received by the Minister.

13. The Committee’s view that the current format of Apprenticeships NI is not protecting apprentices from redundancy, and the belief that the contingency arrangements above, announced by the Minister, do not go far enough, prompted the Committee at its meeting on 19th November 2008, to agree to look at how Apprenticeships NI can evolve to include better strategies for apprentices in economic downturns and might be more responsive to the needs of employers in our predominantly Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) private sector economy, while also rising to the challenges of an increasingly global economy.

14. During the compilation of this Report the minister put in place further arrangements for apprentices during the recession. On 26th May the Minister announced to the Assembly that his Department will begin the operation of a new ‘Skillsafe’ scheme from 8th June 2009. This scheme will make up to £6M available for training apprentices placed on short-time working. Funding will come partly from the Department’s existing budget and partly from the European Social Fund. The idea is that the apprentice’s employer and the relevant training organisation will, with the Department’s help, fill the apprentice’s ‘down time’ with accredited training that will contribute to their apprenticeship. The apprentice will be paid a training allowance to offset their reduced pay from the short-time working. In addition, the scheme will contribute to the additional training cost involved. The purpose of the scheme, and hence the name, is to preserve the skills that are being developed in apprentices and help to lessen the likelihood that an employer may be forced to move from short-time work for apprentices to redundancy. The programme will initially focus on the manufacturing engineering sector and will potentially expand into other sectors. The Minister indicated that he will announce further interventions in the future.

15. The Committee commends the Minister on the introduction of the ‘Skillsafe’ scheme. The Committee recommends that the Minister considers its expansion into other sectors beyond manufacturing engineering, particularly prioritising areas where skills add value to the economy.

16. The Committee received considerable evidence from stakeholders and Members quickly realised that apprenticeships undertaken in different sectors operate at very different levels and standards. While the Committee accepts that the different nature of varying sectors will mean that they will operate apprenticeships differently, Members were not content that all apprentices were receiving an equal start to their professional career.

Apprenticeships NI

17. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) undertook a survey of Apprenticeships NI between November 2008 and January 2009. The Committee considers it might have been useful if the Executive Summary provided statistics or quantified measurements. The ETI measured the effectiveness of Apprenticeships NI based on how well it meets the needs of the apprentices, the employers and the community at large. The programme was also evaluated on how it meets the broader aims of social cohesion and economic development here. The survey focused on a number of aspects of the programme, including the quality and appropriateness of provision, standards of achievement, leadership and management, and quality of care, support and guidance experienced by apprentices.

18. The breadth of the survey appeared to be sufficient, with 19 training supplier organisations being visited, 26 apprenticeships being surveyed, covering a range of professional and technical areas of a variety of sectors. Over 60 employers were visited for the survey and 246 apprentices were asked to complete a pastoral care questionnaire prior to the survey being carried out. Discussions were also held with representatives of 3 of the Workforce Development Forums (WDF), 12 of the SSCs and the Department. Additionally members of the inspection team visited the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and an FE college and the Learning and Skills Council in England to compare and benchmark practice. Again, the Committee cannot see any significant fault in the ETI’s methodology.

Findings

19. The ETI concluded that the quality of training provided by the supplier organisations is mostly good or better with their leadership and management being similarly rated. The survey flagged up the worrying trend that recruitment is still lower than required in priority skill areas such as computing and ICT and software engineering. These issues should be a priority for the Department to address. The survey also flagged up that the majority of apprentices hold less than 5 GCSEs above grade C, or the equivalent. On entry to programmes, a significant minority of apprentices do not hold a Level 2 qualification in literacy or numeracy. The issue of increasing the appeal of apprenticeships to better qualified students has been discussed above in Recruitment; however, the ETI’s survey shows that Apprenticeships NI is tending to be the choice for those students with a limited number of options and, as discussed previously, that situation needs to be addressed. The survey indicated that a minority of the supplier organisations, mostly the Regional Colleges, in collaborations with the SSCs and/or the WDFs, have responded well to the particular training needs of employers through the provision of customised apprenticeships that effectively meet requirements both locally and regionally. The Committee is particularly happy to see that the considerable investment that the Department has made in the Regional Colleges has produced some important benefits and in particular instances the colleges are collaborating productively with SSCs and WDFs to the benefit of employers.

20. An area that the survey highlighted that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible is the inadequate strategic collaboration and planning between most NVQ Level 2 and 3 suppliers and respective employers. To ensure effective progression at this key stage requires continuity and the elimination of any disruption.

21. The Committee recommends that the Department, through contracting arrangements and engagement with suppliers and employers, makes every effort to ensure that the transition from an NVQ Level 2 to a Level 3 apprenticeship is as seamless as possible, with continuity of provision to the apprentice being the priority. The Committee would also advocate that movement beyond NVQ Level 3 into Further and Higher education should also be as straightforward and fluid as possible.

22. The survey indicates that the majority of apprentices are achieving standards of work that are good to excellent and that retention rates and quality of training and learning provided across the apprenticeship programmes are good or better in the main. Again, greater quantification of these conclusions would have been useful for the Committee. The survey did highlight concerns about inadequate planning for the integration and consolidation of apprentices’ literacy and numeracy skills within their professional and technical programmes – this issue is discussed above. Another issue that needs to be addressed is limited use made by supplier organisations of Information and Learning Technologies (ILT) to support the apprentices’ independent learning through virtual learning environments and online resources.

23. The Committee urges the Department to engage with training suppliers and employers to explore the possibilities for Information and Learning Technologies within apprenticeship programmes and for apprentices’ independent learning and actively supports and encourages the use of these kinds of facilities.

24. Reassuringly, the survey found that the majority of apprentices are well cared for and supported, with most enjoying their apprenticeship programme in an environment that is safe and secure. However, the quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance provided for apprentices on progression pathways to higher level training and education programmes is “variable". As discussed above, it is key that apprenticeships are seen as a good career pathway – one that can take the apprentice to the highest levels in their chosen career. Only when this is established will the status of apprenticeships improve. The issue of the career pathway is discussed further below.

Issues raised by stakeholders during evidence sessions

25. A variety of issues regarding Apprenticeships NI were raised during the evidence sessions that the Committee undertook for the Inquiry, however, there were key themes that the Committee found to be common to most, if not all, of the sessions.

Status, Perception and Recruitment

26. All of the stakeholders presenting evidence to the Committee as part of this Inquiry highlighted issues surrounding the status, perception and, as a consequence of these, recruitment to apprenticeships.

27. It was apparent that all stakeholders have a genuine desire to work in partnership with the Department to improve apprenticeships and make them prosper. However, all the stakeholders indicated that the perception of apprenticeships amongst the general public was of schemes that were somehow old-fashioned and best suited to those who were “not academic" and would not be able to gain entry to university. A strong perception still exists that apprenticeships are limited to “the trades", such as plumbing, construction, or electricians. There is a general lack of awareness as to the sectors where apprenticeships are available and what a modern apprenticeship really is. There is also little recognition generally that apprenticeships can be as open-ended a career path as going to university and gaining professional qualifications there. Despite government efforts, highly skilled craftspeople do not receive the recognition and profile in our society that they deserve. In Germany, craftspeople, scientists and engineers share at least equal status with the professions. This misperception of what apprenticeships are and what they can lead to, continues to diminish their status and leads to difficulties recruiting the best students onto apprenticeship schemes. The challenge is to change that perception and begin building up the status of apprenticeships to the point where they are seen as a career pathway that is weighed equally with university study by young people. Not only do apprenticeships need to be marketed more creatively to students and parents, they must be marketed more effectively to employers.

28. Bombardier indicated to the Committee that it has used a variety of methods over time to encourage applications for its apprenticeship programme; however, the use of radio advertising has been particularly successful over the last couple of years and has boosted applications. The result of a higher number of applications for apprenticeships is likely to be an improvement in the quality of those undertaking an apprenticeship. The knock-on effect of this is likely to be an improvement in the status of apprenticeships. 30% of management graded staff at the Bombardier facilities here began their careers as apprentices. These members of staff often go on to play a significant role in the management and development of other companies, both locally and further afield. Greater effort is required to promote apprenticeships as a modern, high quality training route by the Department and Executive generally.

29. The Committee recommends that the Minister searches out examples of former apprentices who have reached management level in companies such as Bombardier, NIE, Phoenix Gas and geographically representative SMEs. Such individuals must be put at the heart of future advertising campaigns for Apprenticeships NI, illustrating that apprenticeships are an open-ended career pathway. Media formats more readily accessed by young people should be targeted and less traditional apprenticeships should be highlighted.

30. The education sector needs to play a bigger role in the promotion of apprenticeships as a worthwhile and exciting career pathway - ideally there should be parity between vocational and academic qualifications. A vital part of this work needs to be undertaken at curriculum level in schools. It is essential that vocational subjects and qualifications are made more appealing for learners and that the routes and range of options open to students before, during and after GCSEs are better publicised. Vocational qualifications need to be presented to all students as a career pathway that is valued and is as valid as the aspiration to go to university. In the longer term the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and others have stressed that the provision of careers guidance must be improved. The aim must be to ensure that more students are aware of the opportunities surrounding apprenticeships, thus encouraging more employers to offer them. The ETI has flagged up that while the organisations which supply apprenticeships have improved their uptake, they are also reporting that they are finding it increasingly difficult to promote and market apprenticeships within post-primary schools. Those giving evidence to the Committee advocated that there should be much stronger relationships between the Department, employers and schools regarding the promotion of apprenticeships as a primary, first choice career pathway, rather than a second choice for those who have missed out on their goal.

31. The Committee recommended in its Inquiry Report on the Training for Success programme, that the promotion of apprenticeships should be at the centre of the new Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Strategy. The Department has suggested that this is the case. The Strategy was launched earlier this year by the Department and the Department of Education. The Committee will want to see if the Department’s claim regarding apprenticeships is proven through increased applications for apprenticeships from higher quality candidates who might otherwise have been directed towards university. The CBI’s Education and Skills Survey, 2008, indicated that employers are leaving apprenticeship places unfilled because they cannot recruit suitable candidates. The Committee commends the Minister and the Department for their success in obtaining considerable newspaper coverage of award-winning and other apprentices.

32. The aim of 50% of school leavers progressing to university is based on laudable principles. However, as many stakeholders pointed out in their evidence to the Committee, not everyone needs or should have a degree. However, many employers find that those who are attracted to respond to an advertised apprenticeship vacancy are often those who have not done well academically. For example, heavy vehicle engineering is perceived by careers advisers and society generally as heavy work in a dirty, greasy environment. This perception must be changed – technological changes in vehicle design mean that automotive apprentices now need to be highly computer literate to operate the diagnostic tools used in modern engineering. Apprenticeships must be viewed as a high quality training route – one that should be aspired to and not a safety net for low achievers or those not currently in education, employment, or training (NEETs).

33. While the status of apprenticeships remains low and the perception of those applying being less able remains widespread there will be huge difficulties in the recruitment of the most able students and of companies keen to participate in Apprenticeships NI. Recruitment of both these groups is heavily dependent on the success of promoting the brand.

34. The Committee strongly supports any and all efforts by the Department, and other relevant departments, to engage with schools and employers to boost the status and perception of, and recruitment to, apprenticeships. This should include the use of the new Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Strategy in conjunction with the Careers service to raise the profile of apprenticeships in schools. The Committee would suggest that the importance of this strand of our workforce and economic development makes it worthy of action across the Northern Ireland Executive (‘the Executive’).

35. Many stakeholders highlighted the need to demonstrate a strong link between investment in skills to employers and subsequent improvements in productivity and profitability. It would be foolish to imagine that many employers will be motivated solely by altruism to take on apprentices. Only when the link between skills investment and business improvement is embedded in the minds of employers will they regard apprentices as vital to the wellbeing and development of their businesses and, as a consequence, the status of apprenticeships will be greatly enhanced. All material promoting apprenticeships to employers should make clear references to the link between investment in skills and the potential improvements in productivity and profitability that can result. The benefits of taking on apprentice must be made clearer to employers.

36. The ASSC, indicated in its evidence to the Committee that the achievement/completion of an apprenticeship recognises a high level of skill and competence. The ASSC agrees with the Committee that the distinctive branding of Apprenticeships NI gives a successful apprentice enhanced personal esteem and considerable status with their employer, with the wider sector and with their peer group. Thus, it is apparent that the right kind of promotion can make an apprenticeship significantly more desirable. A number of stakeholders suggested that the use of the term ‘vocational’ may be counterproductive in relation to apprenticeships. The Committee was made aware on its study visit to the USA that the term ‘professional and technical’ is increasingly replacing ‘vocational’ there. Here ‘vocational’ is too often associated with being an inferior alternative to academic study. However, ‘professional and technical’ does sound more career-focused and may be a more useful term with regard to improving the status and perception of apprenticeships. It might be helpful if the word ‘vocational’ in the context of being a descriptor of apprenticeships and considers the phrase ‘professional and technical’ training as a more positive alternative.

37. Many stakeholders giving evidence expressed the belief that apprentices value the esteem of “having a real job" and that this is a great motivator. In their evidence to the Committee, Departmental officials highlighted concerns that the recession will put young people off apprenticeships as it will be seen as an easier option to remain in academic education for as long as possible and undertake courses that are “safe". One of the terms of reference of this Inquiry is to examine how apprenticeships might be made more robust in the face of an economic downturn and that issue is dealt with later in this Report.

38. The ASSC indicated that it needs to be easier for employers and employees to find an appropriate apprenticeship and provider. For some sectors geographical coverage in terms of apprenticeship provision is “patchy". This requires a more structured approach to recruitment of apprentices and would benefit SMEs in particular. The ASSC believes that a new code of practice needs to be devised and adhered to in terms of the employer/provider relationship. They believe that there are still too many apprenticeships being recruited by ‘cold calling’ employers and offering “free training". The likely solution to such issues is to have more of an employer-led apprenticeship programme. The Committee will be interested in the outcome of discussions between the ASSC and the Department on the suggested code of practice governing the employer/provider relationship. The Committee commends the Department on funding an Engineering Training Council (ETC) feasibility study regarding a ‘one-stop-shop’ recruitment service to engineering employers across Northern Ireland. Members look forward to hearing the results of the study.

39. SEMTA and the ETC have suggested that, during an economic downturn, employers and individuals need confidence in training programmes if they are to continue investing their time and money. Analysis of the reasons for non-completion and policies put in place to improve achievement levels will raise confidence in the programme and stimulate interest from both companies and young people. Poor completion rates are a particular concern of companies who invest significant sums in this training. Engineering apprenticeships have a traditionally high completion rate, but other sectors are less successful. The organisations believe that addressing this issue will improve the public perception of apprenticeships as a whole. Bombardier has highlighted that, in a recession, assistance is needed to ensure that apprentices are able to complete their training. The company pointed out that in GB redundant apprentices are able to be funded for up to 6 months to remain in full time training.

40. The Committee recommends that the Department undertakes an analysis of the reasons for non-completion of apprenticeships and factors this into the model for Apprenticeships NI.

41. The Committee is aware that Bombardier is a major sponsor of a programme called ‘Engineering Skills for Industry’. The programme was developed in 2003 following the publication of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Taskforce Reports. The programme is run by a partnership of training organisations and employers and is designed to provide training to prepare unemployed individuals for employment, having obtained relevant skills. This kind of programme and the activities of organisations such as the Employment Services Board (ESB), on which the Committee has previously been briefed, could be used to provide ‘tasters’ of apprenticeships in different sectors and could be used as a pathway to encourage the unemployed to consider apprenticeships.

Funding Levels and Incentivisation

42. The weight of evidence received by the Committee suggests that funding needs to be flexible enough to meet a wide variety of employer driven needs; for example, Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE), which runs its own apprenticeship scheme, believes that it pays approximately £60,000 for each of its apprentices over a three year apprenticeship, i.e. approximately £20,000 per annum, per apprentice. NIE only receives funding of approximately £4,000 per annum from the Department. In the present difficult economic conditions, NIE has suggested that it might be more appropriate for it to receive closer to 50% for its highly specialised apprenticeship training. Indeed, the company has suggested that the Department should provide differentially higher funding for those providing particularly specialist apprenticeship training. The company has also suggested that a shorter apprenticeship might mitigate against the overall level of funding required and this issue is dealt with below.

43. The view is that an apprentice will be largely economically unproductive for the first year of their apprenticeship, imposing a financial burden on the employer without any immediate benefits. It would therefore seem logical that there should be greater financial support for the employer when their apprentice is in their first year, engaged in full-time training, rather than production activities. It was suggested by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) that SMEs, which form the vast majority of our private companies, particularly need some type of funding incentive to take on an apprentice. These employers’ resources are often under particular pressure and their ‘buy-in’ to Apprenticeships NI is not only key to the scheme’s success, but to the success of efforts to raise the general level of skills within our economy. It is also likely that higher initial funding will encourage a better training and wage structure for the apprentice within an SME and may increase the likelihood of the apprentice being taken on permanently on completion of the apprenticeship, according to the FSB.

44. The present scheme recognises the completion of the apprenticeship with an end payment to the employer, but many of the costs to the employer are associated with the start of the apprenticeship, as indicated. A number of stakeholders have suggested that higher and better designed ‘front-loading’ of funding might also have the added benefit of making apprenticeships more attractive to potential apprentices and employers alike, possibly increasing uptake of apprenticeships by both groups.

45. Financial incentives at various points throughout an apprenticeship might encourage apprentices and employers to stay together, thus boosting completion rates. It was also made clear that financial incentives to employers would have to be attractive and more than token gestures. NIE has suggested that, as a short-term measure during the Recession, the Department provides employers with 50% of the overall costs of employing an apprentice and that this be paid up front.

46. Currently the Department indicates that its position is that it does not subsidise the cost of an apprentice to an employer. The apprentice agrees their wage with the employer and the Department pays for training and makes a completion payment to the employer. The Department pays money to the contract provider for training and it is up to them to work out any arrangements with the employer. In its evidence to the Committee the Department admitted that currently, during this recession, there is no real incentive for a financially hard-pressed employer to keep on an apprentice. When Members suggested revisions to funding and possible top-up payments to employers when apprentices are moving up levels within their apprenticeship, Departmental officials acknowledged that this might well be an incentive to employers to retain apprentices in these difficult economic times. Members also expressed concern that, while employers in England are required to pay apprentices an agreed minimum wage (currently £95 per week), here there was no such imperative. In the Committee’s Inquiry Report on Training for Success (which incorporated apprenticeships at that time) it was recommended that the Department “…introduces and enforces, via contracting arrangements, a minimum rate of pay for apprentices, similar to the system currently applied in England". The Department indicated that was waiting for a report from the Low Pay Commission before taking any action. The Committee understands that this Report is now complete and would welcome further engagement with the Department on this issue.

47. The Committee recommends that the Department engages with employers with respect to the introduction and enforcement of a minimum wage for apprentices and reviews the funding structure within Apprenticeships NI to examine:

  • the options for greater funding at the start of apprenticeship programmes and for incentivising during programmes, particularly the move from National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 2 to Level 3 when employers are likely to have higher costs;
  • differential funding for apprenticeships where the training requires a higher level of specialisation and is therefore more costly; and
  • targeting the support of apprenticeships where the skills will add value to the economy, as the Committee realises that resources are not unlimited.

Bureaucracy /‘One size fits all’/Flexibility (including Essential Skills and Auditing and Inspection)

48. Many of the stakeholders who gave evidence during the Committee’s Inquiry stressed that their experience of running and managing apprenticeships under the current programme is that it is bureaucratic, that there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to all sectors and that the scheme lacks fundamental flexibility that would make it considerably more attractive to both employers and apprentices.

49. A number of stakeholders strongly recommended that sectoral considerations from any part of any policy intervention, as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach seldom meets the needs of the range of sectors involved in apprenticeships. It was suggested that some sectors are at the start of their exploration and embedding of the apprenticeship programme and therefore must work hard to raise employer awareness of the programme. While gathering evidence during this Inquiry, the Committee became aware that in some sectors apprenticeships are, on the whole, well run and provide the experience that apprentices require. However, in others the Committee has concerns about standards and the level of real training being provided to apprentices. The Committee realises that this difference can often be based on the nature of a particular sector and the time and financial resources at its disposal. This is one of the reasons why it is important for the Department to be very aware of the needs of different sectors regarding apprenticeships. The description by so many of the apprenticeships programme having a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would indicate that the Department needs to give greater prominence to sectoral and employer differences in the programme. Flexibility needs to be built into the contracting model to accommodate this.

50. The Committee believes that sectors such as engineering are already in a strong position regarding apprenticeship programmes but, as discussed above, may well need interventions around offsetting the costs of their programmes, finding suitable tutors and mentors and keeping the provider network stable in terms of resources and equipment. The engineering sector has also voiced great concern regarding the rates of new entrants into engineering required to replace those leaving/retiring and to supply the sector with the personnel needed for expansion. The Committee still retains the concerns it voiced in its Report on the Training for Success programme that the construction sector is not offering apprenticeships of the standard seen in some other sectors. The Committee understands that some of this relates to restrictions on craftspeople, who are being paid a ‘piece rate’, being able to spend as much time training apprentices as is the case in sectors where companies can better accommodate ‘non-productive’ time to train apprentices in all aspects of their work and not just those that generate immediate income. The Committee does not seek to suggest that poor or limited training for apprentices is endemic in the construction industry; however, the Committee understands the particular difficulties encountered in this sector which have been further highlighted by the economic downturn. The Committee believes that some level of solution to the difficulties that the construction industry faces in training apprentices might be found in the Centre of Excellence model, where specialised training and ‘live’ work experience can be undertaken, perhaps even a further degree of assessment. The Committee is conscious that this could then ameliorate in some way a lack in breadth of experience gain on the construction site. In the same way, it might be useful to explore the use of Group training Associations (GTAs) to ensure greater support for construction apprentices in gaining the full breadth of training required. There may be some role for the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) in this regard, as it is already obtaining a levy from members of the sector to provide training. Centres of Excellence and GTAs are discussed more fully below.

51. The Committee recommends that the Department continues to engage with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and the representatives of the construction industry and its employers to identify ways to eliminate some of the structural obstacles that exist within areas of the sector to the provision of broader and better supported training for apprentices. The Committee further recommends that the Centre of Excellence and GTA models are examined for their appropriateness in meeting these sectoral needs.

52. The Committee also has concerns about some of the sectors covered by Proskills, particularly glass, printing and furniture. The Committee understands that these sectors are struggling to generate enough apprentices for colleges to consider whether class sizes have reached a viable level for directed training within the colleges. It is not in anyone’s interest for these sectors to be squeezed to the point where the skills are lost. The Department should encourage Proskills and the colleges to engage and examine the difficulties that are being faced in these sectors, particularly glass, furniture and printing, and that a model should be put forward to remedy the situation.

53. SEMTA and the ETC sounded one note of caution regarding the flexibility of the apprenticeships programme. With over 100 apprenticeship frameworks already available here, it is possible that too much flexibility in terms of content of programmes could be introduced. Enabling employers to tailor certain elements is essential, but creating different programmes for every employer risks making the programmes too complex and significantly reducing the portability of the apprenticeship for the individual.

Essential Skills

54. The majority of stakeholders giving evidence suggested that there is a need to improve the flexibility of the colleges and links between colleges and employers within Apprenticeships NI. There was a perception that colleges tend to be rigid and inflexible in delivering their training. It was suggested that greater flexibility would be appreciated in relation to hours, locations and the structure of training. The CBI further highlighted an “excessive" dependence on colleges for the provision of Essential Skills, which should be avoided. In addition, the CBI and other stakeholders flagged up the increasing cost of the FE elements of apprenticeship programmes. Proskills highlighted the amount of ‘down time’ that Essential Skills causes for apprentices and their employers and suggested that greater efforts should be made to look for in-house solutions to delivering Essential Skills that may prove to be cheaper and just as effective. This could include greater use of Distance Learning.

55. This need for increased flexibility in the delivery of the Essential Skills element of the apprenticeship framework will be drawn into sharper focus with the arrival of the third Essential Skill, ICT, in September 2009. For those apprentices without an exemption, the current requirement to complete 40 hours of numeracy essential skills and a further 40 hours of literacy is considered by the majority of stakeholders to be a significant drawback to the scheme. Sector Skills Councils have indicated that they would welcome increased flexibility within this requirement to introduce improved initial assessment, allow for more flexibility with the number of hours assessed for delivery, more focus on contextualising learning materials and embedding in the professional and technical element of the apprenticeship. Apprenticeships should be truly professional and technical, focusing on the provision of skills necessary to perform a particular function.

56. The Committee is aware that in the Scottish and Welsh models, the key/essential skills are embedded as part of the apprenticeship framework. This has been shown to reduce non-completions of apprenticeships. Some stakeholders have suggested that essential skills not being sufficiently embedded within programmes here may well be a barrier to some apprentices not successfully completing their framework. The Committee welcomes the Department’s new guidelines for better integration of Essential Skills into apprenticeship programmes and its request for the ETI to revisit the 40 hour rule regarding Essential Skills, which are part of the Department’s response to the recommendations flowing from the Committee’s Report on Training for Success. The Committee would emphasise the need for continuing engagement with the SSCs and employers regarding the success of the new guidelines for the better integration of Essential Skills into apprenticeship programmes and the appropriateness/relevance of the essential skills generally.

57. The Committee recommends that the Department engages with colleges and employers to broker more flexible arrangements for the delivery of the colleges’ elements of apprentices’ training, with particular regard to timing, location, cost and the structure of the training – part of this must be a review of the fees structure of Apprenticeships NI.

Inspection and Auditing

58. This is a complex issue and the Committee stressed in its Report on Training for Success that there should be comprehensive monitoring and inspection in place for the programme. However, a number of stakeholders have indicated in their evidence that the inspection and auditing regime for Apprenticeships NI is complex and duplication occurs. The ASSC indicated that feedback from some employers and provider networks has highlighted a growing concern regarding duplication of inspections and audits being carried out by too wide a variety of organisations. They have suggested reducing the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork, administration and inspection associated with Apprenticeships NI over time would be welcome. It was highlighted that Sector Skills Councils recognise that given the problems with Job Skills, inevitably the introduction of a new scheme like Apprenticeships NI does require an element of review and fine-tuning in the initial stages to ensure consistency and quality of delivery. They would indicate a need to stabilise the operation of Apprenticeships NI and focus on building the brand. The Committee is sympathetic to suggestions by stakeholders that the auditing and inspection regime of Apprenticeships NI is complex and perhaps a level of duplication has arisen. However, the Committee is also aware that auditing is largely governed by Treasury standards and is not necessarily the sole preserve of the Department.

59. NIE has further suggested that the Department provides one point of contact for training organisations. This person would have a broader remit than the Department’s current contract manager in that they would be empowered to resolve and action all queries, across the entire range of departmental processes and financial requirements. NIE has indicated that an example of good practice in this respect is the Department’s Bridge to Employment scheme, which NIE has actively supported. This provides ease of administration for NIE as a training provider and ultimate employer.

60. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department examines the feasibility of providing a single point of contact in the Department to deal with the training providers involved in the Apprenticeships NI programme. This single point of contact should have the necessary authority to resolve and action all queries regarding the Department’s input to Apprenticeships NI. All reviews of Apprenticeships NI should be underpinned by the imperative of ensuring that the programme is constantly streamlined and that any unnecessary bureaucracy is identified and eliminated. Streamlining would particularly involve key processes such as administration and inspection. There is a need to ensure that duplication and inefficiency are avoided.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects

61. There is a universal understanding that STEM subjects are crucial to the development of both our workforce and our economy. The STEM subjects are drivers for a number of skills/careers areas which have been identified as key to the local economy progressing and being able to innovate and compete in the global marketplace.

62. The Committee has grasped the issue of the shortage of students at a variety of levels involved in STEM subjects, and has done considerable work to highlight concerns. This has included events in Parliament Buildings to highlight the issue, supported by the Education Committee and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and considerable lobbying of the Minister and the Education Minister. Currently the Committee is awaiting the publication of the two departments’ (Employment and Learning and Education) STEM review which, it is hoped will provide a coherent strategy that will boost the numbers of those studying STEM subjects. The Committee will study the Review carefully when it is published and then decide a course of action in response, in conjunction with stakeholders and other Assembly Committees.

63. Evidence has shown that many young people have misconceptions about STEM careers, particularly those linked to the manufacturing industries. It would be useful for schools to have access to STEM mentors, or ambassadors, who have come up through the apprenticeship route and, similarly, it would be useful for greater publicity on the wide range of STEM career opportunities available on the successful completion of a STEM-related apprenticeship. This might include real case studies and examples, giving the student an insight not only into the benefits of an apprenticeship, but real experiences to which they can relate regarding STEM subjects.

64. The ASSC has suggested a number of ways of encouraging STEM apprenticeships, including:

  • a higher rate of funding for STEM related apprenticeships/qualifications;
  • ensuring that careers/guidance staff have good information about the job opportunities in STEM areas and the skills and qualifications required; and
  • distinct marketing for STEM apprenticeships, which includes highlighting the earning potential of those with STEM backgrounds, especially qualifications and skills gained through STEM apprenticeships.

65. It is clear that much more must be done at school level to increase the numbers of students in STEM subjects. An increase in such numbers and a clearer understanding of the opportunities offered by STEM careers is likely to help lift recruitment levels of STEM-related apprenticeships. This would be greatly facilitated by more professional and technical modules being offered as part of GCSEs.

66. In many cases studying STEM subjects will lead into engineering disciplines. The Committee heard considerable evidence from stakeholders in the engineering sector. The Committee was generally impressed with the quality of apprenticeships available in the sector. SEMTA/ETC suggested that engineering apprenticeships here are well-regarded by employers for a number of reasons:

  • the programmes have been developed in conjunction with employers and are focused on meeting their needs;
  • the programmes are flexible in their incorporation of a range of engineering disciplines, while maintaining a core of common engineering understanding;
  • the programmes are demanding and rigorous, providing the apprentice with high levels of technical and practical skills;
  • the programmes provide clear progression to further study skills which employers and individuals value;
  • the programmes combine theory with practice and wider employability skills; and
  • the programmes are supported by a network of providers and colleges who are committed to providing a quality experience for the young person and a service to the employer.

67. The general themes would appear to be employer led and focused apprenticeships, with the right level of support from the Department and colleges and other providers. These key themes will be explored further in the sections below.

68. SEMTA/ETC further highlighted that, as far as engineering employers are concerned, the apprenticeship programme provides them with skills key to the future of the sector. According to these engineering bodies, employers expect all successful apprentices to have a solid grounding in engineering principles and be able to apply these in workplace environment, and wider skills relating to employability. For successful apprentices at Level 3, employers’ expectations are even higher – they are looking for high level technical skills and a real understanding of the processes of engineering in their discipline. Successful advanced apprentices often also demonstrate potential in terms of leadership and management. SEMTA/ETC believe that engineering apprentices themselves are often ambitious and focused on achieving rewarding jobs, which utilise their skills. Many are keen to go on to further and higher education and beyond, as well as acquiring professional status and management responsibility in the workplace.

Further Issues for Consideration

Centres of Excellence and good practice

69. The Committee received evidence on the benefits of Centres of Excellence. Some of these were local and some also represent examples of Good Practice.

Bombardier

70. The Bombardier facility in Belfast operates a Centre of Excellence for the design and manufacture of aircraft fuselages, engine nacelle systems, wing components, flight control surfaces and processes, such as advanced composites and computer-aided design (CAD). The company offers a 3 year apprenticeship at this Centre of Excellence, in conjunction with Belfast Metropolitan College (BMC), which leads to an NVQ Level 3. The company has been involved in training apprentices for over 50 years. During the recruitment of apprentices, the company seeks to identify candidates with the necessary skills and abilities and the potential for development. Their knowledge, motivation, perseverance and team-working skills are assessed. Interviews are also undertaken and the candidates are put in rank order. This order dictates which candidates are offered an apprenticeship with the company.

71. Currently, the apprentices are trained in cohorts of around 20 and spend most of their first year at the company’s dedicated training facility at the Interpoint Centre in the heart of Belfast, where they learn foundation skills from 6 specialist trainers. The second and third years of the apprenticeship are more practical and hands-on and incorporate a wide range of operational areas, with a variety of skills being taught and acquired. These experiences generally take place at the company’s five operational facilities. At the end of the first year an internal selection takes place that determines whether apprentices will follow a craft route, leading to City and Guilds qualifications, or a technical route which leads to a Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualification. The NVQ frameworks are developed in conjunction with the ETC and all NVQ qualifications meet SEMTA standards.

72. Retention rates for the company’s apprentice are high and, if everything goes according to plan, apprentices are likely to be employed by the company. As indicated previously, approximately a third of staff at management level in the company have come up through the apprenticeship route and the company is highly supportive of apprenticeship programmes generally. In conjunction with its apprenticeship programme, Bombardier operates an extensive outreach programme where it works closely with schools and young people to highlight the opportunities that are available through an aerospace apprenticeship. This includes interactive workshops, talks to young people by engineers and current apprentices, school competitions and work experience placements for over 200 students each year. The Committee was particularly impressed by the company’s attention to pastoral care for the apprentices and believes that this must be a key part of all apprenticeships programmes.

73. The Bombardier apprenticeship has been reviewed by the ETI and received a “1", being described as “outstanding" and “characterised by excellence". Particular strengths of the programme highlighted by the ETI include:

  • the commitment of staff to provide excellent training and learning support;
  • the training facilities and resources;
  • self-evaluation and improvement planning processes;
  • the standards of occupational skills and technical knowledge achieved by almost all apprentices; and
  • the retention, success and progression rates of 90%+.

74. The company invests considerable resources in its apprenticeships programme and was one of the stakeholders who suggested more front-loading of funding for apprenticeships, as discussed above.

NIE (Northern Ireland Electricity)

75. The company’s apprenticeships programme, like that of Bombardier, is well established, having been in place for over 30 years. The company highlights that many of the skills required within power transmission and distribution are sector specific and are not easily sourced from other business sectors, industries, or training providers. The company has highlighted that it strongly believes that a targeted and focused apprenticeship is the most appropriate way to develop highly skilled, motivated and committed future employees.

76. The typical NIE apprenticeship lasts 3 years and leads to the completion of NVQs at Levels 2 and 3. The NVQs are supported by 5 full-time NIE accredited trainers and are subject to internal and external verification by City and Guilds. The company boasts an impressive 84% retention rate for its apprentices and those who complete their programme will usually be offered permanent employment by the company. Training takes place in dedicated facilities and at on-site facilities. The company also uses external training providers for specialist areas. Apprentices can also study towards a BTEC National Certificate in Electrical Engineering at an FE college. The company describes its programme as having clear targets and structure. The company, like Bombardier, runs its apprenticeships programme at considerable cost and again, like Bombardier, made the same requests regarding front-loading of funding for apprenticeships.

77. NIE’s memberships of the Energy and Utility Skills SSC and the CBI Employment Affairs Committee allow the company to influence the development of relevant NVQs which are specifically tailored to the power transmission and distribution industry. The company indicates that it also tries to develop ‘softer’ skills through its apprenticeship programmes, such as self-motivation, flexibility, integrity, interpersonal skills, team-working skills, decisiveness and assertiveness. There is also pastoral care support, which the Committee commends.

Fashion Retail Academy (London)

78. Fashion retail is the second largest industry sector in the UK and it is the UK’s largest private sector employer. The Academy was formed in 2005 as the UK’s first ‘National Skills Academy’. The Academy’s aim is to train and prepare the next generation for the workplace by teaching and developing the fundamental skills required in the retail industry. The Arcadia Group, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Next together provided £10m for the establishment of the Academy, which was matched with £10m from the Department for Education and Skills.

79. The Academy offers one year NVQ courses at Levels 2 and 3 and one year NVQ Level 4 courses in both visual merchandising and buying and merchandising. A two year Foundation course will begin in October 2009 with 25 places and links to the University of Arts in London. The Academy’s curriculum is accredited by ABC Awards (large UK vocational awarding body) and students must complete all of the core units to achieve a qualification. Work experience is an integral part of the course and is organised by the Retail Liaison Team. There is no fixed entry-level qualification for the NVQ Level 2 course, however, existing retail experience is considered a good start. For the NVQ Levels 3 and 4, applicants will generally have a higher level of education (5 GCSEs at C or above, including English and Maths) – the intake is decided subject to an interview process.

80. 80% of the Academy’s students are local (from London). Students aged 16 to 18 do not pay fees and receive Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Students aged 19+ pay £1,000 fees and receive Adult Learning Grants. The Academy is run and funded in the same way as an FE college and has the usual 3 academic terms. The 28 full-time and 18 part-time staff are qualified lecturers and retailers and there are occasional master classes from industry figures, such as Sir Philip Green of Arcadia.

SEMTA/ETC proposal for Centres of Excellence

81. In its evidence to the Committee, SEMTA and the ETC indicated that they will be writing to the Department with a proposal outlining directed off-the-job training prior to beginning an apprenticeship. They believe that there is room within current funding to provide a short (5-6 weeks) period of directed training at the start of all apprenticeships. This would be delivered by well qualified staff at several central locations. They highlighted that, as outlined above, some companies like Bombardier and NIE have their own training Centres of Excellence with qualified instructors, but small companies do not have the resources to do this and other non-engineering sector businesses which employ Maintenance Engineers also cannot provide their own off-the-job training. The SEMTA/ETC ‘programme-led’ approach to apprenticeships proposals will make the case for identified centres to deliver a minimum 5-6 weeks programme prior to releasing apprentices into the work environment.

82. As has been discussed previously, many businesses are put off apprentices because they are often non-productive for their first year and come to the workplace with few work-ready skills. Such a period of training, as suggested by SEMTA/ETC, would allow apprentices to go into the workplace with some useable skills already in place. The Bombardier and NIE examples of Centres of Excellence above indicate how such an environment can boost the retention and completion rates of apprenticeships. The training programme suggested would also be of benefit to SMEs who are generally not resourced to provide such training. Further SME issues are discussed below. The SEMTA/ETC proposal might be used in other sectors, such as retail, where a condensed version of what is available at the Fashion Retail Academy might be offered.

83. The Committee is aware that large retailers, such as Tesco and Asda, operate their own training Centres of Excellence. There may be some feasibility in engaging with the large employers who run their own training Centres of Excellence to examine the possibilities around them hosting the Centres of Excellence suggested by SEMTA/ETC, allowing small companies’ apprentices to benefit from the training provided in such an environment prior to starting with the SMEs. This would provide an employer-led solution to the issue of apprentices coming into the workplace ‘work ready’ and could also be developed further in the future to allow SME apprentices to benefit from elements of the training provided by large employers in their Centres of Excellence. The Committee looks forward to hearing the outcome of the discussions on SEMTA/ETC proposals. There may be possibilities for this training to be applied to other sectors. The large sectoral employers could become involved by sharing their training Centres of Excellence.

84. The Committee understands that such a proposal is very ambitious and would require considerable organisation; however, the potential benefits for SMEs and the possibility that this could improve the profile and status of apprentices cannot be ignored. The Committee has identified that this kind of incentive is required to attract more employers to offer apprenticeships. Targeting the SME employers is essential within our SME-dominated private sector. The Committee is also of the mind that employer-led initiatives such as this are the way forward for apprenticeships generally. The Committee asked the ETI to provide examples of good practice and these can be found in the annexes to the Report.

85. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department examines all the issues and suggestions that have been made by stakeholders with regard to Centres of Excellence, with a view to proceeding towards the establishment of such facilities.

Apprentices’ costs

86. In its Report on the Training for Success programme, the Committee recommended that the Department introduces a “travel cost scheme that is equitable for all young persons, irrespective of what programme they are undertaking within Training for Success". The Committee is aware that a number of apprentices struggle with travel costs and general expenses while undertaking their apprenticeships. The Committee understands the Department’s view that as apprentices are in employment they are being paid and their travel and other expenses should be covered by their wages. However, as the Department has still not introduced a minimum wage for apprentices, another recommendation of the Committee’s Training for Success Report, that argument is not particularly strong in the Committee’s view. Some of the exemplar apprenticeship schemes, such as those run by Bombardier and NIE, take account of apprentices’ travel cost issues, but other employers do not.

Public Sector and Non-traditional Apprenticeships

87. A number of stakeholders who gave evidence to the Committee during this Inquiry indicated the need for the public sector to provide apprenticeships. In addition, one of the Committee’s recommendations from its Training for Success Inquiry was that the Department should consider potential methods of utilising public and community organisations, particularly in geographical areas lacking suitable private sector employers. This recommendation is directly applicable to apprenticeships. It has been seen that it is difficult to establish apprenticeships for particular sectors in certain geographical areas where there is a lack of an appropriate private sector employer. Public sector apprenticeships could be used effectively to plug this gap.

88. The public sector here accounts for a majority of economic activity. It would seem logical therefore, that the large-scale public sector employers such as the NICS and the agencies that are responsible to Executive departments should offer apprenticeships. It follows that such apprenticeships in organisations with good career progression and which are generally more likely to weather economic downturns will be appealing and might enhance the profile and status of apprenticeships, as well as perhaps attracting more of the demographic who would more usually have seen A levels and university as there career pathway. Additionally, Association of Northern Ireland Colleges (ANIC) has suggested offering apprenticeships in the education and local government sectors.

89. A number of stakeholders have suggested that the introduction of this kind of public sector funding for apprenticeships would create significant career pathways and progression routes which currently do not exist. It would also establish some transferability of job roles between the public and private sectors. It has been suggested that it would be useful for the public sector to provide a place where skills could be developed in workers which could then be utilised by the private sector. It would be important to ensure that there is an established relationship between the public sector area providing the apprenticeship and the particular area of the private sector that might benefit best from the skills being developed.

90. It is also important to recognise that the new Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF) has the potential to have a considerable impact on the flexibility of apprenticeships. The QCF should support a more flexible and potentially more customised qualification offering. This could encourage employers and learners to engage in the skills qualifications system who, in the past, might not have done so. In this context the opportunity may arise to consider alternatives to NVQs in the current apprenticeships framework, according to the ASSC. The Association believes this might be of interest to some areas of the public sector.

91. The Committee is aware that the Department is exploring with the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) the possibility of a cohort of apprenticeships in business administration entering the NICS in September 2009. The Department recently agreed to pilot fund apprenticeships in ‘arms length’ bodies, such as NI Water and the Royal Mail. The Committee commends the Minister on his Department’s work examining business administration apprenticeships in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) and in pilot funding apprenticeships in ‘arms length’ bodies. The Committee would call on the Minister to proceed to full establishment of these schemes and to examine how public sector apprenticeships (and pre-apprenticeships, where appropriate) can be rolled out to the fullest extent appropriate.

92. The Committee has also been informed that a number of Health Trusts have contacted Regional Colleges to express an interest in establishing apprenticeships. An expanding system of apprenticeships in the NHS in England has already been established.

93. The Committee recommends that the Department examines the opportunities for establishing apprenticeships (and pre-apprenticeships, where appropriate) in the health service here as this has been undertaken successfully within the NHS in England, and that the Minister engages with the Education and Local Government sectors via the Executive to examine the opportunities for establishing apprenticeships (and pre-apprenticeships, where appropriate) in these areas.

94. In this area of ‘non-traditional’ apprenticeships, the Committee has also heard evidence from groups representing the engineering sector to suggest that it is important for the expansion of the skills pool within our economy to develop apprenticeships beyond the traditional areas such as mechanical and electrical engineering and body fabrication towards a technician apprenticeship, which would include aspects of each discipline and be recognised as such. This links to the discussions on multi-skilling and transferable skills contained in this Report. It is also applicable to other sectors which have identified skills gaps in their workforce which are not filled by traditional apprenticeships. The Committee commends the Department on the engagement it has already undertaken with a variety of stakeholders to identify skills gaps in different sectors. The Department should use this engagement to examine how non-traditional apprenticeships can best be developed to fill these gaps and move towards ‘technician’ apprenticeships.

Public Procurement Contract Apprentice Quotas

95. The Committee has been very active in the promotion of an agreed quota of apprentices being a key prerequisite to the award of any public procurement contract. The Committee has written to all Executive Ministers highlighting the need for a proportion of the workforce involved in public procurement contract to be apprentices. In that correspondence the Committee’s focus was construction apprentices and the possibility of quotas for this group in any department’s capital expenditure programme. At that point the Committee was aware that construction apprentices formed the largest proportion of redundant apprentices. The Committee is keen that the issues of apprentice quotas for public contracts be widened out to encompass all public procurement contracts.

96. The Committee has urged that public contracts under the Investment Strategy of Northern Ireland (ISNI) should contain a provision that a specific quota of apprentices must be employed. The Committee understands that such a system along these lines already operates in Scotland. The Committee is also aware that the Procurement Practitioners’ Group, including representatives from the NICS Centres of Procurement Expertise with responsibility for construction procurement, agreed to accept the local Construction Industry Forum’s (CIF(NI)) proposals in September 2008. However, these proposals would only provide for one apprentice per £2M of each contract and are limited to construction procurement. The Committee commends the Minister on his actions thus far on apprentices being represented as a quota of the workforce involved in public procurement contracts.

97. The Committee would urge the Minister to seek the support of his Executive colleagues in establishing in legislation that an appropriate quota of apprentices should be involved in the workforce undertaking any public procurement contract. It is also important to ensure that these apprentices remain employed with the contractor beyond the period of the contract.

Development of a clear Career Pathway via Apprenticeships

98. In its evidence to the Committee, Bombardier stated that the local economy requires the development and maintenance of a workforce with higher skills. The company believes that apprenticeships contribute to the succession planning within organisations that will secure this. Apprenticeships also help to develop managers and professional staff for the future, in Bombardier’s view.

99. Part of the challenge in boosting the image of apprenticeships and ensuring that higher calibre students are attracted to them is making clear that apprenticeships provide a platform to a clear and successful career pathway, according to the evidence that the Committee has heard. Part of the poor profile and status of apprenticeships have would seem to be due to the perception that they do not provide the same quality of career pathway or progression that obtaining a degree at university does. In its Report on Training for Success, the Committee called on the Department to ensure that should be clear pathways for progression from Level 3 to Levels 4 and 5, where available. This is particularly true when specifically applied to apprenticeships – it must be clear to those looking at the option of undertaking an apprenticeship that it is an ‘open-ended’ career option, that there is progression and the apprentice will have good prospects.

100. SEMTA and the ETC have indicated that it is very welcome when elements of an apprenticeship are linked to further promotion and progression for the individual. This requires the employer to recognise the value of the programme, not only as a tool to meet current skills needs, but also as a means to identify and recruit individuals suitable for leadership and expert roles in the future. This is something that the Committee heard when Members visited the NIE training facility at Nutts Corner. The company uses its apprenticeship programme to identify those apprentices who have the potential to make good managers and leaders.

101. NIE has also suggested that apprenticeships in their industry should be used to develop future engineering graduates. The company has experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting, straight from university, sufficient electrical power graduates with the appropriate academic and interpersonal skills. The company believes that this shortfall will be best filled by continuing to develop apprentices through Further and Higher Education to ensure that their career progression is equal to those entering NIE through the graduate route. Further, the company has welcomed the introduction of a GCSE in Engineering which, allied to existing GCSE Technology courses, will perhaps inspire more school leavers to follow a career in engineering. Bombardier has echoed this sentiment by making the opportunity to enrol on foundation degrees available to its apprentices.

102. The Committee has seen clear evidence from some sectors that their apprenticeships are part of a well-structured system of career progression where there is clear evidence of apprentices being identified as future leaders and managers. However, the Committee is also aware that there are sectors where apprentices struggle to receive broad-based on-the-job training, never mind be launched on a rewarding career pathway.

Shortening Apprenticeships/Transferable Skills/Multi-skilling

103. During this Inquiry, Members of the Committee had the opportunity to visit the NIE training facility at Nutts Corner. There Members met first, second and third year apprentices. In addition, Members met a number of apprentices who were on ‘fast track’ apprenticeships, designed by the company to allow completion in 2 years instead of 3. This option is primarily open to older apprentices who have generally trained for another career, often undertaking another apprenticeship previously. The company has found that these apprentices can be fast tracked because they already have a range of transferable work skills and can master all that NIE needs them to in relation to the jobs they will do in 2 years, rather than 3. This approach allows workers in one industry which is seeing a decline to transfer to an apprenticeship in an industry that is more buoyant and potentially more likely to benefit from expansion in the future. This allows a natural process of reskilling to occur within the workforce and ensures, through a shortened apprenticeship, that those skilled workers are fully operational in as short a time as possible. In some cases, with the right apprentice and if it is practical, it may be possible to reduce the apprenticeship to 18 months. This radical shortening of the apprenticeship programme would have to be very carefully thought through and would require much more time for the apprentice in the workplace, possibly necessitating the delivery of all aspects of the apprenticeship, including assessment, to be undertaken in the workplace.

104. SEMTA and the ETC particularly raised the issue of transferable skills in their evidence. They suggested that greater thought be given to this within all apprenticeships, giving individuals the flexibility to adapt their skills to related areas, for example, motor vehicle apprentices have sometimes become maintenance engineer apprentices.

105. The availability of shorter programmes to those with existing relevant skills would also allow a better and more rapid response to market demands for particular skills and would also allow workers to gravitate to where the skills are required. Existing workers need the encouragement of fast track apprenticeships to switch sectors – this means they do not have to anticipate a 3 year wait until they reach a stage where they will receive a fully qualified wage. In the power industry the increasing demand for renewable energy will call for new skills to supplement those existing in the electricity infrastructure. This is an opportunity to reskill and upskill the workforce through shortened apprenticeships for those in a position to take them up.

106. NIE has already introduced a multi-skilled apprenticeship programme which combines training as an overhead linesperson with that of tree surgeon. The company is the first UK electricity network owner to do so. Bombardier has also indicated that it favours the availability of shorter apprenticeships. Again, the company has pointed out that this may have the additional benefit reducing the costs of an apprenticeship to the employer. This specific issue has been more fully discussed in the section on funding apprenticeships above. CAFRE (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise) offers a multi-skilling apprenticeship aimed at people who are likely to become part-time farmers and it may provide a model whose application elsewhere the Department might encourage.

107. It is clear that, where possible, apprenticeship programmes should be developed with transferable skills in mind. It also seems apparent that shortened apprenticeships for those who already have a certain level of skill, or for sectors where it is appropriate, would allow for the more rapid introduction of necessary skills into the workforce and might facilitate the migration of skills from sectors in decline to those which are seeing expansion. The benefits of multi-skill apprenticeships are also clear. Where skills can be combined to create workers who are ‘multi-functional’ it would seem logical to do so. This is something that the SSCs should examine.

Broadening Participation/Widening Access

108. This issue relates very closely to those in the section immediately above regarding shortening apprenticeships, transferable skills and multi-skilling. It is important that apprenticeships are seen as an attractive option by a much broader section of the current and future workforce. The Committee commends the Minister for the introduction of ‘all age’ apprenticeships and apprenticeships for those who work part-time, in accordance with the Committee’s recommendations in its Training for Success Inquiry Report. This is a welcome and significant development for apprenticeships and the Committee would encourage the Department to continue looking for ways to widen participation in and access to apprenticeships.

109. All age apprenticeships can allow companies to provide training opportunities for semi-skilled employees to move to skilled status. This is also the case for other upskilling support provided by the Department. These additional upskilling programmes can mirror apprenticeships and allow existing workers to study for useful qualifications. A number of companies, such as Bombardier, are running such programmes. In its evidence to the Committee, the ASSC suggested that widening access to apprenticeships can address apprentice shortages in a number of key sectors. The availability of all age apprenticeships and the opportunity to include part-time employees has been widely welcomed by employers and employees, according to the evidence presented to the Committee. This innovation is seen as a useful way to upskill existing employees. In addition, the all age element to the Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Strategy will allow a deepening and widening of the pool of “fresh talent" for entry to industries that currently struggle to attract young people who may perceive them as less progressive or appealing, according to a number of stakeholders. It is clear that more females need to be persuaded to look at apprenticeships and there should be better targeting of higher calibre school-leavers. The additional bonus of the Strategy is that the Service will be able to assist those adults seeking to return to work from a variety of situations, for example, having families, long-term sickness, career breaks, or redundancy; as well as those changing career direction with interventions at various stages of their working life, ensuring that choices are appropriate and based on accurate, accessible information. Better sectoral information and data are critical and the SSCs can play a significant role in providing these.

110. It is to be hoped that increasing the range of people who can participate in apprenticeships will make them more familiar and accord them greater status and profile than they have had. It would also be hoped that broadening access will facilitate the development of our workforce and, as a consequence, our economy. Further, increased access and the expansion of apprenticeships may also have the effect of improving the view of apprenticeships as a good career path; perhaps persuading those who may have thought that a university degree was the only way to achieve career success that there is another, equally attractive option.

SME Issues – focusing on GTAs and ATAs

111. The private sector here is dominated by SMEs. 98% of businesses in Northern Ireland employ fewer than 20 people, with 95% employing fewer than 10, according to figures from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). SMEs employ 65% of the private sector workforce here and contribute 60% of private sector turnover. Any successful apprenticeship programme here must have the backing of SMEs and requires their active participation. However, the 2008 FSB Member Survey regarding apprenticeships indicated that only 26% of members are employing apprentices on a recognised scheme, with 20% using their own schemes. 30% of members said that schemes are too bureaucratic, too time consuming and too expensive, with 21% having concerns about the quality of trainees. Hiring and retaining good apprentices was acknowledged as a problem for members. Only 6% of members responding said that apprenticeships were not appropriate to their business, with a massive 78% indicating that they would employ apprentices if sufficient financial support was available from the government. These figures would suggest that the great majority of SMEs support the idea of apprenticeships, but they are being held back by obstacles they have outlined as bureaucracy, expense, and lack of time. SMEs generally do not have the resources to devote considerable time and money to the employment of an apprentice. These issues have been discussed above. The FSB has indicated to the Committee its support for the apprenticeships programme here and has made some suggestions to make it more accessible for SMEs.

112. GTAs originated in Australia in the 1960s and are increasingly being utilised in the apprenticeship context in GB. The FSB believes that the greater use of GTAs make it simpler for SMEs to employ apprentices by removing the burdens involved in taking on an apprentice. A GTA is a non-profit organisation which provides training and related services on behalf of local employers, funded by a variety of sources, including government grants. In this context the GTAs must comprise people who understand small businesses and can reach those who are often the hardest to reach. The FSB sees a variety of ways the GTA could cut the burdens on SMEs of employing apprentices:

  • GTAs can design and maintain each apprentice’s training programme to fit the training needs of small businesses, which are traditionally short in nature, affordable and based within the workplace. A micro-business does not have the time or resources to source the relevant training;
  • SMEs generally do not have in-house training facilities and HR departments – thus GTA staff can act as the training and HR manager; and
  • the GTA reduces employment risks for individual SMEs, and broadens the learning available, by sharing the cost and training of apprentices between a number of SMEs.

113. The GTAs manage the bureaucracy associated with employing apprentices and can access the most effective funding relevant to the employee’s training and the employer’s needs. The FSB believes that it is important that GTAs remain wholly independent and are managed by those with business experience and that apprentices should still be employed by the businesses using the services of the GTA and not the other way round.

114. The FSB considers that consideration should be given to SSCs and current learning providers taking on the role of GTAs. The organisation believes that the current review of the SSC licenses offers an opportunity to consider their functions and, potentially, training could become one of them. The FSB considers that it could be an objective of the SSCs to identify small employers who could be grouped together, perhaps geographically, so that individual businesses are banded together in order to pool information and resources. They envisage the SSCs running ‘one-stop-shops’ for information and assistance with regard to taking on apprentices and dealing with other issues. The FSB believes that existing structures and institutions could be adapted to manage this innovation. The GTA structure would allow small businesses to share their expertise with other employers and develop their own dedicated training. Particular attention could be given to the development of GTAs in sectors which currently have low numbers of apprenticeships.

115. ANIC has highlighted to the Committee that there are some possible pitfalls with the use of GTAs. For example, the GTA must consider the size of any cohort of apprentices to ensure that it is sufficiently large for training providers to have viable groups. ANIC also feels that the GTA should be aware of the Department’s training agenda, which must be addressed. ANIC ultimately fears the creation of ‘closed shops’ in extreme cases, where a GTA has engaged the majority of sectoral employers in a particular area, leaving no scope for another provider to offer apprenticeships in that sector. ANIC stresses that a regional view of provision is essential for all stakeholders to be included in planning.

116. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) (formerly the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) recently announced a £7M fund to encourage businesses and training providers to take on more apprentices in the current downturn. The fund is particularly designed to facilitate innovative approaches to apprenticeships. As apprenticeships are a devolved matter, it is unlikely that businesses and training providers here could access the fund; however, the ideas that it is generating could be adapted for the local economy. As part of the plan 10 new ATAs will be established, which will have the potential to create and deliver 15,000 apprenticeship places by 2014/15. It is hoped that the ATAs will bolster the existing arrangements to support apprentices at risk of redundancy and those already made redundant.

117. Essentially the ATAs are companies or partnerships acting as recruitment agencies hiring out apprentices to ‘host’ employers and other organisations. They represent a new model based on a programme used in Australia where they provide around 10% of all apprenticeship places. They offer a tailored service for each business and greater security for the apprentice. They also offer greater flexibility, so that if the host business is unable to continue supporting the apprentice then they return to the ATA and are reassigned to another business.

118. In the construction industry in England a ‘matching service’ has been set up by the SSC and the Learning and Skills Council, which has helped over 570 apprentices find an alternative employer and more than 120 to remain with their current employer. SEMTA in Wales has developed and established a model that allows apprentices to be shared by employers. This would seem to share common ground with the FSB vision for GTAs. SEMTA is already looking at the feasibility of applying such a model here.

119. The Committee visited Foyle School and Employer Connections (FOSEC) during the compilation of this report and Members were struck by the good work that the organisation undertakes and particularly by the model that FOSEC uses for school work experience. FOSEC provides a complete structure for the management of every aspect of the work experience undertaken by school pupils from client schools. The organisation has achieved considerable success and its model is keenly endorsed by both schools and businesses that participate in the service. In many cases the work experience, which is tailored specifically to the interests and skills of each pupil, can lead to part-time work for the pupil and, in some cases, an apprenticeship. This would appear to the Committee to be an excellent model for showing young people the workplace and helping them determine which career path might suit them. It would also seem logical that this model could be extended to fill the role of the GTA or ATA providing a co-ordinated service for businesses looking for apprentices.

120. The Committee is aware that the FSB indicated in its proposals regarding GTAs that these should not be an apprentice’s employer; that function should remain with the business. However, the Committee understands that in other places the GTA acts as a ‘proxy employer’, i.e. the GTA employs the apprentice and then ‘hires’ them out to the business. The value of this model is that there is continuity of employment for the apprentice throughout their apprenticeship and the GTA provides all aspects of an apprentice’s training and care beyond the actual work placement.240.

121. The Committee recommends that the Department engages with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) and other stakeholders to examine the options around Group Training Associations (GTAs) providing apprenticeship services to employers.

Pre-apprenticeships

122. ANIC has identified some challenges facing the pre-apprenticeship scheme. Progression and exit routes from the planned pre-apprenticeships model and the programme’s funding require urgent review, according to the Association. ANIC believes that there needs to be an easier transfer between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programmes, particularly in the current downturn as it means a redundant apprentice could move between the two programmes as their employment status changes. Two separate models, according to the Association, does not allow for flexibility, for example, in the case of plumbing, the technical certificate for the pre-apprenticeship is different to that of the apprenticeship.

123. ANIC believes that a suitably structured programme would allow for a single point of entry for all participants (pre-apprentice and apprentice) and enable progression from the pre-apprenticeship to the apprenticeship and movement the other way if circumstances (such as the downturn) dictate. The Association has also suggested that consideration should be given to the development of an Advanced Pre-apprenticeship at Level 3 to enable progression for those participants who have not secured employment after a Level 2 pre-apprenticeship. This development would need to be reflected in Framework 3 to allow more transferability between pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. The Association would highlight that this Advanced Pre-Apprenticeship would require additional teaching time and this requires greater funding from the Department.

124. The Association has highlighted the difficulty of finding meaningful work placements during the downturn. Many SMEs, particularly those in construction, are facing a challenge to survive and are not in a position to offer placements. The Association suggests that consideration be given to the public sector giving placements. This links to the discussion of public sector apprenticeships above.

Role of the Colleges

125. The FE colleges are our largest providers of skills, professional and technical training. Apprenticeships have been a core element of college provision for a long time. ANIC believes that the colleges are well placed to provide skills training in priority skills areas during the downturn through, for example, their ‘Centres of Excellence’ and specific local employer-engagement initiatives. The Association highlights the fact that colleges have willingly participated in the Department’s initial contingencies for redundant apprentices, including retaining apprentices on programmes to completion and transferring apprentices to pre-apprenticeship programmes, transferring apprentices to Steps to Work, special arrangements with the Department for Year 2 students to complete and transferring apprentices to FE provision where necessary.

126. ANIC highlights that a demand-led apprenticeships programme poses some challenges in a recession. Hence, the Association suggests that the apprenticeships model should ensure that there are opportunities for young people and adults to gain the higher level skills which will be required when the economy improves. The Association also highlights the role it plays in responding to employers’ needs. Examples of this were cited to the Committee:

  • the Northern Regional College, in conjunction with the Northern Workforce Development Forum (WDF), the ETC and the Department, has developed an apprenticeship programme aimed at upskilling people from within the current workforce to deliver fully trained electro-mechanical maintenance personnel within a two year timeframe. The two year adult apprenticeship (with both on-job and off-job elements) provides training in electro-mechanical maintenance skills, the attainment of an NVQ Level 3, a nationally recognised academic Edexcel National Certificate and, where required, essential skills; and
  • the South Eastern Regional College, in conjunction with the NI Polymer Association, Cogent and the Department, has developed an apprenticeship programme in polymer processing.

127. ANIC has further suggested that such adult apprenticeship schemes could be used within the public sector to increase capacity and expertise, as well as developing a potential workforce for the private sector once the economy picks up again.

128. Additionally, in its evidence ANIC stated that the colleges cover the Entitlement Framework, providing access for apprentices and pre-apprentices to a range of value-added services, such as pastoral care, careers advice etc. Considerable funding has gone to the colleges in the last couple of years and this, according to ANIC, is assisting cross-cutting learning, for example, at the South Eastern Regional College hairdressing students undertake science and engineering learning as part of their understanding of hairdressing products and prototyping in the college. The Association acknowledges that there may be a need for different apprenticeship models for different sectors – a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not be appropriate. New developments like adult apprenticeships and employer-specific one like the polymer processing apprenticeship show the scope for unique solutions, in ANIC’s view. The Association stresses that the colleges are committed to playing a pivotal role in the future development of skills here and highlights how the colleges work actively with employers directly, as well as through the SSCs, WDFs, Trade Associations, and other representative groups. However, in its evidence to the Committee ANIC indicated that it would prefer SSCs to be involved in advising on training, but not involved in the provision or its sourcing etc.

The Role of the SSCs and Employers

129. The 25 SSCs represent 90% of the UK workforce. They are independent employer-led organisations responsible for tackling the skills and productivity needs of specific economic sectors across the UK. Through labour market intelligence and insight from employers, the SSCs seek to identify changes needed in education, skills policy and practice, and to engage with key industry partners and partners in education and training to help increase productivity at all levels of the workforce. The ASSC’s goals are:

  • to reduce skills gaps and shortages;
  • to improve productivity and service performance;
  • to increase opportunities to boost the skills and productivity of everyone in a sector’s workforce; and
  • to improve the learning supply, including apprenticeships, Higher Education and National Occupational Standards (NOS).

130. The Committee is concerned by news that in the Review of SSC licenses some SSCs have already been told that their license will not be renewed. Skillfast-UK, representing fashion and textiles is one such example. The Committee would like to receive confirmation from the Department that if SSCs lose their license their sector will not simply be left to fend for itself. It is important that there is a strategy to ensure that sectors retain their voice and representation, even if they lose their current SSC.

131. The ASSC believes that the requirement for all apprentices to be employed from the start of their apprenticeship remains important and a fundamental characteristic of the programme. The Association suggests that evidence confirms that employer-led programmes enjoy the highest retention levels and success rates. Many employers have highly successful schemes and long-standing experience in the area of apprenticeships, such as NIE and Bombardier. During its evidence session, NIE indicated to the Committee that the company is considering not taking on any new apprentices in September because of the economic downturn. This issue has been brought to the Minister’s attention on a number of occasions from the floor of the Assembly. The Committee has not been made aware of the outcome of any discussions between the Department and NIE. In the Committee’s view the closure to new apprentices of a flagship apprenticeship scheme operated by a highly profitable company like NIE sends out very bad signals about the value of apprenticeships at a time when such schemes should act as a beacon for the apprenticeships programme.

132. The CBI highlighted in their evidence to the Committee that apprenticeships are a key route to skills, bringing benefits to both the business and the apprentice. The FSB pointed out in its evidence that the various partners involved in apprenticeships have very different objectives: the Department will, no doubt, want to develop skills as an aid to workforce and economic development and ultimately this will help to reduce unemployment; the apprentices will want to gain skills and experience and increase their own employability and develop their career; whereas the main objective of businesses is profitability and apprentices are a way of enhancing the skills in their business that might make it more profitable and successful. Businesses need to see a tangible return from their investment.

133. The Quarry Products Association NI (QPANI) submitted details to the Committee of its development, in conjunction with the South West College and Proskills, of a National Diploma in Civil Engineering with Extractives Specialism. The Committee’s particular interest in the course stemmed from the speed with which the course was developed and established. The Committee considers that the course to be an excellent example of an employer-led initiative where a sector has acted to facilitate the development of its skills. QPANI was prompted to act after a survey it conducted in 2007 highlighted that 60% of the sector’s workforce was over 40. The National Diploma course is designed as a gateway for 16-22 year olds to enter the quarry products industry. A number of issues were overcome, including the sourcing and training of an appropriate lecturer. Another useful innovation was that the lecturer undertook a 12 week placement with a number of employers where he was able to assess the industry’s skills gaps and determine its training needs. This allowed a consideration of the technical requirements from junior technician level towards senior management as the basis of study. A further positive of the course is that is has been designed to be compatible with other sector relevant qualifications and it has a clear progression route to Higher Education. This is an excellent example of how employer bodies, with the support of colleges, can create and put into practice industry-relevant qualifications that are fundamental to succession planning within sectors and to ensuring skills within sectors are constantly updated. QPANI hope to expand the course to other FE colleges. Once the course had been developed, the awarding body approval, industry approval and placement onto the QCF only took a matter of months.

Role of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) in NI

134. In its evidence, the CBI mentioned the NAS and stressed that if Northern Ireland is to involve itself fully in the NAS then employer involvement will be vital and they will want to see a flexible and responsive approach to apprenticeship framework design and reform, which should lead to significant improvements if implemented effectively, replicated on a local basis.

135. The Committee has had no indication from the Minister whether his Department will engage with the NAS and if it does engage to what extent that will be. The Committee looks forward to clarification on this issue from the Minister.

Conclusion

136. In judging the way forward for apprenticeships, the Committee must return to the fundamental questions with which it began this Inquiry: “Why don’t employers take up apprenticeships in greater numbers and why do apprenticeships lack status and profile? How can apprenticeships be better protected in a downturn?"

137. From the evidence presented in the sections above it would seem that, while employers are supportive of apprenticeships generally, they find Apprenticeships NI as it is currently configured to be complex, bureaucratic and expensive. For many employers the current downturn has either caused them to re-examine their existing commitment to apprenticeships, or it has put them off taking on an apprentice altogether. The message that investment in skills is particularly important during a downturn to gain the maximum benefit from the upswing does not seem to be reaching employers. In times of recession only training that delivers measurable benefits will be maintained by businesses. In many cases SMEs, the majority of our private sector, see apprenticeships as being beyond the reach of their resources in terms of time, finance and expertise. Essentially it is this group that Apprenticeships NI must be tailored to reach. It is the SMEs in our economy that must be developed so that our economy can close the productivity and profitability gap, first with other regions of the UK and the Irish Republic, and then with other European regions and our competitors in the wider global market. There is no shortage of stakeholders willing to make apprenticeships work here, but in their view there are clear obstacles to our system fulfilling their needs.

138. The Committee understands that not everyone will use an apprenticeship as their initial route to professional and technical training. It is also very difficult to predict the level of demand for skills in a particular sector. As a result, the Committee acknowledges that some level of professional and technical course provision will have to remain in colleges for those who prefer that route over an apprenticeship, or where demand for apprenticeships has been underestimated. This will mean some level of parallel provision, but is would be hoped that this can be scaled back over time as apprenticeships become increasingly established and demand forecasting mechanisms improve.

139. On the basis of the evidence presented, and looking at the recommendations made throughout this Report, it would seem that there is a requirement for Apprenticeships NI to be reconfigured in an employer-led model. Employers must be the driver of Apprenticeships NI for 2010. To that end the Committee would make a fundamental and overarching recommendation:

140. The Committee strongly recommends that the Department seeks to make Apprenticeships NI for 2010 employer-focused and configures the contracting process to make this possible, including measures that give employers or employer bodies more responsibility for recruitment and the running of apprenticeships, and those which will encourage the involvement of SMEs. The Committee commends the work which the colleges have done in responding to the needs of employers and their primary focus should remain in the area at which they excel - the provision of directed training and certification.

141. It is the Committee’s view that this clarification of roles and focus on the making the apprenticeship programmes user-friendly for employers will have the knock-on benefit of greater take-up of apprenticeships by both employers and individuals. This will be likely to feed through to a higher profile and status for apprenticeships because of increased demand and availability of programmes in a broader range of areas, some non-traditional and more challenging. A better received, understood and supported system of apprenticeships is much more likely to be able to weather an economic downturn, without the apprentice redundancies we are seeing currently. When apprenticeships are seen as valuable and beneficial to businesses employers will be much less likely to see apprentices as a luxury that they cannot afford in times of recession. In the Committee’s view, if the Department takes on board the recommendations contained in this Report and factors them into the contracting process for Apprenticeships NI 2010, then the resulting programme will take apprenticeships to a new level. The Committee expects the Department to bear in mind the Committee’s recommendations regarding procurement made in the Training for Success Report and the commitment made by the Minister that these recommendations will inform the procurements carried out for Training for success ( and as a consequence Apprenticeships NI) in 2010.

Minutes of Proceedings Relating to the Report

Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Collan Cree (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting opened at 10:29am in public session.

6. Matters Arising

Agreed: Members noted a number of items of correspondence and a Departmental press release on the loss of apprenticeship places at FE Colleges and agreed that the Deputy Chairperson write to the Minister requesting a briefing from Departmental Officials on this issue. It was also agreed that further information be requested from the Department on the colleges and geographical locations of apprentices unable to complete their apprenticeships since September 2007.

9. Any Other Business

Members also noted correspondence to the Chairperson in relation to apprentices attending the Skills Centre in Enniskillen.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1:05pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Collan Cree (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Alex Easton MLA

The meeting opened at 10:33am in public session.

3. Departmental briefing on Contingency Arrangement for Apprentices

The Committee received a briefing from Departmental Officials: Catherine Bell, Deputy Secretary, and Nuala Kerr, Director of Skills and Industry Division, on the Department’s contingency arrangements for apprentices. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: the Committee agreed that the issue of apprenticeships be added to the Committee’s Forward Work Plan and that draft Terms of Reference be added to the agenda for 19th November.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:27pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Collan Cree (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

The meeting opened at 10:32am in public session.

4. Draft Terms of Reference for Stakeholder Review on Apprenticeships

Agreed: Members discussed and agreed the objective, terms of reference and work programme for its Stakeholder Review on the way forward on apprenticeships. Members also agreed that information relating to the review be published on the Assembly website.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:55am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Committee Clerk
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA

The meeting opened at 10:04am in public session.

2. Briefing from the Engineering Training Council NI (ETC NI / SEMTA)

The Committee received a briefing from representatives of the Engineering Training Council NI (ETC NI / SEMTA): David Hatton, Chief Executive, and Bill Brown, Chairman, on the work of the Committee’s Inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:31am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA

The meeting opened at 10:03am in public session.

2. Briefing from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) on the Committee’s Inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from representatives of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB): Allan McMullen, Chief Executive, and Tony Doran OBE, Chairman, on the Committee’s Inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

4. Matter Arising

  • Research paper on the Bombardier Aerospace apprenticeship programme
    Members noted a paper from Assembly Research Services on the apprenticeship programme at Bombardier Aerospace.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:45am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA

The meeting opened at 10:37am in public session.

2. Briefing from the Education and Training Inspectorate on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from Officials from the Education and Training Inspectorate: Stanley Goudie, Chief Inspector, Paul McAlister, Assistant Chief Inspector, John Baird, Managing Inspector, Greer Hamilton, Inspector, and John Kennedy, Inspector, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:46am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (lerical Officer)

Apologies:
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA

The meeting opened at 10:05am in public session.

4. Briefing from Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from Officials from Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE): Gordon Parkes, General Manager (Group Human Resources, Viridian Group Ltd.), Con Feeney, Training Manager (NIE), and Sara McClintock, Communications and Marketing Executive (NIE), on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1:02pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA

The meeting opened at 10:10am in public session.

2. Briefing from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils (ASSC) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from Officials from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils (ASSC): Lawrence Downey, Northern Ireland Manager of the ASSC, and Tory Kerley, National Manager of Skillsmart Retail, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

3. Briefing from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from Deirdre Stewart, Assistant Director of the CBI Northern Ireland, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

5. Matter Arising

Follow-up information from the Education and Training Inspectorate

Members noted follow-up information from the Education and Training Inspectorate highlighting good practice in apprenticeships.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:38am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 18 March 2009
South Eastern Regional College,
Bangor Campus

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA

The meeting opened at 10:33am in public session.

2. Briefing from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils (ASSC) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges (ANIC): John D’Arcy, Chief Executive Officer of ANIC, David Smith, Director of Economic Engagement at South Eastern Regional College, Catherine O’Mullan, Deputy Director for Support and Development at the Northern Regional College, and Raymond Whiteford, Senior Manager for STEM at Belfast Metropolitan College, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

5. Matter Arising

Correspondence from Mary Coughlan T.D. on the Employer Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme

Agreed: Members noted correspondence from Mary Coughlan T.D., Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, on the Employer Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme and agreed that to request for a briefing from her officials on the scheme.

Follow-up information from Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) regarding “fostering" of apprentices

Members noted additional requested information from NIE on the issue of their being approached by the Department in relation to “fostering" of apprentices.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:27pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Jessica Dougan (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA

The meeting opened at 10:05am in public session. The Deputy Chairperson took the Chair.

2. Briefing from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB): Wilfred Mitchell OBE, FSB NI Policy Chairman, and Carolyn Brown, FSB NI Policy Manager, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: Members agreed that the issue of Group Training Associations, proposed by the FSB, should be investigated further.

8. Any Other Business

Further work of the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Agreed: Members agreed that the Northern Ireland Union of Supported Employment (NIUSE) should be asked to brief the Committee on the Investigation into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:37pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting opened at 10:10am in public session

3. Matter Arising

[…]

QPA follow-up information – “Report on the development of a National Diploma in Civil Engineering with Extractives Specialism at South West College"

Agreed: Members noted the above report and agreed that it be included in the Committee’s report on its Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11:27am.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

The meeting opened at 10:06am in public session

1. Briefing from apprentices on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from apprentices currently on apprenticeship programmes: Jenny McGeown, apprentice at Translink, David McCluskey, apprentice at Cahill Motors, Stuart Emmet, polymers apprentice, and Joseph Doyle, brickwork apprentice, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

2. Briefing from Bombardier Aerospace on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships

The Committee received a briefing from representatives of Bombardier Aerospace: Rory Galway, Manager of Equal Opportunities and Technical Training, and Stephen Snowden, Manager of Technical Training, on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:20pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Richard Keating (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Paul Butler MLA

The meeting opened at 10:04am in public session

1. Any Other Business
[…]
ApprenticeshipsNI Programme: Summary of Main Findings

Agreed: Members noted a summary of the main findings of the Education and Training Inspectorate’s report on the Department’s ApprenticeshipsNI Programme and agreed that the document be included in the Committee’s Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:24pm.

[EXTRACT]

Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA

The meeting opened at 12:34pm in closed session

12.36pm Mr Irwin left the meeting

1. Committee Motion on the “Committee for Employment and Learning’s Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships"

Agreed: Members discussed and agreed, subject to amendment, the Committee’s motion to the Assembly on its Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships.

12.39pm Mr Attwood joined the meeting

12.42pm Mr Irwin returned to the meeting

12.44pm Ms Lo joined the meeting

2. Consideration of Draft Committee Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Membership and Powers section of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the Executive Summary section of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the Key Recommendations section of the report.

12.47pm Mr Newton joined the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the Introduction section, paragraphs 1 to 7, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Context" section, paragraphs 8 to 14, of the report.

1.02pm Mr Attwood left the meeting

1.07pm Mr Irwin left the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Apprenticeships NI" section, paragraphs 15 to 17, of the report.

1.09pm Mr Irwin returned to the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Findings" section, paragraphs 18 to 23, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Issues raised by stakeholders during evidence sessions" section, paragraphs 24 to 53, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Essential Skills" section, paragraphs 54 to 57, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Inspection and Auditing" section, paragraphs 58 to 61, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects" section, paragraphs 62 to 69, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Further issues for consideration" section, paragraphs 70 to 135, of the report.

1.26pm Mr Irwin left the meeting

1.30pm Rev Dr Coulter left the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Conclusion" section, paragraphs 136 to 141, of the report.

1.43pm Mr Easton left the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed the report be added to the agenda for the Committee meeting on 10th June for final approval.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1:47pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA

The meeting opened at 10:02am in public session

12:12pm The meeting moved into closed session

10. Consideration of Draft Committee Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Executive Summary and Key Recommendations sections of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to hold an additional meeting on Tuesday 16th June for final consideration of the report.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:23pm.

[EXTRACT]

Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting opened at 12:44pm in closed session

The Clerk informed Members that both the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson would not be in attendance and invited nominations for a temporary Chairperson.

It was proposed by Mr Hilditch and seconded by Mrs McGill that Mr Easton takes the chair of the Committee for today’s meeting.

Agreed: It was agreed that Mr Easton take the chair for the meeting.

1. Consideration of Draft Committee Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Agreed: The Committee agreed to an amendment to the previously approved “Executive Summary" section of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Introduction section, paragraphs 1 to 7, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “Context" section, paragraphs 8 to 16, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “Apprenticeships NI" section, paragraphs 17 to 18, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “Findings" section, paragraphs 19 to 24, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Issues raised by stakeholders during evidence sessions" section, paragraphs 25 to 53, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “Essential Skills" section, paragraphs 54 to 57, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “Inspection and Auditing" section, paragraphs 58 to 60, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects" section, paragraphs 61 to 68, of the report.

12.58pm Mr Attwood joined the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Further issues for consideration" section, paragraphs 69 to 135, of the report.

Agreed: The Committee agreed, subject to amendments, the “Conclusion" section, paragraphs 136 to 141, of the report.

2. Agreed Actions

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister seeking clarity in relation to Members’ concerns around the Review of licenses for Sector Skills Councils.

Agreed: Members agreed to request an update from the Department on its meeting with Northern Ireland Electricity regarding their apprenticeships programme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the report be added to the agenda for the Committee meeting on 17th June for final approval.

Agreed: Members agreed that a draft press release should be considered for issue at the meeting on 17th June.

The Acting Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1:12pm.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present:
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

In Attendance:
Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Trevor Allen (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies:
Mr Robin Newton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting opened at 10:04am in public session

12.33pm The meeting moved into Closed Session

1. Final Approval of the Committee’s Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

Agreed: The Committee agreed the final version of the Committee’s Report on the Way Forward for Apprenticeships.

The Committee ordered that the report be printed.

Agreed: The Committee approved a Committee press release on the report and agreed to issue with an embargo until Monday 22nd June.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12:39pm.

[EXTRACT]

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence
12 November 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mrs Catherine Bell
Mrs Nuala Kerr

 

Department for Employment and Learning

1. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I welcome Catherine Bell and Nuala Kerr from the Department for Employment and Learning. I will hand over to you so that you can update us, and then we will take questions from members. Thank you very much for coming.

2. Mrs Catherine Bell (Department for Employment and Learning): Thank you very much. We welcome the opportunity to engage with the Committee, especially after the Minister’s statement yesterday.

3. The unemployment figures for Northern Ireland — and I realise that new figures have been released today, but we do not have the Northern Ireland figures just yet — are up to over 30,000. That is the highest figure for the past four years. Interestingly, 65% of those are from the construction industry, which is up from 58%. I am aware that the focus is on apprenticeships and what we are doing for apprentices, and of the three areas most affected — construction, engineering and motor vehicle apprenticeships — construction is by far the largest. Our latest figures show that, in the building industry, 301 apprentices have been made redundant; in the motor vehicle sector, there have been 41 redundancies; and in engineering, there have been 50 redundancies. That is why we have concentrated on those three particular areas. Those figures have increased since the Committee received information that was supplied by our colleges.

4. The other thing that we have noticed is that, on the Training for Success programme — apprentices are employed, and the Training for Success scheme is what it says it is: it is about training — the figures on our pre-apprenticeship programme are up by 800 from this time last year. There is a message there. That is a 20% increase on last year’s figures. In looking at the overall apprenticeship figures, more people are on the apprenticeship programme than have been previously. The reason for that is because we have opened up apprenticeships to all ages — they are not restricted to 16- to 24-year-olds. All ages are eligible, and that has helped. What has also helped is that we have opened the scheme up to people who work reduced hours, not just full-time employees.

5. On Tuesday, the Minister outlined the contingencies that he is making. As I have said, apprentices are employed, so our preferred model is for larger employers to foster, or take on, apprentices additional to the number that they need. Some of the major employers have indicated that they are willing to consider doing that, and discussions are ongoing. The Department will have to pay something towards the employment of those apprentices.

6. If an apprentice aged 16 to18 loses his job and cannot be taken on by another employer, there is provision, under Training for Success, whereby he will get training in skills in a realistic working environment in a college; that is, both technical-certificate training and essential-skills training. That young person will be paid the educational maintenance allowance of £40 per week.

7. The difficulty arises when that person is over 18. If he or she has been made redundant, he or she is entitled to claim jobseeker’s allowance. The Department is obliged to observe the benefit regulations, and that is why we have had to do what we have done. Under Steps to Work, however, an adult who has been made redundant will be able to attend a college or training organisation for four days a week to undergo skills training, but he or she must have at least one day with an employer. That will be challenging in the context of the economic downturn. Another point is that that cannot be regarded as education, because of the benefit regulations. However, we have made arrangements with our colleges to run the technical certificate, which is an essential requirement of the apprenticeship framework, in the evening or on Saturdays. At this stage, however, we have no indication of the numbers who will take that up.

8. As I said at the outset, we are focusing on those three areas because that is where the numbers are: that is where the increase has taken place. If we see an increase in other sectors, we will have to consider them.

9. This is our initial response. I am happy to answer any questions that the Committee might have.

10. The Chairperson: Unfortunately, every time you have spoken before the Committee, it has been like a battle. I do not want you to take it personally; you happen to have been landed with these projects.

11. The figure that we received around the end of October was 230: over a two-and-a-half-to-three-week period, that has jumped to 392. I make that a rise of 162 in that period. You may not have it now, but I would appreciate it if you obtained for the Committee the average age of these apprentices. You have said that, for 16- to 18-year-olds, there is provision under Training for Success, but for those over 18 a difficulty arises. If we knew, for example, that 90% of the apprentices were over 18, we would know what we are up against.

12. I know that other Members are interested in this and, following the Minister’s statement yesterday, they will flesh out some of their questions. I will steer clear of those issues. I am concerned about the impact that this will have on the colleges. Have they said that they can deal with it? Can they deal with it?

13. Can you tell us who the fostering employers are? I do not mean to criticise any employer stepping up to the mark: fair play to them for doing that. However, when we look at apprenticeships, we must bear in mind the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee report on Training for Success.

14. Is it possible that some people might use this situation to their advantage by taking on apprentices and allowing other workers to be paid off? Is that possibility being monitored?

15. Mrs Bell: I will ask Mrs Kerr to deal with the figures, but I will deal specifically with the question of the apprentices.

16. I met the principals of the colleges two weeks ago in order to discuss the point that you have made; I asked whether there was enough capacity in the colleges in the event of an increase in the number of apprentices being made redundant. The principals of every single college assured me that they would pull out all the stops and would do whatever needed to be done. I followed that up, particularly with the specialist inspector for construction. I was keen to find out whether there was enough capacity.

17. As members of the Committee will know, we have put millions of pounds into those institutions, and they have been brought up to the standard that they now maintain. I wanted to know whether they could provide realistic working environments in which the apprentices could continue their skills training. The construction inspector assured me that the colleges have that capacity. The big disadvantage with that, however, is that the young adults will not be working under operational pressure, which is what they experience when they are with an employer. That is the advantage of skills training with an employer.

18. The second part of the question was about employers who could use the system to their advantage. That fear was also expressed by the Public Accounts Committee and by people involved with Training for Success. In answer to that, we will monitor the situation closely. No employer will get a foster-apprentice if he or she has made other people redundant. We have set up a system with our employment service and careers colleagues in order to monitor that. We think that we will be able to ensure that the system is not abused. That is one aspect that we will keep under close scrutiny.

19. I will ask Mrs Kerr to talk about the figures.

20. Mrs Nuala Kerr (Department for Employment and Learning): As members will know, we are only firming up the figures at this time of year while the young people register with training providers. That is reflected in the figures that were previously provided to the Committee. We are in a fluid situation during this early part of the year with regard to statistics.

21. The previous figures that we provided to the Committee were obtained by contacting the colleges and asking them to give us their most current information. We are now able to pick up more accurate information from our management information system, because, at this stage, we are beginning to get the figures from it. Since we furnished the Committee with the previous set of figures, the new figures are firming up and a clearer picture is coming out. Evidence to suggest that additional redundancies have occurred is now available, alongside that more accurate picture. However, as you said, Chairperson, 400 redundancies are a matter of concern.

22. You asked who would foster the employees. The large employers who already employ apprentices in this sector have indicated that they have the capacity to take on additional apprentices and train them alongside those who are already in place. We have had verbal indications from several employers, but we will meet the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils on 17 November 2008, and that will give us an opportunity to pin down more accurately those employers who are likely to participate in such a scheme.

23. Mrs Bell: After that meeting, we will furnish the Committee with a list of employers who have made a commitment to take on foster-apprentices.

24. Mrs Kerr: I should say that those employers who have said that they are interested in principle are from the three sectors that we have the difficulty with, including the construction sector. However, we will see whether a casual conversation can result in an actual commitment.

25. The Chairperson: I have several questions but, because everyone has an interest in the subject, I will invite members to go first. If my questions are not covered, I will return to them. However, is the issue of age important?

26. Mrs Bell: Yes.

27. Mr Newton: I welcome Catherine and Nuala to the meeting. I have said it in the Chamber, and I repeat it in the Committee, that I recognise that significant progress has been made on apprenticeship training since the days of the Public Accounts Committee’s report on Jobskills. No one wants to return to that situation.

28. I failed to make this point well in the Assembly — we are in danger of creating a tiered system of apprentices. There are engineering apprentices who are fortunate enough to secure Bombardier apprenticeship training, electrical apprentices who get into Northern Ireland Electricity’s (NIE) training centre, and there are those who get a job and are subject to economic ill winds. The latter may or may not become qualified, and it is now known that 392 of them are in a very difficult situation. Then there are the apprentices who have employment status but no job. I am concerned that there are favoured and less-favoured positions. I assume that there are no apprentices from Bombardier or the NIE centres among those 392.

29. Mrs Bell: I do not believe so.

30. Mr Newton: Therefore, in many ways, Bombardier and NIE apprentices have a greater degree of protection than their counterparts.

31. When I raised that question, the Minister indicated that he would reflect on it, but he went on to say that he was reluctant to return to classroom-based apprenticeships. No one wants to go back to that, and I am not arguing for a return. However, if we cannot protect apprenticeships as much as possible, the progress that we have made does a disservice to many of our young people. I would love it if all apprentices had the same opportunities as those who are employed by the companies that I have mentioned.

32. The Chairperson: I have given the Deputy Chairperson a lot of latitude, but no one after him. [Laughter.]

33. Mrs Bell: I totally agree with Mr Newton. The Department was pleased that, with the support of the Committee, it was able to separate out apprenticeship from Training for Success and brand it Apprentice NI, with the attendant publicity.

34. The focus is on a mixture of classroom learning, off-the-job skills training, and on-the-job skills training under operational pressure. Unfortunately, some apprentices are losing the fundamental part of their training that is with an employer. Motivation is another factor. The Department knows from speaking to apprentices and other young people that the big motivation at the age of 16 is to get a job with a career pathway and good training. Now, all of a sudden, they have lost their jobs.

35. I am also concerned that, in the future, young people may be minded to stay in academic education for as long as they can and do things that are safe. The economy must break out of that if it is to value an approach that gets people into work.

36. My discussions with the colleges were not about classroom-based learning — although apprentices must also do that — but about skills training. The fear is that young people lose their motivation because they do not have employers. We will have to monitor the situation as closely as we can.

37. Mrs McGill: Last week, I asked for the geographical spread of apprenticeship losses in the further education colleges.

38. The Chairperson: We asked for that information, but we are still waiting for it.

39. Mrs McGill: I did not receive it. Coming from the west, that information is important to me because, for example, we do not have Bombardier. The Deputy Chairperson is correct — there is an issue, and it is important that the Department identifies the areas where there are acute problems for apprentices and where there is no work. As someone who represents a constituency in the west, I am pessimistic about the future for apprenticeships and the work that goes with them. The Department must examine that.

40. Mrs Bell: I can give you the figures that I received just before I came here. Across the six college areas, the northern area is suffering the most; there are 119 apprentices in the area around the Northern Regional College, which covers Ballymena, east Antrim, Causeway and Ballymoney. Unsurprisingly, the area that suffers most after that is Belfast, where there are 78 apprentices. The north-west area has 74 apprentices, and the south-west, which covers the Ards Peninsula, has 65 apprentices. The south-west area, which covers Fermanagh, Omagh and Dungannon, has 32 apprentices. The southern area, which covers Armagh, has 55 apprentices.

41. Mrs McGill: The south-west area would not cover the Ards Peninsula.

42. Mrs Bell: Sorry, the south-east area covers the Ards Peninsula.

43. Mrs McGill: What were the totals for the north-west and the south-west areas?

44. Mrs Bell: The south-west area has 32 apprentices, and the north-west area has 74. We will give you those figures when we respond to you in writing.

45. Mrs McGill: Thank you. How does an apprentice who has lost his or her apprenticeship know where to go to be fostered?

46. Mrs Bell: That would be done through our careers service with our providers. There will be a mechanism to signpost people.

47. Mrs McGill: Is that mechanism in place?

48. Mrs Bell: Yes, it is. On Monday, someone asked whether the scheme will be retrospective — it will cover anyone who has been unemployed since 1 September.

49. Mr Hilditch: You said that the figures were more accurate because of the increase due to the situation firming up. At this time of the year, apprentices are moving to higher levels, which means that they are due an increase in their payment from employers. Is it the case that employers are realising that it is time for them to cut their cloth, which affects the figures? Instead of the foster grant, would the Department consider paying a top-up to an employer to cover the increase in the wages of apprentices and, therefore, keep them on?

50. Mrs Kerr: You raised several interesting points about why employers dispense with the services of apprentices, and cost is clearly an issue. However, we have not got to the bottom of why employers make apprentices redundant. We must examine that issue more closely and carry out a further assessment to determine whether the intervention that you suggest is required.

51. We do not subsidise the cost of apprentices. The apprentices agree their wages with the employers, and DEL pays for training and makes a completion payment to the employer. At present, there is, therefore, no incentive to keep an apprentice in place. Whether the current system offsets the cost of keeping an apprentice in place is hard to say.

52. Mrs Bell: It is worth examining that question because, at present, the Department pays the money for training to the people with the contract, and it is up to them to work with the employers. We may need to revisit the rules and put something else in place — and that may have to be in the form of a top-up payment — because the training will also be expensive, and there must be an incentive for employers to retain apprentices. We will re-examine the system, and it was an excellent suggestion that we do so.

53. Another of our concerns is that as the work dries up, notably in construction, finding an employer who will offer work experience, particularly to those over the age of 18, will be extremely challenging for us. We must do anything that we can to encourage an employer to at least offer work experience, and if the Committee can help us with that, we would be very grateful.

54. Mr Attwood: The situation that you and the rest of us face is beyond our control and, to that extent, I have sympathy with the Department’s position. However, in such circumstances, we must ensure that we do all that we can in the areas that we can control. I must say, Catherine, that I am not too impressed by the Department’s response. The situation with apprentices has been emerging for a considerable period.

55. One of the headlines in the Minister’s statement earlier this week was that employers had said that they might take on apprentices. This morning, however, we hear that the Department does not know the number of employers or apprentices concerned. Given that the situation has been emerging for months, I am not too impressed that now, when we are talking about 392 people, there is no real sense of what that means.

56. That brings me to my two questions: what happened to the 164 construction workers whom the Department’s letter of 24 October 2008 advised had lost their apprenticeships? What happened to those 164 people in the past three weeks and in the weeks leading up to 24 October? Where have they — and the eight electricians and the 28 plumbers — gone? What has happened to those individuals? You said that they were all individual cases, so what has the Department been doing to address their immediate and critical needs.

57. Secondly, and I do not know whether this is possible, but can we do anything to imitate the Scottish model through the £16 billion of public contracts over the next investment period? That amount is available under the second investment strategy for Northern Ireland.

58. Although that amount of money is inadequate, it does exist. Therefore, would it be possible, like in the Scottish model, to tie in awarding contracts with a requirement to employ significant numbers of apprentices? If that were to happen and the process of awarding contracts is accelerated, which we hope it will be if the Executive ever get round to meeting, the 166 construction workers that you mentioned could be absorbed into such a scheme.

59. Mrs Kerr: Concerning your first question, we outlined how unemployed young people, between the ages of 16 and 18, will continue their training when they join Training for Success pre-apprenticeship programmes. People over 18 are concerned about what they will live on and the benefits to which they will be entitled. Although many of those people are already jobseekers under the various existing programmes, we propose that, instead of them having to run the gamut of time, waiting to join those programmes, they will be eligible to access the available training facilities for technical certificates as soon as they become unemployed. There are signs that some people have chosen to go back to full-time education; nevertheless, I expect that such people will either join Training for Success programmes or become jobseekers.

60. Mr Attwood: I apologise for missing the start of your presentation. Are all of those 166 people now in Training for Success?

61. Mrs Bell: We cannot say for certain whether that is the case for them all.

62. Mr Attwood: In general, is that where they are?

63. Mrs Bell: They are either in Training for Success or on a full-time course, or, if they are over 18, they would have taken up jobseeker’s allowance.

64. I understand your concern about us not giving you a commitment to foster employers. However, although we have worked with individual employers, it is not just a matter of us asking them to introduce apprenticeship schemes. In many instances, employers must gain approval from their head offices. Furthermore, given the fact that we would have to, for the want of a better word, subsidise employers to take on such people, we had to ensure that we were not breaking European state-aid guidelines.

65. Mr Attwood: You have been undertaking that work over the past few weeks, but this problem has been emerging for months —

66. Mrs Bell: We have been engaging with employers for some time.

67. Mr Attwood: The Minister said that you have been working on the problem for a few weeks.

68. Mrs Kerr: He said “for some weeks".

69. Mrs Bell: You asked about apprenticeships being tied to contracts under the investment strategy for Northern Ireland. We are actively exploring that option, and things look reasonably hopeful.

70. Mr Attwood: When did you begin to consider that option?

71. Mrs Bell: We had meetings —

72. Mrs Kerr: We have been considering the model for a considerable period of time. However, although we discussed the matter with our counterparts in the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), that option would result in changes to standard contract terms, so DFP has the lead. Consequently, in an attempt to make progress, the Department of Finance and Personnel has been discussing the matter with the industry for some time. Yesterday, the Minister for Employment and Learning gave a formal undertaking to write to the Minister of Finance and Personnel seeking information about how far those discussions have progressed.

73. Mr Attwood: If agreement is possible, when do you think the discussions might get over the line?

74. Mrs Kerr: Although I do not know the timescale — and we cannot commit DFP to a timescale — we are optimistic that the objective is achievable, and we would support such an outcome.

75. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Some years ago, I was involved in a scheme similar to this in a further education college where we discovered some things about the quality of training that is given when apprentices are fostered. How robust will your scheme be in monitoring the quality of training? I can think of one girl who was an apprentice on the catering side, and who was fostered by a catering firm. She did nothing but cook chips for one month solid, which was not what we had in mind.

76. Mrs Bell: Apprentices will be fostered by those employers that already have apprentices, and they are already subject to inspection. The lead provider will be inspected, and the inspectors will visit trainees on employers’ premises. When an inspector visits an apprentice at his or her employer’s premises, he or she will visit the fostered employees as well. Although not every employer can be inspected, the employers who will be involved in taking on additional apprentices — and we are talking about three areas — will be the larger employers who generally provide very good training anyway.

77. In our discussions, we have found that the apprentices receive exactly the same training as the employers’ existing apprentices receive: they become part of the workforce. The fact that they do not receive the same salary is a separate issue, but they are subject to the same inspection regime as other apprentices.

78. Mr Irwin: You said earlier that you may have to revisit the issue of subsidising employers. Bearing in mind the fact that employers who foster apprentices already receive £40 a week, if I were an employer, I would have thought that, under the economic climate and with money being tight, apprentices, who are probably not paying their own way, would be the first to go. It is important for that situation to be looked at urgently. There is an issue for encouraging employers to keep fostering.

79. Mrs Bell: That is an issue that we will examine again. However, we will have to be careful that there is no displacement. Some employers are expanding and would have been taking on apprentices anyway. We are talking about public money, and we will certainly look at the matter again.

80. Mr Irwin: The situation could last for some time, given the current economic climate.

81. Mrs McGill: Alex referred to the fact that apprentices have lost their places, and Mrs Bell said that she had spoken with the principals of the colleges, who had assured her that there was capacity. Would it be helpful, Chairperson, if the Committee were to have direct contact with the colleges? I would certainly like to see how the colleges are coping in the north-west and the south-west.

82. The Chairperson: I will finish this session and then make suggestions as to how the Committee advances. Members had a good opportunity yesterday and this morning to comment on the overall issue of apprenticeships. However, the situation changes every day, and it is important for the Committee to be updated weekly by the Department. Can we have a response to the points that were made and the information requested as quickly as possible so that members can have an idea of the situation?

83. Although Mrs Bell said that colleges have capacity, I am being told that young people are losing their places at college because they have lost their apprenticeships. We must, collectively, obtain all the relevant information and find a way round that situation.

84. Thank you for coming at short notice. I hope that the relationship can be ongoing and that we can be kept up to date with the situation.

28 January 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:
Mr Bill Brown ) Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta
Mr David Hatton

85. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I welcome David Hatton and Bill Brown from the Engineering Training Council/Semta. I appreciate your offer to brief the Committee — you have been regular visitors and given the Committee useful information.

86. The evidence session will be recorded by Hansard and will form part of the Committee’s report. Although I say this at every Committee meeting, I stress that Committee members must turn off their mobiles phones, because they interfere with the recording equipment. Sometimes I meet Hansard staff in the corridor who give off to me about mobile-phone interference.

87. David and Bill, I shall hand over to you to make your presentations, and then members will have the opportunity to ask questions. Once again, thank you for being proactive.

88. Mr David Hatton (Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta): Thank you for the invite to address the Committee. We have given evidence to the Committee before, and we hope that what we say is helpful and constructive. I will set the scene for Committee members, talk a little about the sector and try to put apprenticeships into perspective. Bill will then talk in more detail about some of the initiatives that we are developing for apprenticeships. I was going to mention young people, but apprenticeships are not just for young people — they are for people of all ages.

89. Bill and I have a lot of experience with apprenticeships: we have known each other for a long time and both started off working life as apprentices. Therefore, we understand the system, which has been modified, amended and improved over the years. To complete an apprenticeship, an apprentice must now reach a specific academic and practical standard.

90. We work for the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETCNI) and represent the Northern Ireland interests of the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (Semta). We are involved in its committee structures and the issues that it addresses. There are quarterly four-nation meetings between Semta representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which Bill chairs. That gives us an opportunity to see what is happening in other parts of the UK. We are also involved in examining apprenticeship initiatives in the Republic of Ireland.

91. Like all the regions within Semta, in Northern Ireland we have developed sector-skills agreements, which, in their simplest form, put employers at the heart of education and skills needs. We have undertaken a process with employers in Northern Ireland to identify their needs, and we try to get them to articulate, as accurately as possible, their specific needs. That is the first stage.

92. The second stage is looking at the supply side: the suppliers in Northern Ireland mainly comprise our colleges, universities and some private suppliers. We try to make sure that what employers demand, the supply side meets. From that, we try to develop action plans. To date, we have completed six sector skills agreements — aerospace, automotive, bioscience, electronics, marine, and metals, mechanical and electrical (MME). That also includes maintenance, which is one area that is cross-sectoral within our footprint, covering not just the engineering sector, but a much wider area.

93. In early 2008 we undertook a piece of research and, in June 2008, launched the sector skills balance sheet. That brought all our needs up to date and looked at some of the key issues affecting the sector at that point. Bill will explain that in more detail. I sent copies of the document to the Committee, and it can be downloaded from our website. If anyone is really interested, the full document — nearly 200 pages — is available.

94. Many important issues came out of the skills balance sheet. Two key areas relate to the upskilling of the existing workforce and to getting new entrants into the workforce, including craft apprenticeships, technician apprenticeships and the need for graduates. To remain competitive as we move forward, we are looking for jobs that are of higher value. It is very difficult for low skills to compete with foreign economies. We are looking for higher-value-added jobs, and, in order to do that, we need people with higher skills levels. Apprenticeships must be taken right through to level 3 and level 4, and the same must be done with upskilling, if we are to be competitive in the future. That is the direction that we are taking, and most of the companies that we deal with are also of that frame of mind.

95. As well as the issues of skills shortages that we have with indigenous employers, we also have issues around inward investment. To attract inward investment there must be a high-level, technical and professional workforce, as that is what will attract the higher value-added jobs. In order to do that, we need the professional and technical training infrastructure to deal with that. We have moved a long way toward that with the sector skills agreements, the balance sheet, and the work that we, as a sector skills council, do with the six regional colleges and two universities. A lot of excellent work has been undertaken.

96. Generally, the sector requires employees to have, at minimum, NVQ level 3. An individual with NVQ level 3, coming through an apprenticeship is ideally situated to feature in the sector and has the opportunity to progress even further. Many of the apprentices go onto level 4 and level 5. Some, who start off doing a technical certificate, such as a National Certificate, progress to the Higher National Certificate or the Higher National Diploma. There are many cases in which apprentices have taken up posts in which they have completed an engineering degree.

97. In Northern Ireland, the academic route is still favoured. We have tried to make engineering apprenticeships comparable to the academic route so that the vocational route is as attractive as the academic route. Therefore, we wanted to build in a high level of technical certificate. Many young people start our programme, complete all the necessary training requirements, attain the skills and gain high levels of technical certificate qualifications.

98. The skills balance sheet indicates that we are not meeting the target numbers of apprenticeships that we need. We are falling short of those numbers, and we need to look at that. We have considered initiatives to try to address the issue, and Bill will talk about some of those shortly.

99. We have had some very successful discussions with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) — for example, age restrictions have now been removed. It was an issue, because funding was only available for people up to 24-years-old, and there was no funding beyond that. The Department has removed those restrictions, and we can now take apprentices on at virtually any age. We work with some companies that have semi-skilled adults working for them who have now transferred to apprenticeship programmes and are progressing up that skills level and, hopefully, getting paid accordingly.

100. We are trying to work in collaboration with colleges, universities, the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Education and Invest Northern Ireland, for the benefit of our sector.

101. Mr Bill Brown (Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland/Semta): Thank you for the opportunity to talk to the Committee today. I will talk about the details in the skills balance sheet and highlight some key facts in it. David talked about the upskilling and apprenticeships as a means of replacing people who are retiring from our industries. That is the key issue.

102. The skills balance sheet and research shows that we need to upskill around 14,000 people, which is about 40% of our total core workforce. That is a significant number, and it is quite a task. We cannot put a time frame on that, but it is something that needs to start quickly. The Department has introduced specific programmes and provision, which will assist in that task, and David mentioned the all-age apprenticeships and the opportunity for upskilling to allow for apprenticeships for existing employees. Those apprentices could be fast-tracked, because they have experience in the workplace. They could probably complete an engineering apprenticeship programme in two years, rather than the normal three to four years. Therefore, there is a real opportunity to use that provision to do something about the need for upskilling.

103. Some 4% of the workforce is retiring each year, and if we take the next six years as a reasonable time period, we are looking at a need to replace about 24% of the total workforce. Therefore, we need to recruit around 900 people a year who will finish their apprenticeships. However, we must be cognisant of the fact that some of those people will leave for one reason or another. The retention rate in our sector is around 75% to 80%. Therefore, we are looking at a need to recruit around 1,200 per year just to replace those who are retiring or leaving for other reasons.

104. We currently recruit 400 apprentices, so we are only recruiting about one third of the people that we actually need. DEL gave me figures that show that across the disciplines in our sector, we recruited 418 engineering apprentices between September and December 2008, under Apprenticeship NI. We have in residence around 1,000 engineering apprentices. Over time, we need to ramp up the number of recruits who are coming in to around 1,000 to 1,200 a year. On average, programmes last for three years; therefore, there should be around 3,000 people occupying apprenticeships at whatever stage.

105. That is quite a task, and it is something that we will strive to achieve. We have to colour that with the current economic situation, because there will be some retardation of those numbers. However, the current situation might provide us with a window in which to do that ramping up and to take the actions that are necessary to do that. Those are the requirements, according to the survey that was done as part of that skills balance sheet for engineering in Northern Ireland.

106. Nobody is recruiting at present. By that, I mean that there are no proactive programmes in operation or actions being taken to go out, engage with employers and promote and drive recruitment. There are one or two exceptions to that: Engineering Training Services, which is a subsidiary of our organisation and which runs an apprenticeship programme; and the likes of Bombardier, which is proactive in recruiting for its particular needs.

107. Between them, Bombardier, Semta/ETCNI, Seven Towers Training — which supplies Wrightbus — and Larne Skills Development Ltd supply something like 60% of the total apprentices that are started each year. The other 40% are supplied through the further education colleges, but the colleges do not recruit apprentices. We think that that is a weakness, and that is an area that we want to address.

108. DEL has agreed to fund a feasibility study into a one-stop shop recruitment service, where we will go out, engage with the employers, and recruit for them in each of the six regions. We will deliver to the colleges a cohort of apprentices that will, it is hoped ramp up the numbers that are starting. A three-month feasibility study is under way to see whether that will work. If it does, DEL will fund us over the next couple of years to drive it forward. That could help us to increase the numbers.

109. We also need to look at the number of employers who are participating. Currently, only 30% of our employers participate out of a sector comprising 1,780 employers. Many of them are small and do not normally take apprentices. We need to increase that percentage, and over the next couple of years, we would like to drive it up to around 40%. That would go some way to help increase the number of apprentices who are starting in our sector and help the sector meet its overall needs.

110. We also want to look at the programme. Last year, Apprenticeship NI replaced Training for Success that replaced Jobskills. Therefore, the programme, and its design, have gone through some iterations. We want to propose to DEL some further modifications to that programme to take into account a modification of the funding categories, which will include the centralised recruitment service on an ongoing basis, beyond this project, in each of the six regions. That way, recruitment becomes part of the funded programme, because it costs money to advertise in the press, for instance.

111. We also want the programme to include a directed training provision. Many employers do not have the facilities that the likes of Bombardier or Schlumberger enjoy. Those companies have a dedicated space in their workshops, or other facilities, in which to provide a short period of, say, four- to six- weeks’ directed off-the-job training, before releasing the young people into the workforce.

112. A number of employers — particularly those who are outwith our sector, such as Allied Bakeries and some employers in the fibres industry — do not have the engineering facilities in-house to provide directed training. Therefore we want to try to build that into part of the programme. It is a key need, and we believe that a number of employers would welcome it. We are consulting with them on that basis.

113. We would also like to look at the total funding, from DEL, that is enjoyed by the apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland. A three-year apprenticeship costs £12,300. Funding is higher in England, so we want to evaluate how we can bridge that gap and perhaps offer additional funding that would cover some of the additional elements in the programme that we believe will strengthen it.

114. We want to examine the potential benefits of extending Training for Success — the pre-apprenticeship programme that is mostly operated by the further-education sector — into programme-led apprenticeships, perhaps with the provider as the employer. However, before we get into all of that, we want to establish whether there is a widespread demand for this approach, because we are in the mode of a demand-led system. The employers should articulate what their needs are.

115. As a sector skills council, we will engage with the employers to establish whether there is a need, a desire and a justification for this proposal. We and Semta still prefer to go the employed route in which apprentices are employed from day one and there are commitments on all parties to make sure that those apprenticeships are completed.

116. We are currently consulting 25 of our key employers who have regularly taken on apprentices to assess the benefits of the system and to justify it. As I said earlier, as part of the need to upskill 14,000 of the existing employees, we want to promote the take-up by employers of fast-track apprenticeships in their existing workforce. We have a pilot programme for maintenance apprentices that began in September 2008. The Northern Regional College is currently running this two-year fast-track programme for existing employees from participating employers. We will study how that programme develops. Perhaps we can grow it. It could certainly be an exemplar of what could be done for the rest of the workforce.

117. Last, but by no means least, we have in the past developed a code of practice for engineering apprentices. We liaise very closely with the Education and Training Inspectorate as it reviews how the current programme works. That inspection process is very good in itself. However, we want to encapsulate all of the procedures that exist in our programme; get them down on paper; rate the programme suppliers and the employers against that code of practice and the standards that we would build in the programme; review the compliance; and measure the performance while liaising with the Education and Training Inspectorate about combining its criteria with the criteria that we have in our code of practice. Those are the actions that we are taking to try to address what has been published in our sector skills balance sheet for engineering in Northern Ireland.

118. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for that, Bill and David, and for the paper that you provided to the Committee. We wrote to the Minister for Employment and Learning seeking his views on Gordon Brown’s recent announcement in England. I will keep you informed once we receive a response from the Minister.

119. It is quite useful that not only are you raising areas of concern, but you are putting in place proposals to try to deal with the issue. That will help the Committee when we consider the overall issue of apprenticeships. One of the key issues that David mentioned was the age limit. The Committee was quite vocal about trying to get rid of the cap on age.

120. It is useful to find out about the codes of practice when you talked about the Education and Training Inspectorate because we also have concerns about the issue. Training for Success replaced the Jobskills programme, so it is possible that some vulnerable people in our society were abused in order to achieve apprenticeships. The Committee has genuine concerns about that. It is helpful that those who are close to the grindstone regarding the issue are quite keen to ensure that the inspectorate is with you every step of the way.

121. I will now open up the session for members to comment or ask questions. A couple of members have already indicated that they want to contribute.

122. Mr Newton: I am extremely pleased to see the very proactive approach and the high quality of what is being done in response to problems. Well done to the organisation.

123. I am not sure whether my question is one that the witnesses posed in their paper — it is about how apprentices can be helped to survive the downturn, and how the present system of apprenticeships may evolve to become more robust in the face of an economic downturn. You have divided those issues into several areas.

124. Do you agree that some apprentices in Northern Ireland receive a much better quality of training than others, and that, during their training, economic ill winds do not impact upon them as much as those other apprentices? I am thinking of some of the companies that you mentioned — Bombardier, Wrightbus and others — which pretty well guarantee a job to apprentices who do all that is required of them. However, if an apprentice joins the “ABC" engineering company, in some other part of the Province, and there is an economic downturn, he or she is likely to be paid off. Unfortunately, the Committee has heard from employers who were paying off apprentices.

125. The Minister has instigated a “contingency programme of foster companies". My feeling is that that has not been overly successful. There is not a big take-up. In respect of the quality of your approach, and the problems of the economic downturn, how can apprentices be protected? How can they be assured that if they behave themselves during their apprenticeships, they are likely to emerge with their qualifications? I suspect that the economic downturn means that many apprentices will never gain their qualifications, because they will find another job somewhere else. How are apprentices protected in that situation?

126. Mr B Brown: Engineering must be put in the context of the total number of redundancies that are happening right now. Of course, we are not at the end of it yet; there is a bit to go. Up until now, we in the engineering sector have not seen a large number of apprentices made redundant. We have probably had less than 20, which is not a lot.

127. Indeed, several employers — although not as many as we would like — have made specific commitments to foster apprentices under the proposed scheme. For instance, Michelin, which is one of our companies, has offered to place up to 30 apprentices alongside its maintenance engineers. That will allow them to complete their technical classes at college, provide workplace training, and satisfy the vocational qualification needs, thus enabling them to complete their apprenticeship framework.

128. David’s and my old company, Harland and Wolff, although much smaller than it once was, has offered two fabricator/fitter apprenticeships and two computer-aided-design technician apprenticeships. Those positions are on offer to young people who have been made redundant elsewhere. In fact, two of the redundant apprentices from one of our employers, Olympic Lifts, have applied for one each of those specific offers.

129. However, there has not been a big take-up of those placement offers. Part of the problem in Northern Ireland appears to be that people do not want to travel. I do not know why that is the case, because it is one and a half hours to anywhere in Northern Ireland, but there you go. We are where we are, and people do not want to move much beyond working for the company at the end of their street. That is a difficulty. The offer is there, but we cannot offer placements in every company and in every locality. Nevertheless, we do our best, and our employers are responding. This is not the end of the story, and there will probably be more developments, given the news that we have been hearing over the past several days. The construction sector is suffering the most; it has much larger numbers of apprentices.

130. Mr Hatton: A culture had been created in engineering in which an apprentice who started an apprenticeship programme would never be made redundant unless the company closed. Once an apprenticeship had begun, the person would tend to complete it. That culture is not as strong in others sectors, but it is very strong in our sector, and when someone starts an apprenticeship, specific agreements are made with the apprentice, with the company, and, if the apprentice is under 18 years of age, with the parents. It is a rigid and robust system.

131. Furthermore, the nature of the work that we do and the contacts that we have with other companies means if an apprentice is made redundant, we can usually get them employed somewhere else. I have not seen that happen yet, and I hope that it does not become an issue in our sector. The companies that take on apprentices are the better companies in Northern Ireland. They are pro-training companies, and they know that they require a skilled workforce, not just now, but in two or three years’ time.

132. Mr Newton: Is the approach that you have just outlined applicable to any sector of industry?

133. Mr Hatton: Yes, it is, but there has to be the wherewithal to do it, and people have to have the experience of doing it. Bill mentioned the Engineering Training Services programme, which has been running since the early 1990s. It is established, well recognised and well subscribed to by young people who want to take up an apprenticeship. It is well supported by careers teachers in schools, because they know that right from the start, it is an apprenticeship and that the young person is employed by a company. It is not a training programme per se; it is training, but the individual concerned is employed and is earning a wage. There is a much greater rigour built into that programme than some others, but I can only talk about our programme. If a young person is made redundant, the shared nature of our situation allows us to help.

134. Mr B Brown: To be fair, we have not been hit nearly as hard as the construction industry has been. It has been reported that 400 apprentices have been made redundant in that sector. It is hard times for small building firms, and it becomes impossible for them to retain someone on an apprenticeship.

135. Mr Newton: I acknowledge that the industry is different, but the principles that you are articulating —

136. Mr B Brown: The principles should hold.

137. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Thank you for coming here today; you made a very interesting presentation. I have two or three questions to ask, the first of which is about non-completion rates. Is there any follow-up on apprentices who drop out of the scheme, and is there any deep analysis of the reasons that they did so? Is there any possibility of giving them a second chance?

138. My second question is about the relationship between the regional colleges and the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially in computer numerical control (CNC) training, in which apprentices who are employed by small firms go to the college. One of the complaints that I have heard in the past is that the training that they are getting is not for the work that they do in their workplace. Many small firms have only one CNC machine, and they cannot afford to stop it in order to train an apprentice. Is there any liaison between the colleges and the companies, so that apprentices are trained in college for the work that they will do in the workplace.

139. Thirdly, what approaches do you make to schools and colleges about recruitment of apprentices?

140. Mr Hatton: I will answer your third question first. If there are shortages and we need to encourage more people to take up apprenticeships, careers activities in schools are critically important. For example, we have spent a lot of time with careers teachers, with technology teachers, and so forth. A lot of effort goes into careers activities in schools, particularly at the start of the year — this time of the year is very busy, because many companies want to recruit around September time, so now is a good time to get information out to young people.

141. Therefore, we do a lot of work with regard to careers, and we promote the sector tremendously. I have given evidence to the Committee as a representative of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which does a lot of work — as we do — to promote apprenticeships, and graduates too. We are trying to change the perception of engineering — some people have a certain view of engineering that is not right. Although we have not been as successful as we would like to be, we have tried to get more females to take up a career in engineering.

142. One big issue that we are working on is skills competitions in Northern Ireland, because the WorldSkills championship in 2011 is being held in London. We are looking at skills competitions, not just for the sake of it, but to let other young people see 18- and 19-year-olds competing, see the type of skills that they have and see the type of technology that is in our sector, which might inspire them to take a job in our sector.

143. If a small company has only one CNC machine tool, it is very difficult for a college to meet its training needs specifically, because there is such a wide range of tools. Therefore, colleges try to identify common areas in CNC, such as health and safety, programming and measuring the finished component.

144. Colleges can also lay on specific training for young people that cannot be provided in a workshop. A good example of that is a programme that will happen in the next few weeks. In partnership with the South Eastern Regional College, we have arranged for 16 or 18 young apprentices to take part in a basic engineering programme for a week at its Lisburn campus. That programme will include health and safety and basic engineering skills, and the apprentices and their employers will benefit. That also gives us an opportunity to meet the apprentices individually, try to encourage them and tell them that they are involved in a career, not just a job. Those are the issues that we try to wrestle with.

145. Mr B Brown: We have also just embarked on an engineering campaign in many secondary schools. As part of that, we have appointed 11 exemplars to go into the educational sector, to try to promote engineering as a career and to establish themselves as exemplars of success from that career route.

146. Mr Hatton: That programme starts tomorrow morning. At the beginning of the meeting, I spoke about partnership and collaboration. I am sure that the Committee is sick of hearing me say this, but we cannot have all organisations going off and doing their own thing — we must work collectively. Therefore, through the engineering campaign, the ETC and the Learning and Skills Development Agency, we have — as Bill said — organised eight events in companies, in which we invite careers teachers from local schools. The first one will take place tomorrow not too far from here at Thales Air Defence Ltd, at which 16 careers teachers will be in attendance. The careers teachers will be welcomed by a senior person in the company, and there will be a whole programme in the morning dedicated to careers and related issues. It will culminate in a factory tour, so that careers teachers can see what engineering is like. Several other events have been planned for companies such as Almac Sciences; Seagate Technology in Springtown, Derry; and Wright Group.

147. The sector’s drop-out rate is not high. When we examine the people who cease to continue on the programme, they tend to be young people who have not realised that because they are working they must, therefore, comply with terms and conditions of employment — for example, young people who are supposed to go to college on day release, but instead go to watch a movie. When a company finds out, it can result in termination of a young person’s position. Therefore, a certain number of leavers in the sector are young people who have not complied with the terms and conditions of employment.

148. If people are not meeting the standard that is expected of them, we give them additional training, encouragement and coaching. We work with the company to try to overcome those problems so that they can improve and become good engineers. Some young people play up a bit. It might be the nature of their age and one thing and another. However, given the right circumstances, they can turn out to be excellent craft and technician apprentices.

149. Mr B Brown: As David said, the number of leavers includes people who have been fired for non-compliance with the programme. Perhaps, to be fair — and you make a good point — we can do more. There is an opportunity. If we retain only 75% or 80% in our particular sector, there is loss and waste. We must examine waste and, perhaps, do more than we do at present.

150. There is a requirement in the apprenticeship programmes for reviews and follow-up for people who have left and not returned, in order to make contact with them and find out what problems they have.

151. In some cases, over and above what David has mentioned, the programme is too rigorous for some people. Engineering demands higher-tech skills. Some of the young people who begin the programme have not achieved GCSE grade-C level; they may be at grade-D level, or lower. Perhaps, they have a problem with the essential skills training, which they cannot cope with. Sometimes, they lose heart and leave simply because they cannot cope with the programme. That is another factor. However, we can do more to tackle all of those factors and to deal with that wastage. We should not miss that opportunity.

152. Ms Lo: You seem to be quite proactive in recruiting new apprentices. I am pleased to hear that the drop-out rate is low and that the industry is doing well. Are you active in recruiting people who have recently been made redundant now that there is flexibility with regard to age?

153. Mr Hatton: When you say “we", do you mean companies in our sector?

154. Ms Lo: Yes, you and DEL, together.

155. Mr Hatton: Certainly, companies in the sector use that opportunity to recruit. We have examined contingency issues. We have approached companies and asked them to help and support what we are doing. We have been able to get people who have been made redundant from certain companies into apprenticeships with other companies. Thank goodness, only a small number of apprentices have been made redundant. At present, therefore, any apprentice who has been made redundant during the process of their apprenticeship has been fixed up with employment somewhere else.

156. Mr B Brown: If we are trying to grow apprenticeships, we must examine the cohort of people of all ages who have been made redundant: should they not have the opportunity to embark on apprenticeships in the future? We must include them and welcome their applications.

157. Ms Lo: Can people who have been made redundant from other industries, such as construction, cross over into your apprenticeships?

158. Mr Hatton: There was a case in which two motivated joiners came into the sector, and, with some retraining, fitted in very well. The skills that joiners have — good hand skills, reading drawings, health and safety — are similar to those of engineers, and those two people were particularly well motivated. There are opportunities for that: it comes back to the two key points that came out of the skills balance sheet — upskilling, and, in the case of people made redundant, reskilling.

159. Ms Lo: My second question concerns upskilling. Currently within the industry, around 40% of employees need upskilling. What approaches are you taking to help them? The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has a levy and provides grants. Do you do something similar?

160. Mr B Brown: DEL provides funding for all training in the workplace. That is a recent commitment that the Department has made, particularly in relation to business improvement techniques and soft skills that develop productivity and competitiveness in the local industry. That is very good news. Fifteen companies have taken that up, and the cost of training and delivery will be met by DEL. It is very proactive of the Department to include that.

161. In upskilling the existing workforce, the fast-track apprenticeship is the best way to bring employees from a level 2 to a level 3 or level 4. That would be funded in the same way as any other apprenticeship.

162. Mr Hatton: Recently, I dealt with a couple of well-qualified people with electrical-installation skills; they were recruited into a company as maintenance engineers. With their electrical engineering and electronics experience, plus their qualifications and essential skills, they slotted in really well, and it was an opportunity for them to undertake some retraining. There are skills and disciplines from some other sectors that fit well with our sector requirements.

163. The CITB is a statutory body, so it can lift a levy. I am aware of no other organisation in the training-for-skills field that can do that in NI. We have to rely on making a good case to both DEL and to Invest Northern Ireland, in order to get funding for our sector.

164. Mrs McGill: You are both welcome. Bill, you spoke about the directed off-the-job training, and the funding that exists for that. At any time that would be very welcome, but is particularly welcome at this stage. You said that there will be five or six centres providing that type of training. Where would those centres be? I am particularly interested in having one in the north-west or the south-west. The figures — admittedly, only for a fortnight — show that more people in those areas are leaving, for whatever reason. Therefore, directed off-the-job training in those areas would be very welcome. The funding is there, and it is a short five-week or six-week programme. Clearly, there are no Bombardiers in Derry, Omagh or Enniskillen, so how will you manage that?

165. Mr B Brown: Seagate Technology in Derry is a very large employer. It is important that that training is spread across the six regions as covered by the further education regional colleges, and the various campuses in each of those regions. For example, one of those campuses, or an independent training organisation in each region, could be set up and funded to deliver directed off-the-job training.

166. I was talking about directed off-the-job training, however, in the context of apprenticeships. After recruitment, instead of being thrown into the workplace with no knowledge of its processes, equipments, and so on, the apprentice would go to that place of directed off-the-job training to get some generic practical skills that he could take to the workplace. That would acquaint the apprentice with all of the technology with which he would be faced when he went into the workplace and provide him with some of the knowledge that he would need on the day that he started in the employer’s premises.

167. The Chairperson: A female apprentice would know all of that already.

168. Mr B Brown: She would, absolutely.

169. Mrs McGill: If such facilities did exist, it would be helpful if they could, to some extent, accommodate young people who wanted to take up an apprenticeship but could not find an employer. That is why I made reference to the current times.

170. Mr B Brown: You are referring to programme-led apprenticeships, which I mentioned as being an alternative to the employed apprenticeship. Perhaps some of that, but not necessarily all of it, could be carried out in a central training facility. There would still have to some placement with the final employer.

171. Mr Hatton: The difficulty is with providing the apprentice with experience. Training is important, but experience is needed on top of it. If young people were simply to undertake training at a training facility, they could never meet all of the requirements of the apprenticeship framework. Although training is excellent and vitally important, young people need to have experience in industry. We have considered a project through which, having provided off-the-job directed training, a training provider such as has been mentioned could get an apprentice into a company to get that experience and be assessed in an on-the-job situation.

172. Mr B Brown: Perhaps Mrs McGill is advocating the idea of a throwback to the Government training centres that used to be in place. Perhaps we had too many of those and were churning out a lot of people who did not end up with a job. David, you had much experience of working with those.

173. Mr Hatton: I remember talking to a couple of people at Maydown training centre in the north-west. Those people had undergone training course after training course, and they asked me whether there was any chance of getting a job instead of doing another training course. That hit home to me how important it is for people to do training and, having had that training, try to get an appropriate job.

174. Mrs McGill: At this time, should we not be ensuring that, when the upturn comes, young people are in place to pick up the jobs that become available?

175. Mr Hatton: That is a very valid point. The problem that our sector — and most sectors — faces is that, if companies were to stop training and recruiting and training providers were not to provide training, it would prove difficult to try to switch the tap of recruitment on and off. Therefore, it is important that the colleges and others continue to provide that training. It would be very difficult to link that in with employers so that young people could see the real world of work and simulate skills totally off the job for three years. We are, however, considering programmes of a similar nature, because the unusual economic circumstances that we currently face need to be dealt with in special ways.

176. Mr Hilditch: The report indicates that around a quarter of the people who are in higher education are studying outside of Northern Ireland. Are those people then lost to the sector, or is there a record of them coming back to us?

177. Mr Brown: Reports indicate that many students who go to universities outside Northern Ireland do not come back. In fact, they get engaged with employers in the areas where they have resided at university. Therefore, they are a loss to us.

178. Mr Hilditch: Almost a quarter of students do not come back.

179. Mr B Brown: DEL has instituted campaigns to try to welcome back graduates to Northern Ireland to help the economy here. At the end of the day, personal choice will drive such a decision, but packages must be attractive, and there must be jobs available for them.

180. Ms Lo: If they meet a partner over there, then they are lost.

181. Mr Hatton: It seems to be the girls who go and do not come back. The fellows come back; they need to be with their mothers.

182. The Chairperson: We will not get into that. Thank you for coming today. It is useful to have discussion and debate on the matter, as it helps the Committee with its inquiry on the way forward for apprenticeships. As I said earlier, you are at the coalface, and you were not shy in highlighting the positives and the negatives.

183. I hope that that we continue our relationship throughout the inquiry. You can tell us whether what we are doing is right or wrong, and vice versa. In that way, we can tease out some of the proposals. We act as a conduit for the people, and we can guide the Department and its officials on the way ahead. Once again, thank you.

184. Mr B Brown: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

4 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr Tony Doran
Mr Allan McMullen

 

Construction Industry Training Board

185. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Newton): Today, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) will provide a substantive briefing on apprenticeship training. It follows on from the briefing that we received on 28 January 2009 from the Engineering Training Council (ETC) on the same matter. I give a warm welcome to Mr Tony Doran and Mr Allan McMullen. Thank you for coming to the Committee.

186. You will be aware that we are interested in apprenticeships and are conducting an inquiry into that area. In a few months’ time, the Committee intends to publish a report on apprenticeship training, which will cover all sectors of industry. Are you prepared to provide an outline to the Committee in whatever format or approach you want to take and, afterwards, to answer any questions that arise?

187. Mr Tony Doran (Construction Industry Training Board): Certainly, Mr Deputy Chairman. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Tony Doran. I am the chairman of CITB. Allan is the chief executive. I was appointed by the Minister for Employment and Learning on 1 August 2008. With your indulgence, I will provide a few minutes of background information on the CITB and the review. I will also comment on the Assembly debate on the topic that took place on 22 January 2008.

188. Allan will speak specifically about some work that we have already done on reviewing current apprentice arrangements for construction. That work is being carried out in partnership with the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) and the trade unions to consider a long-term model. We will then talk about some of the short-term actions that the board has taken to increase grants from our budget that is available to maintain apprenticeships. The third item is some work that we are doing at present to consider what options are available to Government for maintaining apprenticeships during the economic downturn and the thorny issues of maintaining current apprenticeships and the difficulties of taking on the next cohort of apprenticeships next year, and where that balance lies.

189. I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet the Committee. Some of the comments made about the CITB in the debate last spring were pointed, to say the least. Some were made without full knowledge of the facts; that is true in particular of some of the comparisons drawn between our situation and that of England.

190. The financial model in Northern Ireland is simple: 90% of our income is from a statutory levy, which we gain through an Assembly vote. The income is a little over £5 million. In England, the statutory levy — according to the 2007 accounts — was £165 million. The income from other non-statutory sources was £120 million. In crude terms, the English CITB has almost as much income from non-statutory sources as from the statutory levy. Therefore, its expenses, as a proportion of the statutory levy, are much lower than ours. In England, the non-statutory levy comes from Government in a variety of forms to subsidise and encourage training, from various sources that are available there. In Northern Ireland, there is no such access for CITB to Government funding to help maintain and deliver employment training in the construction industry.

191. The English model might be relevant in the discussion about apprenticeships. CITB here has a potential role to play, both with regard to new recruits coming into the industry and to help apprentices to finish their apprenticeships during the economic downturn. However, that will require funding the Northern Ireland CITB in the manner that the English CITB is funded. That was the first broad comparison that was drawn during the Assembly debate.

192. I will comment briefly on the other areas raised. There was a comment made about the absence of direct training from the board. We have reviewed that in the light of the comment, and we have introduced a direct training programme for smaller companies. That was in direct response to remarks made in the Assembly debate. I do not say which is right and which is wrong. Decisions are taken in the light of the information available; if the feeling is that we have to change policy, as a statutory body, we are open to doing that.

193. Secondly, at our board meeting last week, we increased grants available to employers, including grants for apprenticeships, by close to 30%. We are lucky to have a reserve that we accumulated during the good times; we are now using that to subsidise training during the bad times.

194. We have also introduced Web-based systems that the board has been working on for a period, to simplify administration, reduce costs and make it easier for employers to get access to grants without the bureaucracy. As a public body, CITB is accountable, through the Committee and others, to ensure that the money is spent appropriately. That process is necessarily bureaucratic.

195. A private-sector organisation does not have those obligations. However, as a public-sector body, we must have certainty that the individual has undergone the training, that the employer has paid the appropriate levy, that there is proper certification for the training undertaken, and that the employer claims it. That process can be audited, but it is expensive, bureaucratic and time-consuming. We have instituted ways, through a Web-based system, of simplifying that process. We are finding ways to pay the training provider directly, and we have, within the constraints of public policy, looked at ways to simplify the administration.

196. As you are aware, there is a review going on at the board. Following the debate, Deloitte was appointed, and, as I understand it, a report will be available in the midterm that will answer the first question about whether we should continue and what we should do once that has been decided.

197. I sat on the board as both a board member and chairman, and I am satisfied that it meets the required standards of public accountability. Within those standards, we have examined ways in which to minimise cost and to improve efficiency, which is difficult, and we have examined ways in which to respond to the observations of both politicians and levy payers. Allan and I are having a series of meetings around the Province to hear what levy payers had to say. That is all that I want to say by way of a general introduction, and I am very happy to answer any general questions on those issues.

198. The main area of debate this morning is around the issue of apprenticeships. It is a difficult issue for the construction industry, because you know as well as we do about the stop-go nature of the industry. Around one and a half years ago, we were being asked whether we had enough capacity to meet the investment strategy; now we are being asked whether Government can provide enough work to keep a reduced workforce in place. Therefore, how can one plan for the long term, when such variations on the industry’s output exist in the short term?

199. Given those circumstances, employers have not been involved in apprenticeships as much they would have wished to, and they have not been involved as much as the board or the unions would have wished them to. Everybody accepts that a contractual employment relationship between the apprentice and the employer is the best way forward.

200. The difficulty arises, however, when there is a social objective to training — the need to provide individuals with access to opportunities. Therefore, should apprenticeships be based around the narrow needs, as the industry sees them, of what its volumes are in the short to medium term, or should they be based around the degree to which individuals are able to avail of opportunities to fulfil their potential, which is a legitimate objective?

201. In our discussions with employers and trade unions, which Allan will elaborate on, we have sought, within those constraints, to find a way for people to agree that individuals should be employed as an apprentice and to examine other models that are used throughout the British Isles — in Scotland, England, and the Republic — to see whether one could fit within Training for Success. We acknowledge that the Department for Employment and Learning’s objectives — examining the totality of social and economic needs — are slightly different to looking a narrow sector requirement for what it requires for its workforce.

202. Mr Allan McMullen (Construction Industry Training Board): As Tony said, during the review of the Jobskills programme, we facilitated a fundamental review of construction craft apprenticeships, excluding plumbing, mechanical services and electrical. Although CITB is responsible for plumbing apprenticeships, the Sector Skills Council has taken responsibility for that as well as mechanical services and electrical. Therefore, I refer only to construction craft — carpentry, joinery, bricklaying, plastering, painting and decorating, roofing, and so forth.

203. We carried out the review with employer bodies, including the Construction Employers Federation, the Federation of Master Builders, other employers’ bodies, the unions, the colleges, the private training providers, Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) officials, and the CITB board and its committees. Eventually, all parties agreed to an apprenticeship programme, which it was hoped would lead to the employment of all construction craft apprentices. As Tony said, that is really what we are all trying to achieve.

204. That agreed programme was based on an initial minimum pre-apprenticeship period of 12 weeks, during which potential apprentices would acquire basic practical skills in their chosen trade, and receive basic health and safety awareness prior to starting on site. Employers were concerned that young people would have practical skills before arriving on site, and would be properly trained in health and safety. After the 12-week programme, they would be employed and return to college on a day-release programme.

205. However, no sooner had the programme been agreed than necessary compromises had to be made to accommodate a variety of stakeholders: the colleges’ resource problems resulted in only three days a week being available for class contact; the Education and Training Inspectorate insisted that training in essential skills should start immediately; the qualifications-awarding body expanded the qualification, and the DEL programme permitted on-site work experience without employment, which was similar to the model of the Jobskills programme.

206. Those factors compromised the time and resources available for teaching practical skills, particularly at the beginning of the training programme. The need for the early attainment of basic practical skills must be understood in the context of the method by which the industry pays the main construction trades. I will elaborate on that now, because it is important to understand how these specific trades differ from other industry sectors, and from the electrical and plumbing sectors.

207. The main contractors invariably engage tradesmen through a subcontract system, whereby the subcontractors are paid for the amount of work that they do. That piecework means that bricklayers are paid for every brick that they lay; joiners for the amount of doors that they hang; and plasterers by the square metre of plaster applied. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for a young person with no rudimentary practical skills to slot into that type of production system without appreciably compromising the tradesman’s productivity and, consequently, earnings. That is the main difference between those trades and every other trade in all the other sectors, and it is fundamental to the success or otherwise of an apprenticeship programme.

208. However, there was one main reason that the Joint Council for the Building and Civil Engineering Industry (Northern Ireland) — that is the body that comprises the Construction Employers Federation and the unions, and oversees construction workers’ wages, and terms and conditions — effectively withdrew its support for the scheme. It could not encourage employers to employ apprentices at the Joint Council’s agreed wage rate of £141 a week. The difficulty was that young people were also going to be made available to the industry free of charge; that was also the fundamental problem with the Jobskills programme.

209. We fully understand DEL’s position that all young people must be given a training opportunity, but the problem is that some young people are, effectively, providing free labour but the industry is expected to pay £141 a week for an employed apprentice. The problem, therefore, is the twin-track approach: employed apprentices without any regulation of their wages, and unemployed trainees who are on site but not receiving any payment. Neither of the two groups has practical skills or health and safety training.

210. In a strange and perverse way, that undermines the credibility of the same young people on whom the industry depends for its future. When young people with no skills appear on site, the employers will naturally not agree to employ them because of that very reason.

211. The problem is that more young people are being trained than the industry is prepared to employ. The fundamental problem is what to do with those who cannot get jobs. The Committee may be interested in some figures to illustrate that issue. In September 2008, the combined intake of all college and training providers was 1,912. Of those, 438 found employment and the remainder — about 75% — were in the Training for Success unemployed stream. The problem with the 400 people who got jobs is that there is no regulation on their wage, so they could be getting paid anything from £40 a week to whatever; it is very unlikely that they are getting the recognised wage rate.

212. In the meantime, CITB and the Construction Employers Federation have been researching arrangements in other regions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. I know that Ciarán Fox has given evidence to the Committee on a number of occasions about apprenticeships. He and I have been working together very closely on that research and have met several people, including our colleagues from England, the manager of the construction skills apprenticeship programme in England, as well as the managers of the programmes in Scotland and Wales. All spent a day with us here in Northern Ireland.

213. We have been to see FÁS in Dublin and have met the chief executive of the Electrical Training Trust and the chief executive of Plumbing and Mechanical Services Training. We also met the chief executive of the Engineering Training Council, David Hatton, who attended last week’s Committee meeting. We wanted to hear about their respective schemes.

214. Over the years, we have looked at various schemes internationally. We have been to Holland and Germany. In fact, my colleagues have been to Hong Kong and Seoul in Korea when attending the skills competition, so we have considered a lot of apprenticeship schemes worldwide. Of the common themes in all those programmes, the primary one was the system of employment from day one. We are, probably, the only nation that does not promote that or does not use that system.

215. An initial period of full-time off-the-job training was also core to those schemes, and there was only one scheme was available. Of all of the issues, that is probably the most important. There should be only one scheme available for a person who wants to become an apprentice, and that should lead to employment — end of story. There should not be another scheme in which someone can get on the building sites without being properly employed.

216. Our scheme, probably due more to funding than anything else, is perceived as a three-year scheme, whereas all of the good schemes that have the best practice are four-year schemes. I remember the days when there were five-year schemes and, many years ago, there were seven-year apprenticeships. Anyway, the best practice appears to be the four-year scheme.

217. The main thing that we noticed about those schemes was that there was a strong combination of practical work and theory in the training programme. That is another key issue. There is a problem in that colleges must provide essential skills training, theory, and health-and-safety training. That is understandable, and the industry supports that. However, because of the resource issues that they face, not enough time is being spent on the development of practical skills in the college workshops. Colleges are well geared up for providing such training; they have workshops and skilled staff who are able to teach those skills. However, because it is all driven into a small period of time, colleges must deliver on the non-practical side of training.

218. Therefore, we are hoping that the federation, through Ciarán Fox, will come up with a preferred programme within the next couple of weeks. In fact, Tony and I were looking at a draft copy of that programme this morning. That is where we are. DEL has done a very good job under the circumstances but, unfortunately, no sooner was all that introduced than the downturn happened. Now, the problem is not only about getting new people on board, it is about getting jobs for the people who were made redundant during the downturn.

219. Mr Doran: In relation to how policies such as this may be carried forward, it has always been one of the objectives of Government to integrate Government policies across different Departments. The Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) has already announced that, for new contracts worth over a particular amount, there will be a requirement for contractors to demonstrate that they have a minimum number of apprentices involved. There has been a recent announcement about more infrastructure expenditure. The industry can deal with most costs as long as they apply to everyone — that is, as long as there is a level playing field.

220. If there is a requirement on contractors to demonstrate that they are responsible for employed apprentices among their chain of contractors and subcontractors, it might well be a way of ensuring that we get the minimum number of apprentices through. It might also be a way of ensuring that employers are connected in the process. Therefore, if a large construction company has a different number of suppliers and subcontractors through the supply chain, it may be required to demonstrate that a specified minimum number of apprentices were employed in that supply chain. The board could have the facilitating role in that process, so that we not only get the infrastructure that we require for the future by employing people today, but we are training for tomorrow.

221. Mr McMullen: It is hard to get an accurate figure for the number of redundant apprentices. The official figure is quite low, because many of them have moved away and are working in Scotland, Wales or England. We have taken some measures to assist apprentices who have been made redundant.

222. With the South Eastern Regional College, we are developing a tailored programme for redundant apprentices that could be rolled out to the wider further education sector. As part of that programme, young people who present themselves at the college will receive a review of their progress in their apprenticeship and NVQ. They will also be kept up to date with essential skills and given the opportunity to enhance their IT skills, including, if relevant, computer-aided design. Importantly, those apprentices could be taught skills in other trades, particularly those that are required for them to transfer from the housing sector to the civil engineering sector, which is where the work will be in the short term. There is a very good qualification called the general construction operative (GCO), which deals with skills in civil engineering.

223. As Tony said, we changed our grant scheme for employers. An employer used to get a grant when an apprentice achieved NVQ level 2 or NVQ level 3. We have changed that grant to a weekly payment to try to ease cash flow for contractors. In Great Britain, an apprenticeship matching service has been established, in which apprentices register and are matched with employers who can take them on so that they are able to finish their training and gain qualifications.

224. Tony mentioned the Government procurement policy, which includes the employment of apprentices. For example, we have been talking to Derry City Council about the proposed Foyle footbridge, which will cost £16 million. There is a requirement in the contract that the successful contractor must employ eight apprentices — one apprentice for every £2 million of work. There is also a requirement that the successful contractor must employ an unemployed person for every £1 million of work. We have been working with the local college and Derry City Council to try to pave the way for the contractor, once appointed.

225. Similarly, we have spoken to the contractor that was appointed to build the new hospital at Enniskillen — P Elliott and Company from Cavan has made a commitment to employ 48 apprentices through its supply chain during the three-year contract, which is very encouraging. There are other examples of such practice.

226. We have supported and provided grant aid, and we received grant aid from DEL to encourage project-based training. The contractors for the Belfast schools project — Farrans, H&J Martin and the Patton Group — have appointed a training co-ordinator for all of the training for all the workforce, including apprentices, during that project. The first phase of that project involves five schools, so that is very encouraging.

227. We will also work within our ConstructionSkills partnership to review the apprenticeship framework. One big problem is that, if apprentices cannot finish their NVQs because of redundancy, they are unable to prove their competence. We have spoken about the possibility of having simulated work off site.

228. I must say that that is not gaining a great deal of support. They reckon that people really need to prove their competence on site. However, we are considering that matter, too.

229. We also have facilitated a number of employer-led modern apprenticeships in roofing and flooring, and we have just completed one in stonemasonry. We take over the role of managing agent, when there are maybe only eight or 10 apprentices. As Tony mentioned, in certain circumstances, we will consider the possibility of employing apprentices directly, particularly those who have been made redundant. Some of them have nearly reached the end of their apprenticeship, so it may be possible for CITB to get them into employment and hire out their services to contractors who are willing to give them work of the right nature and thus enable them to get their qualifications. We must check the legality of such an arrangement. However, we are putting in place a range of measures, which mirror those being proposed in Great Britain, but, of course, it receives a lot more funding than we do.

230. The Deputy Chairperson: Before I open up the floor to members, I have a few questions. Tony, could you provide the Committee with some further information on some of the issues that you raised — perhaps not today, but at a later date. You mentioned that your counterparts in GB receive statutory money and non-statutory money. That obviously means that there will be opportunities in GB that are not available to employers in Northern Ireland.

231. Mr Doran: There are two aspects to this matter; one is Government funding, and the other is processes such as Train to Gain and other funding mechanisms that are directly available to employers in England. CITB (GB) acts as the focus for those in the construction industry. There are no such funding streams available in Northern Ireland at present. However, I am quite happy to provide the Committee with further information.

232. The Deputy Chairperson: Perhaps you could forward us your thoughts on that, outlining the advantages and what employers in Northern Ireland might be losing out on. I would be interested to read them.

233. I have two more questions. First, the Department has introduced a policy of fostering in circumstances where there are redundancies. Allan said that CITB might be able help apprentices who are close to completing their apprenticeship, but if an apprentice is the first year of his or her apprenticeship, where does the fostering kick in?

234. Secondly, how do companies support apprentices when they are on site, in a practical environment? Is there an infrastructure to support apprentices in their efforts to gain qualifications, helping them to work through their portfolio and giving instructions on specific skills?

235. Mr McMullen: We have very few examples of construction companies participating in fostering programmes. The bottom line is that the sites are closed, so the apprentices who are being made redundant invariably come from the housing sector. As the Committee knows, the gates are closed, and no work of any description is being carried out. Therefore, the fostering opportunities in the construction industry are very limited. My staff have found no examples of employer participation in those programmes. There may be some examples of which we have not heard, but the opportunities are very limited. If I can get any more figures that may give a more accurate answer, I will forward them to the Committee.

236. As regards the infrastructure on site, to be honest, the industry really looks to the training provider to provide apprentices with all the support that they need to gain qualifications. Certainly, the site provides the practical skills — there is no question about that. The majority of those young people are placed with subcontractors — squads of joiners, bricklayers or plasterers. They work with some sound guys, but it would be foolish for me to say that there was a support mechanism for the apprentices other than the fact that they are being shown how to do the work practically. However, any training that relates to qualifications depends on the college.

237. Mr Easton: I cannot say that I am an expert in this matter, but I will give it a shot. You mentioned that construction workers — brickies and plasterers — are paid according to the amount of work they do, for example, by how many bricks laid or square metres plastered. Would it not be easier to employ apprentices on an hourly rate?

238. You said that companies employ unskilled people because it is cheaper for them to do so. Is that not dangerous in the construction industry?

239. Mr Doran: I will address the first part of your question. Under revenue regulations made in the 1970s, Governments promoted self-employment. Since then the relationship between the employer and the individual on the site has broken down. This system has been created by the taxation framework.

240. It used to be the case that health-and-safety standards in Northern Ireland were among the lowest in Europe, but they have improved a great deal. Government, CITB and the industry have set a minimum health-and-safety training standard that must be met before people go on site. However, employment of unskilled people is unsafe. One of the problems in the training system is that it is difficult for employers to determine who has a specific qualification. Generally, the system of an individual getting his card on the basis on an NVQ has diminished over the years, particularly since the self-employment process is allowed by Government.

241. Mr McMullen: It would be better if workers were paid on an hourly rate. Firms that have big joinery workshops — such as Mivan — have very good apprenticeship schemes. The apprentice goes to the same location every morning and works in the joinery shop under a controlled environment. However, typically, a young lad in the industry goes to the end of the lane in the morning and gets into a van with three or four other guys who are self-employed. As Tony has said, that is the culture in the industry, particularly in Northern Ireland and the south of England. In Scotland there is a very good apprenticeship scheme, but there is a stronger tradition and culture of direct employment. Big contractors in Northern Ireland — the names you see on the cranes — do not employ people directly, but on a subcontract basis.

242. A story I often relate is that, when the Belfast Waterfront Hall was being built, the programme of work required 65 bricklayers for an eight-week period. Prior to the eight weeks, and afterwards, no bricklayers were needed: the bricks were laid in that time, and away went the bricklayers. The glaziers or concrete workers then came along. That is the nature of the work. The bricklayers slot in with the other contractors. That is the culture in the industry, and it is not conducive to a good apprenticeship scheme. However, we need to work with the industry; it is not going to change the way it employs people through the subcontract system. We must fit into its regime.

243. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: It has been interesting to hear your comments. I want to hear more about your work with the South Eastern Regional College. Can you explain more about that? Will it be rolled out across all the colleges in Northern Ireland?

244. Mrs McGill: Mr Doran said that 90% of the CITB’s income is from a statutory levy — I have raised the issue with Mr McMullen previously. The point has been made to me that people do not see what you do with that money. I had a meeting with Mr McMullen in order to tease out some of those issues, which I mention today, because Mr Doran has set the context.

245. During the presentation, it was indicated that changes are planned in what the CITB does. If that is the case, it is welcome. There was a reference to the absence of direct training, which I have found to be an issue. From the conversations that I have had with people, it appears that they cannot see what they get for the levy.

246. On apprentices, to some extent, I heard, and I understand, Mr McMullen’s point about essential skills. In many ways, it is the Department’s flagship programme, but it is difficult, and it is creating problems. He is not the first, and will not be the last, to say so. Has the Committee discussed that issue fully enough to resolve it?

247. Mr Doran: Before Allan deals with the detail, I have a broad observation on the comments about how people perceive value for money. I believe that the CITB was not clear enough in telling people what it was doing. Communicating with levy payers takes time, energy and money. The board, perhaps, concentrated more on meeting training needs than telling people what it was doing.

248. Since the comments or criticisms — whichever phrase you wish to use — we have gone out of our way to tell levy payers what we are doing. The CITB will send them a bulletin in the next week to 10 days that will tell them what it is doing and what they are getting for their money. In recent years, the board has, in broad terms, paid out about 50% of its income by way of grant. That figure may be slightly higher this year, but it will be within the margin.

249. The board responded to the industry about direct training. During the upturn, firms knew what levels of skills they needed to meet their growth, development and changes as enterprises. Larger companies recognised that they needed to train workers in “x, y and z" skills. The training requirements changed rapidly from company to company, depending on their needs. Therefore, we facilitated that through grants.

250. Equally, perhaps, we gave too much credence to that approach, because the smaller companies do not have the level of sophistication to realise what they need. The service that the CITB provides to them must be slightly more paternalistic. The CITB must tell smaller companies the minimum training needed by people on site and by the companies’ internal management. We have responded to those comments and are putting appropriate procedures in place. We will see whether the response to the changes is good or bad, and we will change and adjust the programme accordingly.

251. We are focusing on communicating with levy payers and taking up opportunities such as this, to explain to MLAs what we are doing, and why. I hope that that is a positive response to the comments.

252. Mr McMullen: I will take the two questions on apprenticeships. In relation to Claire’s point about essential skills, the problem in the early days was that essential skills were taught as a separate course. Young people were being taught English and maths that they had never done, and had not wanted to do, at school. They had joined apprenticeships in the hope of escaping the school environment, only to be returned to it.

253. However, first of all, the construction industry supports, and recognises the need for, essential skills. A contractor once told me that the complicated door sets that are made nowadays arrive ready-made in a frame, complete with locks and hinges and cost a lot of money — up to £600 each. He said that they also come with a massive amount of instructions on installation. Therefore, there is no doubt that builders need essential skills. There is no question about that. The problem has been that the industry wants apprentices’ practical skills to be honed more quickly than we believe it takes them to gain their essential skills. They have time to gain their essential skills by the end of their apprenticeships without compromising the need to learn practical skills at an early stage.

254. The other side of that is that we have recently published new guidance on essential skills, which points out that essential skills can be contextualised into apprentices’ work. Therefore, instead of asking people how many tins there are in 200-odd cartons of six tins of beans, they will be taught how to count bricks, how to measure rooms, and so forth. One colleague always talks about the young lad who plays darts; if you asked him to subtract back from 501, he could not do it in his head, but if he needed to get 98 with three darts, he could work that out quickly. That is a lesson in contextualisation. The industry has worked closely with the Department and colleges to contextualise essential skills. Somehow, we must find an answer. I believe that that may be the answer: to teach individuals those skills as part of their trade.

255. Mr Doran: May I just make an observation on that matter? I believe that FÁS incorporates essential skills all the way through its practical courses. It does not view them as separate processes. In its employer-led training programmes, practical skills and essential skills are integrated.

256. Mr McMullen: Recently, I met all of the principals of the six new colleges. It was the first time that I had met Ken Webb, who is the new principal of the South Eastern Regional College. The college has taken the initiative to see what it can do, not only for apprentices, but for construction workers in order to enhance their skills and employability, so that when the economic upturn happens, they will be more equipped. The college is keen for us to help it develop the programme.

257. First, we decided that we must consider doing a skills audit for each individual in order to determine what skills he has; what stage he is at; and what he needs to do to complete the qualification. That was the first phase. Picking up on essential skills, we had to determine whether that individual has those skills or what stage he has reached.

258. The industry is moving in the direction of modern, off-site methods of construction. These days, bathroom pods, for example, are being built off site. That is computerised. Therefore, I want more on-site construction workers to gain computer skills. Many of them will not have any. In fact, for certain subcontractors who have no work, computer skills — such as knowledge of accounts packages, and so forth — would help them to run their businesses.

259. Tony and I have also been involved for many years in the establishment of the construction skills register. Individuals receive a card which requires that they undertake one day of health-and-safety training. Their competence is measured against the relevant NVQ. Although they do not achieve an NVQ, their competence is measured against that standard. Therefore, a guy who receives a blue card is trained to NVQ level-2 standard, whereas a guy who receives a gold card has reached NVQ level-3 standard.

260. The scheme has been a fantastic success, with participation from over 100,000 construction workers. The problem has been that the industry feels that it has done everything it needs to do once someone has received a card, but that is not the case. The construction skills register provides only basic health-and-safety training. Therefore, we have encouraged colleges to provide additional training in the three key areas that are major causes of accidents on building sites — slips and trips, falls from height, and work in and around excavations. We have asked colleges to provide additional health-and-safety training in those particular areas.

261. The other area is multi-skilling. Repair and maintenance is quite a big sector. Tony and I met the chairman and the chief executive of the Housing Executive recently to discuss skills needs for maintenance and repair. There is no reason why a joiner could not be taught to do a bit of wall and floor tiling, concrete work or other modest skill that is useful in the repair and maintenance sector.

262. A joiner, whose work on housing sites has included hanging doors, fitting architraves and skirting, and doing all of the first and second fix work, but not any concrete shuttering, could be trained in that skill. That will be one of the main skills required in the civil engineering sector; and the line that we have been taking with the college is that such multi-skilling is important.

263. We are due to meet DEL officials at the beginning of next week to discuss funding. The principal of the South Eastern Regional College, Mr Webb, and his staff have identified the possibility of a programme whereby apprentices can train for up to 15 hours a week without compromising their benefits. An unemployed worker could work for three days, and provided that the total hours worked amount to no more than 15, he would still receive unemployment benefit. The programme has been devised to incorporate working for slightly less than 15 hours a week over a 12-week period. I asked whether the colleges would be happy to roll out that programme to the entire construction sector, and they are doing that now. In fact, that specific issue was debated at a meeting of the construction heads last week; and a fair amount of work is going on in that area.

264. Ms Lo: The new measures that you have taken in response to last year’s debate must be welcomed by everyone, particularly the smaller companies, some of which feel aggrieved that they do not get value for money from the board. I commend you on taking measures to address those issues so quickly.

265. You said that a major problem is still being caused by the twin-track approach, whereby employers who can get free labour from the colleges do not want to pay £140 a week to an apprentice. How can we address the problem of pre-apprenticeship students who, instead of one day a week, work for three days a week?

266. Mr McMullen: We have considered ways to address that problem. The answer may be to impose a limit or control mechanism whereby, as soon as the students start their work experience, they have clear guidelines on what they are allowed or not allowed to do, the remuneration they should receive, and so forth. Perhaps a limit should also be placed on the number of days that they can work, so that the situation is not a free-for-all.

267. On one hand, employers say that they need practical skills, but, on the other hand one employer recently told me that it is good to have someone on site to learn practical skills because he can see how the young person is progressing; he called that a three-month interview. There must, therefore, be a balance between proper pre-apprenticeship training before the young people are employed, and free labour. The way forward is to achieve a balance: the time spent working should be limited and there must be clear guidelines.

268. Ms Lo: I find it incredible that colleges are given the contract, and the money, to run the pre-apprenticeship programme, the idea of which is that young people are kept in college to learn essential or practical skills before being sent out.

269. Mr Doran: Part of the culture that must be changed is that employers are less involved than they should be. At present, the process is between DEL and the colleges, and employers’ involvement is ancillary. Until employers become engaged at the core of the process and employment becomes part of the process, the situation will not change. There must be the opportunity for both. The board, working with employers and the trade unions, is trying to find an answer to take to DEL. It is a difficult problem, but we will not find the answer without involving the employers.

270. Ms Lo: To follow on from that, there must be some on-site teachers, or people who can adopt that role, to teach the youngsters. As you said, you subcontract people who calculate how many doors they have to hang to receive their pay package at the end of the week. They are not going to spend time teaching the young apprentice who has arrived on site. There must be some on-site teaching from somewhere. Colleges or employers should employ someone specifically to do that.

271. I went through training in social work, leading on to a placement, which used to be six-months long— I do not know how long it is now. We were all assigned a practice teacher on-site, and someone from the social services or a charity would be watching the trainees doing the job and writing reports about them. During those six months, as well as learning from one’s colleagues one learns from the practice teacher, rather than from college.

272. Mr McMullen: There probably is an informal approach to that in the industry; a lot of the self-employed guys take a pride in the young people they are training. That is not recognised in any formal sense, but it certainly goes on.

273. The Deputy Chairperson: Peripatetic instructors have never been part of the infrastructure, have they?

274. Mr McMullen: What we have tried to do over the years is encourage employers to set up their own in-company assessors. We provided grant aid for those qualifications, but the industry never really took it up. It saw that aspect of the work as the colleges’ responsibility.

275. Mr Doran: By and large, a lot of the larger companies now have in-house training facilities. It has changed, but slowly.

276. Mr McMullen: In summary, we are close to agreeing a way forward. The employers — particularly Ciarán Fox and the Construction Employers Federation — have taken a very responsible attitude to the debate that has been ongoing over the last couple of years and recognise that the way forward is to establish a good apprenticeship scheme. I am quite confident that within this year we will come up with a scheme that everybody will buy into.

277. Mr Doran: We hope by March 2009 to have established an agreed process between the board, unions and employers, outlining the preferred options, and providing the costs for those options. At the end of the day, the situation will, to a large extent, be driven by money.

278. The Deputy Chairperson: Are you happy enough that whatever programme is finally launched will benchmark favourably against other best practice in Northern Ireland, and indeed, other best practice in other parts of the world?

279. Mr McMullen: Yes, I believe that. When our apprentices go to Great Britain to take part in the UK skills competitions, they usually come back with a hatful of medals. We are definitely performing well when it comes to pitting our skills against those in Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland has done exceptionally well in the world skills competitions, but a lot more resources have been put into training those people for the competitions. There is also a four-year apprenticeship programme in the Republic, which provides employment from day one — that is a better programme than ours. I think that the programme that Ciarán and I will come up with will compare favourably with any other scheme that we have come across.

280. Mr Doran: We will send the Committee copies.

281. The Deputy Chairperson: Judging by your last remarks, it seems that this is a similar situation to that faced in education. We are producing people with very good quality A levels and very good graduates, yet there a lot of people who have no qualifications whatsoever.

282. I thank you on behalf of the Committee for coming today. We look forward to whatever it is you finally produce. If you will share that with us, we would be grateful. We would also be grateful for anything you can produce on the situation in GB, and where Northern Ireland employers might be losing out.

283. Mr Doran: I would be very happy to do that. Thank you for your time.

18 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr John Baird
Mr Stanley Goudie
Mr Greer Henderson Mr John Kennedy
Mr Paul McAlister

 

Education and Training Inspectorate

284. The Chairperson (Ms Ramsey): This is the Committee’s third briefing as part of its inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships, which will provide some background about the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and apprenticeships. We will then discuss the issues surrounding apprenticeships. Members will know that the ETI provides inspections for the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), the Department of Education (DE) and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). Stanley, if you would like to introduce your team and provide a presentation, which we will follow with a question-and-answer session.

285. Mr Stanley Goudie (Education and Training Inspectorate): Thank you. I have been chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate since 1 September 2008 — that is the sympathy appeal. I thank the Chairperson for the invitation to address the Committee. I appreciate the pressure on the Committee’s time, so I will keep my opening comments brief in order to allow members to ask specific questions of my team. I will speak about the current system of apprenticeships, and how it has evolved to meet the skills and economic challenges on the horizon — indeed, those challenges are with us as we speak. I will do that from an evidence-based perspective.

286. My team are Paul McAlister, who is assistant chief inspector with lead responsibility for further education and training, and is the inspectorate’s direct contact with DEL; John Baird, managing inspector for further education; Greer Henderson, who is an inspector of construction and the built environment; and John Kennedy, who is an inspector of mechanical engineering and motor-vehicle studies. Unfortunately, Gerry Murray, managing inspector for training and work-based learning, is off work due to serious illness, which is why John Kennedy and Greer Henderson are joining us today, because of their specialist experience and expertise in relation to apprenticeships.

287. In September 2007, DEL launched its reconfigured training provision, ‘Training for Success’, which replaced Jobskills training programmes. In 2007, DEL stated its intention to place a particular emphasis on apprenticeships, and set a target for the creation of 10,000 apprenticeships before 2010. That target was achieved last month.

288. In December 2008, DEL re-branded the ‘Training for Success’ apprenticeships to ApprenticeshipsNI. The ‘Training for Success’ programme remains as a suite of programmes to prepare 16-18-year-olds not yet in employment to acquire the necessary occupational literacy, numeracy and ICT skills in order to gain employment under apprenticeships. ApprenticeshipsNI is the DEL training programme for learners aged 16 and above, and in full-time paid employment, to enable them to gain an industry sector-recognised apprenticeship qualification.

289. Apprenticeships qualifications are at level 2 and level 3. It is our view that the introduction of level 2 has been a useful development for increasing numbers overall, particularly for those leaving school as a progression route from level 2 to level 3. It comprises a technical certificate, an NVQ and essential skills qualifications. The composition and level of the various components of apprenticeship qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks are determined by relevant industrial bodies and the sector skills councils to meet best the needs of the industry sector that they represent.

290. There is a considerable variation in the take-up of apprenticeships, and statistical information can be provided on that. While the statistical information in relation to apprenticeship provision is interesting and important, the focus of the inspectorate is on quality and on promoting improvement in the quality of provision.

291. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to say a little about what we have observed where the provision for apprenticeships is of good, or very good, quality. There are five strands. First, the apprentices will have had good quality guidance as they enter their apprenticeship programme, which ensures that they are placed on the right programme and at an appropriate level. Secondly, their training will be well matched to the needs, interests and abilities of the trainees. Thirdly, there will be an appropriate balance between directed and work-based training. Fourthly, there will be good quality mentoring in the workplace. Finally, the work that apprentices experience will be of industry standard.

292. That is by way of preamble. I will be happy — at least my colleagues will be happy — to take any questions that members may wish to direct to us, and we will do our best to answer them.

293. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. I like the way that you set your sights to any questions. It is important for the Committee to look at the whole issue of apprenticeships. You will appreciate that we also have a concern about ensuring that apprentices are placed in the right field, and that we are closing down the possibility of some apprentices being exploited. Although it is important for the Committee to examine the whole issue of apprenticeships, it is also important to ensure that, when people finish their apprenticeships, they have had the training that they wanted. We will probably return to that issue throughout our inquiry into apprenticeships.

294. Once again, thank you for appearing before the Committee. I will open the meeting up for questions or comments from members, and during the discussion members may be seeking answers for just their own reassurance on the issue of apprenticeships.

295. Mr Newton: I welcome the delegation to the meeting. Would I be right in thinking that, in the whole gambit of apprenticeships, different levels of quality are being delivered for individual apprenticeships? For example, some apprentices may be extremely fortunate in getting a high-quality placement that meets the guidance in respect of the training match, the balance, the monitoring and the industry standard, while other youngsters, starting more so with a local, medium-sized employer, may not get the same opportunity.

296. If I may also ask about the quantity of apprenticeships that further education colleges deliver. For example, in the automotive studies — motor vehicle studies — Omagh campus was having difficulty placing the young men, generally after two years, into a work environment. Therefore, they may not have been able to complete their apprenticeship studies because of the lack of work experience.

297. Mr Goudie: With regard to your first question, in any set of circumstances there is always a spectrum of provision as regards quality. My colleague Greer Henderson will address the first part of your second question about the training that is provided in the further education sector, and John Kennedy, who has a particular interest in the automotive sector, will respond to the second part.

298. Mr Greer Henderson (Education and Training Inspectorate): Will you repeat your question about the further education sector, please?

299. Mr Newton: We visited Omagh College of Further Education, which has an excellent, modern and high-standard campus. However, I came away with a concern about the young men who had completed two years of a motor vehicle, automotive studies-type course, and the college indicated that it was having difficulty finding work placements for them, in order that they might finish their apprenticeships.

300. Mr Henderson: As you know, DEL has invested a lot of money in further education colleges, and, in Omagh, you saw probably one of the nicest examples.

301. Although John Kennedy will talk about motor vehicle apprenticeships, there is also a concern in the construction sector that the training is going ahead and the jobs are being lost. What, therefore, does that young person do?

302. The pre-apprenticeship programme that DEL has developed runs parallel, in almost all circumstances, with the apprenticeship programme in colleges. Therefore, young people can transfer back to a pre-apprenticeship programme in order to complete their technical certificate and their essential skills and health-and-safety training. Although that is one route available to them, it does not satisfy their long-term goal of getting jobs. Nevertheless, at least they can be held in parallel provision. Obviously, moving into such a circumstance can be a bit demotivating, and it may lead to long-term retention difficulties.

303. Perhaps John Kennedy will talk about motor vehicle apprenticeships.

304. Mr Newton: Presumably, such circumstances would be demotivating for further education lecturers as well?

305. Mr Henderson: They would. However, there are some good examples — particularly, in fact, in Omagh — of holding students in innovative study programmes, whereby, although they may study technical aspects and essential skills in the classroom on day one and day two, practical days are arranged as well. We have encountered such arrangements in private and community-based training organisations, too, where the third- and fourth-day training in colleges and training organisations is matched well to industry standards. Nevertheless, you are quite right: if such arrangements continue for a long time, motivation will be difficult for all concerned.

306. Mr John Kennedy (Education and Training Inspectorate): DEL has supplied us with figures on the number of apprenticeships in further education colleges and private organisations. Approximately 30% of apprenticeships are in the further education sector, and the remainder are in the private sector, whether in not-for-profit organisations or otherwise.

307. You asked whether the standards that are achieved vary according to the size of the employer. The sector skills councils rigorously set apprenticeship frameworks, and NVQ standards are set by industry bodies. In order to achieve a level-2 or level-3 apprenticeship, apprentices must meet framework standards, which include practical competencies. Therefore, the standards should not vary significantly across different providers and workplaces.

308. With regard to reports that Omagh College of Further Education is having difficulty placing motor-vehicle students in the system, the apprenticeship demands that every apprentice is in paid employment from day one. Therefore, at the end of training, apprentices are not looking for employment, because they already are in employment. However, the college may be referring to attempts to move students from a pre-apprenticeship programme into an apprenticeship. The current economic situation makes that difficult. Many garages across Northern Ireland are paying off apprentices, never mind recruiting new apprentices from the pre-apprenticeship programme.

309. The Chairperson: On that point, as a statutory Committee, we must scrutinise the Department’s policies to ensure that they are right. In the present economic downturn, I am concerned that the Committee is being told that lots of things will happen in the current phase, such as foster apprenticeships. It would be useful if the Committee could get a handle on whether an inspection has been conducted since that announcement, because I would not like to return to this issue a year from now to discover that we have left people in apprenticeships to stew for a year.

310. It is important that we inspect the environment that people are in, but it is also important — as the Deputy Chairperson, I believe, said — to follow through on the client. It may be useful, as you said, to keep apprentices for one or two years, but that is demotivating and undesirable, particularly for young people. That dredges up the issue of four or five years ago about people at whatever level being exploited, and we must not leave young people in further education colleges or in businesses for two or three years until we get it right. We must try to get it right now.

311. Mr Goudie: The inspectorate focuses absolutely on the learner who, in this case, are the young people concerned. Whatever our inspections findings might be, we will report those publicly without fear or favour. That is the reason for the inspectorate’s existence. I will ask Paul McAlister to explain where the inspectorate is with its findings at the moment.

312. Mr Paul McAlister (Education and Training Inspectorate): The Education and Training Inspectorate is currently conducting a survey of ApprenticeshipsNI, the report of which will probably be available in about a month’s time, but certainly before Easter. That will, as Stanley said, be a public report and in the public arena, and we would be keen to have an opportunity to talk to the Committee in due course about that report, or to reply to any correspondence on it that the Committee might wish to send us. The report will, obviously, be disseminated to the relevant parts of DEL and to those people whose work was surveyed. The inspectorate is, however, very happy to disseminate it to wherever we feel that it will be of benefit.

313. The Chairperson: OK, that is important, and it would be useful for the Committee to receive a copy of that report.

314. Ms Lo: You are all very welcome. I have two questions, one of which is general and the other more specific with regard to inspections.

315. First, based on recent briefings to the Committee by the construction sector in particular, it is difficult for employers also to provide apprenticeships to people from the pre-apprenticeship programme when colleges are supposed to keep apprentices for 35 hours a week, but instead of keeping them in college they are sending them to employers, who do not have to pay, so it is free. Then there is the strand of the apprenticeship whereby an employer has to employ and pay the apprentice, and there is that twin-track approach which is, I think, causing difficulties. How does the inspectorate feel about that?

316. My other question also relates to the construction sector. In Northern Ireland, contractors sub-contract quite a lot. Carpenters, for example, are paid based on how many doors they hang in a day, and they do not have time for the apprentice. Is that the quality of mentoring that exists, and how can that issue be addressed? If the sub-contractor is so busy counting how many doors or windows that he can install in a day, because that is how his pay is calculated, how would he have time to train a young apprentice on site?

317. Mr Henderson: I will answer the second question first. In general, the size of the employer does not have a large bearing on the training that is offered. A small employer will sometimes offer a wider range of training because they are dealing with a broader range of work. With a large employer, however, the work may be repetitive. During an inspection, we visit a representative and judicious sample of young people in the workplace and interview them face to face about what they did last week, what they are doing today, and what they will be doing next week. We gather together that evidence, which forms a very significant part of our feedback to the organisation.

318. As you know, we grade training. I worked as an engineer on site and I am, therefore, familiar with how things work on site. Therefore, if I am not content with the workplace training, I will direct my feedback at the employer. The young person should receive a complete package of training, not just what they get at the college or the private organisation or community-based organisation. If we felt that the training was not suitable, we would grade it accordingly, and take the matter very seriously.

319. Ms Lo: Do you think that the practice on the big sites is that the apprentices are, perhaps, not really getting the mentoring that they should be getting?

320. Mr Henderson: Not necessarily. As I said, if two large companies are compared side by side, one may have in place a mentor who carefully makes sure that the young person gets a spread of work, and the other may not. However, in the inspectorate’s construction survey, which was published in September, I referred to the fact that in small number of organisations, young people are undertaking very repetitive work. Interestingly, one may come across a young person who is working to a very high standard on repetitive work, which could be sometime as detailed as the computer-controlled manufacture of staircases. The work may be very high-level, but it is not broad enough, and we would comment on that fact.

321. In answer to the first question: it has always been a concern of employers that pre-apprentices might smother the market for apprentices, and I understand that concern. There is not a lot of evidence on the ground to suggest that that occurs on a massive scale, but it is, obviously, of concern to employers if it is happening at all. DEL’s scheme is supposed to keep young people on pre-apprenticeships in college for a certain length of time. However, we are finding a wide variation in how that is designed, and it changes from organisation to organisation. The survey found that employers in the construction sector are, generally, sometimes confused about the difference between a pre-apprentice and an apprentice, and pre-apprentices may think that they are employed, but they are not employed. That confusion needs to be cleared up. However, DEL has put efforts into advertising the ApprenticeshipsNI programme this year. I hope that that answers your question.

322. Mr Goudie: I do not know whether the Committee has a copy of that 2008 report, but it is certainly welcome to have this hard copy. The report itself is available on the Education and Training Inspectorate website.

323. Mrs McGill: I was going to start by welcoming the delegation, and following that up by saying that there is not a female in sight — but I will not.

324. The Chairperson: You should.

325. Mr Goudie: No females as far as you can see. [Laughter.]

326. The Chairperson: What he meant to say is that the real workers are back at the office.

327. Mr Goudie: Do take that off the record. [Laughter.]

328. The Chairperson: The meeting is being recorded for the Hansard report.

329. Ms McGill: Anyway, I would like to hear the delegation’s views about essential skills. I ask because at a number of briefings that the Committee received from different groups, we heard that the last thing that young people want to do is to go back into a classroom-type situation. At times, there seems to be a contradiction there. Essential skills is, obviously, a flagship programme for the Department, and there is a requirement for a degree of literacy.

330. The second question concerns the inspectorate’s forthcoming report on ApprenticeshipsNI. I do not know its terms of reference, but I have some concern as a result of constituents approaching me on the issue. Young people in rural areas have difficulties with getting to college and travel allowances. By the time those are resolved, any enthusiasm that the young people had for taking up apprenticeships and continuing with a form of education has long gone, and they would prefer to be out and in a job if someone will employ them. I raised that issue a number of times at this Committee. Will that be dealt with in the report, or is that something at which you will be looking?

331. Mr Goudie: Essential skills is an issue for the inspectorate with regard to inspection right back to pre-school. If young people do not have literacy and numeracy skills, that closes down much of the curriculum to them. Therefore, we see those skills as exceedingly important. I will ask John Baird to speak about essential skills, and the important question that you asked about those young people in a rural setting.

332. Mr John Baird (Education and Training Inspectorate): The frameworks for ApprenticeshipsNI contain the requirement to achieve a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. Our findings show variations in how those are delivered and how they are being received by young people. In our best practice — according to the survey that will come out fairly soon — we are, in some sectors, seeing innovative ways of how that can be delivered through an apprenticeship framework.

333. Through the pre-apprenticeship, level-2, full-time and further education work that we are seeing in some of the priority skills areas, more and more young people are coming on to the programmes with lower levels of literacy and numeracy. That is well documented, and it is a real challenge for the suppliers of further education and for employers to provide not only the dedicated professional, technical and vocational training, but also to ensure that young people coming in with those lower levels of ability in essential skills move on and have achieved at least a functional level of literacy and numeracy in a vocational context.

334. As Greer has said, when the inspectorate looks at a programme or a range of programmes, we look specifically at the quality of provision for essential skills. If, from our point of view, that provision is not good enough, we will report and grade that to the supplier, and work with them beyond inspection in order to ensure that, where deficiencies exist, we will try to ensure that we move the provision forward. It is an issue, and it is mentioned in the chief inspector’s report, that more and more young people are coming into further education in all guises — whether full-time, apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship provision — who need to be supported better through those programmes. I suppose that the question is how we all work together to address the issue.

335. Mr Goudie: One of the issues in the chief inspector’s report was that around one fifth of primary-school leavers are not achieving the appropriate level of literacy and numeracy. That transfers into the post-primary sector, and those young people are, therefore, presenting to the further education and training sector with those deficiencies. It is not necessarily the total responsibility of the sector to address those deficiencies. Connecting back with post-primary schools is another dimension of helping to solve that problem.

336. Mr Baird: Sorry, but could you repeat your question about the rural issue?

337. Mrs McGill: I am from the north-west, and there is an issue for young people in those rural areas in getting to college without incurring costs. We should be doing everything that we can in order to encourage them. However, by the time they get to the bus and pay for their travel, the enthusiasm to continue with any kind of college-based provision has gone, and they then take up some form of employment.

338. I am raising that issue because constituents have raised it with me. They told me how their young people are having difficulty with travel allowances, and so on. The allowance often does not adequately cover their travel costs. On top of that, their benefits are checked. So, all sorts of issues arise. I do not know how we can get around that problem, so I am keen to hear your views. My view is that we should be doing everything that we can to encourage young people to take up apprenticeships. Instead, it seems that they face one barrier after another, with some people facing more barriers than others, particularly those living in rural areas.

339. The Chairperson: Travel was a major issue that was raised with the Committee when it visited Omagh.

340. Mr P McAlister: I support you on that point, and I speak as a founder of the Rural Community Network for Northern Ireland. It is well documented that the rural transport infrastructure throws up all sorts of challenges for people in all walks of life. We are focusing on a particular sector today and the difficulties faced by people who want to return to learning or take up apprenticeships, and so on.

341. In a way, the problem affects that sector more so than others. People undertaking apprenticeships might not have had the opportunity to save up to buy a car, whereas someone who is in long-term employment may already have a car. Living in a rural area is, therefore, a real challenge. John Kennedy has worked on the matter, and he has told me that that issue has been raised with him in the past. He might like to make some comments.

342. Mr J Kennedy: Travel issues will affect the options open to a 16-year-old leaving school. If they are on a pre-apprenticeship scheme under the Training for Success programme, their travel costs will be subsidised to a certain extent. However, apprentices are in employment and do not receive any travel subsidy. In many instances, their pay is not much more than the training allowance under the Training for Success programme. Therefore, some people find it difficult to afford to travel.

343. That problem was raised by a few trainees in the focus groups that we organise as part of our work. We interviewed apprentices, particularly those whose work is based in Belfast but who have to travel from the country. Many of them have had to take up residence locally, so travel is certainly an issue. In some cases, their parents support them in their first period of training.

344. However, the situation is varied, and there are a number of contracts across Northern Ireland. Accessibility to level 2 training is reasonable. However, if a person wants to work in Bombardier Shorts but lives in the north-west, he or she will have to travel to Belfast, and that is a challenge for a young 16-year-old. Some of the bigger employers have recognised that problem and have revised their pay structures for entry-level staff to reflect that. However, that practice is not widespread.

345. Mrs McGill: With respect, in the area that I represent, the problem is more serious than you have outlined. The Deputy Chairperson already mentioned Omagh, and I will describe the experience of a young person in my constituency who contacted me. That person travelled from outside Strabane to attend the South West College campus in Omagh, and had worked out what the travel costs would be. In the end, however, they threw their hands in the air and said “no", someone else would take them on locally. They were involved in the automotive sector, as well. Travel costs are, therefore, a major issue.

346. Mr P McAlister: One difficulty is that even when a person is given a travel allowance, there is often no public transport for them to use.

347. Mrs McGill: Exactly.

348. Mr P McAlister: Bus timetables do not always coincide with the needs of a young person who has to travel to a training course or a further education college. That is a challenge for all Departments to some extent, and for Northern Ireland plc. If we want to get people to work, we must ensure that there is a means to get them there. As the member rightly says: the more attractive the proposition, the better. There is a requirement on Departments to rural-proof policies and initiatives, but it is not within our brief to examine rural proofing.

349. The Chairperson: The good thing is that the Committee will produce a report, which will take a holistic approach to all of those issues. We are not shy about making recommendations to other Ministers or other Departments, or to the Executive. I am sure that that issue will arise.

350. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I thank the witnesses for coming before the Committee today. As someone who has spent half a lifetime working with young people in further and higher education, my question is based on an experience that I had many years ago. The principal of the college asked me if I would try to raise communication skills among lads who entered the college at the very lower level. In fact, they were called metal bashers, or metal formers. Some of those lads could not even write their own name, and I was struggling to make any progress with them on communication.

351. Then there was an inspection, carried out by a lady who had spent all of her working life in a very elite girls’ school. She did not seem to know anything at all about the ethos of apprenticeships at the level at which I was working. She criticised me heavily on two points; the first was that I was not teaching those lads Shakespeare. One can imagine what it is like to try to teach Shakespeare to a lot of metal bashers. The second criticism was that I had to write everything on the board, otherwise those lads would not have been able to understand anything.

352. What is the inspectorate doing to ensure that, when an inspector visits the like of a further-education college, they are fully aware of the ethos of the classes that they are going to inspect?

353. Mr Goudie: You make a good point, because from my perspective the important thing is that the inspector in any sector should have the credibility to speak with the teacher or the lecturer in that situation. I cannot comment on the specific example that you gave, but, from my perspective, we endeavour to ensure that inspectors are deployed in areas in which they have the skill to do precisely the job that they are required to do. In addition, the inspectorate invests heavily in staff development and training. However, I do take your point seriously, and Paul McAlister may wish to comment on that.

354. Mr McAlister: It is not unreasonable to expect that the person who inspects an institution should be very familiar with the area that they are inspecting. There is absolutely no argument there. I agree with Stanley that credibility is very important. With regard to people who have particular challenges, that issue has been examined very closely, particularly since the special educational needs (SEN) legislation was enacted, which contains a presumption to inclusion.

355. We have, for example, included people with experience as principals of special schools as part of a team going to inspect that area in, for example, further education, so that if there are young people presenting with autism, or with particular difficulties of behaviour or dyslexia, someone with a background as a principal of a special school is au fait with what are reasonable expectations for the learner and, equally, for the teacher, tutor or lecturer in those circumstances.

356. Equally, for example, when inspecting childcare courses in the further-education sector, on occasion we have asked some of our colleagues from the pre-school sector to join the inspection team, so that people who are used to working with the pre-school age group see how the students in the further education college are being prepared to work with that age group in order that there is a cross-fertilisation and an understanding. The feedback that we have received is that, in those circumstances, very helpful advice has been given to the college by someone from that sector.

357. Therefore, we are very aware of the need to ensure that, where there are particular challenges, we equip ourselves in staffing a team when going into a college or training organisation to look at those challenges from an experienced perspective.

358. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: It is soul-destroying for a lecturer to get a report like that from the inspectorate, when that lecturer knows full well that it is totally impossible to do what the inspector was asking. From that point of view, I am encouraged by what you have said: that, in future, when inspectors go into an area, they are fully aware of the challenges to the lecturers in that area.

359. Mr McAlister: I will not go on too long about this issue. However, under an initiative that the inspectorate has been operating for several years, we have experienced associate assessors — usually heads of departments from other colleges — join our inspection teams. They bring recent important and relevant experience in areas such as software engineering. That also helps to ensure that we have, in the inspection team, a voice from the perspective of the college.

360. The Chairperson: It is important to achieve a balance. We must ensure that proper levels of provision are in place. I know a lot of people who are involved in education who feel that you put the fear of God into them. I do not think that that is a bad thing. [Laughter.] If we are saying that people can be sold short, then it is important that people such as you have a role.

361. A paper that you submitted to the Committee gives a breakdown of the Education and Training Inspectorate and its various managing inspectors, one of whom oversees special education. Work-based learning and adult and community education are also highlighted. I have a personal interest in adults with a disability, and those are two different teams in the inspectorate. Is there a means for those teams to join so that an inspection can deal with both areas?

362. Mr Goudie: Absolutely. The assistant chief inspector, who is mentioned in our submission, is Dr Maureen Bennett, who sees special educational needs crossing the piece. Therefore, there is good cross-fertilisation in the organisation. We take the issue of special education, including disability, very seriously.

363. On the back of what Paul McAlister said, in the past few years we have ensured that the inspection process is independently monitored — by PricewaterhouseCoopers in this particular instance. That information is put into the public domain and is another means whereby I can have an assurance that what we are doing is fair and equitable. I take your point, however; I would not use your phrase “put the fear of God into them", but I know where you are coming from.

364. The Chairperson: There are a couple of points that I wish to raise before we finish. The Committee wants to consider best practice, too, and there are many organisations that are doing great work. Perhaps the inspectorate could recommend one such organisation for the Committee to visit, because it is important that we are not in an ivory tower, and that we can see what is happening. So, any recommendations for such a visit would be useful. However, the key issue is that does the inspectorate have any enforcement powers with regard to its reports, or can they be just ignored?

365. Mr Goudie: They certainly cannot be ignored. In my view, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education are more robust in following through on our reports. Since I took over as chief inspector, it has been my practice to send a copy of the report directly to the relevant permanent secretary, with a covering letter setting out the key findings and the areas for development, and indicating that we will return for a discourse with the departmental officials within 12 to 18 months in order to determine what has or has not happened, and to report publicly on our findings in that follow-up situation.

366. The Chairperson: That is useful. On behalf of the Committee, Stanley, I again thank you and your team for coming along. It has been a useful exercise, and it will be important to see the report to which you referred when it is published in, I believe, June.

367. Mr McAlister: Are you referring to the report on apprenticeships? I hope that it will be ready before Easter. With Stanley’s permission, I will send a copy to the Committee Clerk.

368. The Chairperson: That would be quite useful.

369. Mr Goudie: We will certainly follow through on areas of best practice that might be helpful. From our perspective, the publication of examples of good practice helps to raise standards in the system.

370. The Chairperson: On behalf of the Committee, thank you very much for your time.

4 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr Con Feeney
Miss Sara McClintock

 

Northern Ireland Electricity

Mr Gordon Parkes

 

Viridian Group

371. The Chairperson: We will now receive a briefing from Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. I welcome the NIE officials. Members will be aware that this is our fourth briefing on the subject. I thank NIE for the interesting paper that it provided to the Committee. I read it again last night and found it useful. Perhaps the witnesses will introduce themselves and give their presentation, after which I will open up the meeting for questions and answers.

372. Mr Gordon Parkes (Viridian Group): I am the general manage, group human resources for Viridian, which is the parent company and owner of NIE. With me is my colleague Con Feeney, who is our training manager and is responsible at executive level in NIE for all apprentice training. He reports directly to the managing director on all training and development initiatives. Sara McClintock is our communications and marketing executive. Sara is here because, as reflected in our presentation, we consider that a major part of what we need to do in working with Government is to help to improve the promotion of apprenticeships.

373. First, we have a two-part presentation that will last for between 10 and 15 minutes and we will give the Committee a summary of our views. My colleague will begin by giving the Committee an overview of a paper that is now being distributed to members. The paper is on best practice for apprenticeships. Much of how we model our apprenticeships is based on considering what other organisations are doing. Con Feeney will talk you though that two-page high-level document on best practice.

374. For the second part of the presentation, I will refer members to our paper, which they have already read. I will simply summarise section 5, which outlines our view on how apprenticeships should evolve, and I would like to make 12 points on that.

375. Mr Con Feeney (Northern Ireland Electricity): The summary paper has just been handed out to members. My part of the presentation should take only about five minutes.

376. Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) is striving to do better against these key themes but has not necessarily reached that position yet. A lot of my presentation is based on personal experience, having been an apprentice myself, and having made my way through to executive level at NIE. I also have contacts across the UK electricity industry. I attend committee meetings in London with a lot of senior people who are involved in modelling apprenticeships.

377. NIE believes strongly that soundly based apprenticeships are good for business. One of the key measures of success, if not the ultimate measure, is the number of apprentices who successfully complete their training. There are a number of elements that can help contribute towards a high completion-rate culture.

378. The reason why I emphasise completion as being so important is because — taking the example of two 18-year-olds who decide to take a career path, one through an apprenticeship and one through university — if the person going to university applies themselves, they should make it through their degree and receive some form of qualification. However, for the person who embarks on an apprenticeship, completion of the programme very much depends on the employer. The employer could pull out at any given time, so completion is very important.

379. It is important to ensure that high-quality informed careers advice is provided by schools and educational establishments in order to ensure that applicants have made an informed choice; that they are going into an apprenticeship because they want to do so. Employers should develop strong relationships with local schools and colleges to ensure that appropriate candidates apply.

380. Employers need to provide a supportive work environment, where training is seen to be valued and where there is good peer support. A number of people at senior level in NIE have come through apprenticeships. People who have been former UK apprentices of the year are heavily involved in apprenticeship schemes and supporting apprentices.

381. Apprenticeships need to be valued at senior management level and throughout the business. That is very much evident in NIE: even in induction week, the managing director meets the apprentices. It is very important that there should be a rigorous selection process. If you want to be in the position where you will be selecting people who, in NIE, will ultimately embark on a career that could last for 35 or 40 years, they need to be the right people.

382. It is important that there is high-quality information about the obligations and expectations of apprenticeships for the apprentice, their parents, where appropriate, and their employers. As part of that, induction programmes can play a vital part in helping new apprentices to be clear about their responsibilities as an apprentice, and what support is available should they experience difficulties.

383. It is evident in NIE that some apprentices can experience personal difficulties at the start of their apprenticeship and throughout that three-year period. We have a process whereby we can help to bring them back on track. Some have been able to complete the programme because of that, and it is very important to give them every chance possible.

384. Employers should be aware, or be made aware, of the business benefits of completing apprenticeships and be encouraged not to take people off their apprenticeship programmes before all the elements of the training are complete. Employers should keep pay under review to ensure that it remains competitive, and that progression and achievement at key stages of the apprenticeship programme is recognised. We review apprentices’ salaries annually.

385. The quality of the training is critical. Apprentices should be offered high-quality, on-site training. We believe that on-the-job training is key. In NIE, around 50% of year one of the apprenticeship programme is on-the-job training; around 80% in year two and 90% in year three. The apprentices are learning on the job; they are not off the job.

386. There should be effective communication and partnership between the key stakeholders involved in the apprenticeship: the apprentices; employers; training providers; training colleges and the Department for Employment and Learning. That is so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

387. There should be an early identification of “at risk" apprentices and mechanisms should be put in place in order to manage that. That relates to my former point. There should, ideally, be the opportunity for a permanent position on completion of apprenticeships, subject to performance, which is made clear to the apprentice from an early stage. Government funding should be back-ended to reflect that. In NIE, all apprentices who complete the apprenticeship programme get a job, providing they meet the standard, although the standard is pretty high.

388. There should be recognition that successful completion of an apprenticeship can often lead to further academic achievement. Each year, we sponsor the top two or three apprentices to continue with HNCs, and a number of them have made it through to degree programmes. A number of apprentices have made it right to the top of the organisation: one former apprentice sits on the Viridian board of directors. There should be a clear outline of the possible career paths for successful apprentices.

389. I want to clarify for the Committee our position with regard to this year’s intake: it is important that I do so. At present, Northern Ireland Electricity is training 36 apprentices, in their first, second and third years. We normally commence our annual apprentice recruitment programme in February. However, it has been decided not to commence the programme at this time because of the prevailing economic conditions and until we can determine whether it is possible to source significant additional external funding.

390. NIE remains wholly committed to apprenticeship training and will regularly monitor its position with a view to expanding its training programme as soon as it makes business sense to do so. Interested parties will be informed of our decision in due course.

391. Gordon will take the Committee through the second part of the presentation.

392. Mr Parkes: This part of the presentation will build on what Con has been talking about and will focus on 12 areas in which we feel that apprenticeships need to evolve. I refer to paragraph 5 of the document that members have before them.

393. First of all, employers and Government must work to improve the perception of apprenticeships. Our business has a presence at the careers fairs of at least 20 schools, in the Belfast area, Enniskillen and other locations. The impression we receive is that, in schools, an apprenticeship is not seen as a career of first choice: it is for those who fail at everything else. That is our problem. Every other profession such as teaching, the medical profession and others, recognises that vocational training — putting people into a job and having them learn on the job — is the way forward. We also believe that strongly, and we do our best to promote, and to improve the perception of, apprenticeships; however, more could be done as a joint effort by employers and Government. We would like to be involved in any such ongoing process. Our communications and marketing department is represented here to help with that promotion.

394. We talk to hundreds of schoolchildren at the various events that we attend, and the sort of feedback we get shows that teachers push pupils towards the university route. If they are not capable of that, they are pushed towards unskilled jobs. The middle area of an apprenticeship is not focused on in schools. An apprenticeship is also not seen as a career choice for girls: rather, they are actively persuaded against taking apprenticeships. In the last year of intake, we recruited no girls among 14 people, but there is one girl on our programme. We had 600 applications, 1% of which were from females. In schools, an apprenticeship is not promoted as a career path that is interesting, challenging, rewarding and a positive environment. A lot of work must be done in that area.

395. Secondly, we want to encourage a wider range of applicants — I have already referred to the lack of interest among females. Apprenticeships could be promoted to those who have tried and failed in other areas, or have made the wrong career choice. A number of our successful, recent apprentices have tried elsewhere and were unsuccessful, but have been successful in coming through the more structured training route that we provide. However, we focus particularly on attracting more females: that is a key target for us.

396. Our third target is to recruit more experienced trainees. The new Government funding in the past two years has helped in that. Our current recruitment has included people aged up to 24. There will be no age restriction at all on future recruitment, because the funding is no longer age-restricted, which helps.

397. We have found that the benefit of recruiting more experienced trainees is that they hit the ground running quicker. Therefore, the apprenticeship need not necessarily be three years, which is another point that I will make. It can be reduced and compacted. The other big advantage is that the more experienced people influence the younger apprentices very positively. We tend to find behavioural issues with young people on their days back in college. They think that they are back at school and that they can throw bottles at each other. That sort of behaviour is modified when they are alongside older, more experienced colleagues. Therefore, having more experienced trainees bestows two main benefits: they hit the ground running; and there is a positive influence for the younger trainees.

398. In paragraph 5.4 of our paper we highlight the need to improve flexibility of colleges. The main point in that is that our trainees are not all based in one location in a factory. They are based in various fields all around the country and beyond. The problem is that the structured training happens in a college from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm. We would like the colleges to look at the terms and conditions of their staff to ensure that they have more flexibility, in the way that we have with our employees. It will not always be nine-to-five training in a single location. Colleges could improve their flexibility in order to help us provide the keys skills that we need.

399. Paragraph 5.5 states that apprenticeships must be developed to include a career path right through to degree level. We believe that the apprenticeship should not be the end of the training; it is the start of a career journey. Again, that can help in the promotion of apprenticeships. It attracts a wider pool if we can say to people that they should differentiate themselves; that they do not have to go to a degree course right away; and that they can do their degree with us. Therefore, using apprenticeships to take people right through to graduation is something that we already do. Last year, four people who started as apprentices completed their degrees. Numerous members of our management team have taken that route. There is one such person sitting to my left.

400. The sixth area is the need to respond to market demands. If apprenticeships are to evolve we need to know what is going to happen next. In energy, for example, as the Committee knows, it is renewable energy. We must be a step ahead, and we have already begun a training programme to ensure that our apprentices know how to deliver the engineering requirements for renewable energy.

401. The next point is about increasing multiskilling, which is important not just in our sector, but across all sectors. Customers do not want to see two people from two different trades. They want to see someone who can deal with a job in their house, whether it is an electrical or a plumbing fault. If the people we send out to a site to fix a fault can cut the trees around that fault in order to prevent that fault reoccurring, and they are multiskilled to cut trees and to fix the problem, it saves us money as an employer, and it gives the employee additional skills. Multiskilling is key to development. Many current qualifications are structured for one specialism rather than for multiskilling.

402. The focus of paragraph 5.8 is on increasing the technical knowledge. We have been doing that by working with BTEC, in addition to City & Guilds, in order to produce a higher national certificate, and to improve NVQs, which is dealt with in paragraph 5.9 of our submission. NVQs are very important to us. We deliver level 2 and level 3. The downside of it is that NVQs are too generic and not specialist enough for our industry. Hence, we have worked with a number of organisations that are mentioned in paragraph 5.9 — E.ON, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy and others — to develop a much more specific NVQ for our sector. The key thing is that that NVQ is more meaningful to the job; it must relate exactly to what the role is. We have found that some of the content of the generic programme is not directly transferable to people’s jobs.

403. At paragraph 5.10, we talk about the need to reduce bureaucracy, which is another key element. Again, this point is made in the spirit of continuous improvement rather than criticism. By way of an example of continuous improvement, in a 12-month period we would be subject to the same or similar audit five times by five different Departments. Our view is that there should be a standardised process, and perhaps one organisation auditing on behalf of all the organisations, rather than all five auditing separately. The bureaucracy around that creates an administrative issue for us.

404. Among improvements that we would like to see in that bureaucracy is a more unified approach to auditing. Secondly, training organisations need to prepare a common detailed document that will work for all of them, whether it is the Education and Training Inspectorate or the Improving Quality: Raising Standards process. They should all operate from a similar platform because they are looking for similar information.

405. Finally, there should be one point of contact. We experience that with Bridge to Employment, where it makes a great difference. In normal training schemes, there are five or six different contacts, which makes it difficult. A recent example occurred last week, when our administrator had to make five different calls in order to get a decision on a particular issue.

406. In paragraph 5.11, we make the point that the time that is required to complete apprenticeships should be reduced. The last two items are linked because they relate to the funding aspect. At present, apprenticeships take three years. We believe that in two or three years’ time, with more-experienced people coming in and influencing less-experienced people, we can reduce the training time for apprenticeships from three to two years. That has a cost implication: it means that those apprentices can hit the ground quicker. They can produce results for the employer more quickly. That improves efficiency.

407. That links to the funding support that we have talked about. At present, we welcome the funding support that we get from DEL. It is important in encouraging us to maintain the programme. We have maintained the programme and brought in apprentices year on year, every year. This year has been the most difficult economic year that our organisation, like many others, has faced in a long time. It is the first year that we have considered not recruiting apprentices for the programme.

408. The cost of an apprentice is approximately £60,000. The cost of some of the more specialist training programmes is slightly more. That is the full cost for three years. Our apprentice training centre that we run in two locations costs over £900,000 — just short of £1 million — to run every year. It is an expensive process. However, it is valuable and produces a business benefit.

409. At present, we receive funding of £4,000 for each apprentice per annum, which equates roughly to around 20% of the costs. Our proposal to evolve the process is that, perhaps, for a short-term period, funding of 50% could be considered. If that is combined with a reduction in the duration of apprenticeships, and more funding is squeezed into a shorter period of time, it may not necessarily cost any more overall, but in the short term, employers could be offered increased funding to help them through difficult times. I would encourage employers like us to continue the process and not to stop during current economic conditions.

410. That is the end of our presentation. We are open to take questions.

411. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. You have put forward some interesting ideas and suggestions. I am struck by the retention rates. Con, you hit the nail on the head when you said that you can see how someone who comes in at the bottom level as an apprentice has the opportunity to reach senior management. The mindset that exists about what an apprentice is must be changed. I am proud of the fact that I started my career as an apprentice. It was not the case that, because I did not go to university, I had to do an apprenticeship: I chose to be an apprentice, and I went on to complete my apprenticeship. Therefore, you are right: the mindset that exists in schools about apprenticeships must be changed.

412. The retention rate of 84% is a good figure. The retention rate for the Steps to Work programme is 25%. When we look at departmental policies that have achieved only 25% and compare them with those of companies like yours that achieve 84% retention — which, OK, is slightly different — we must ask where we have gone wrong or if we have gone wrong. I am impressed with Con’s comments.

413. For members’ information, I spoke at an event yesterday — the invitation came quite late last week. The Minister was supposed to speak, but was unable to do so. The event, which was sponsored by the Equality Commission, was called Bridge the Gap. Its main focus was to deal with marginalised groups in society. It was attended by around 110 or 120 people, and a lot of them were employers. It was a useful way to get people who work with marginalised groups in society and employers into the same building. That is about changing the mindset on how people can work collectively on the matter.

414. I appreciate your ideas and suggestions on the way ahead. The Committee is carrying out an inquiry. We want to make constructive suggestions to the Department. If needs be, we will not be shy about supporting and promoting some of the issues that you have raised. I am interested in visiting your centre, if that can be set up. That would be quite useful. I know that some of the Committee staff have been out to see the poles, and so on. It strikes me that an overarching view should be taken. People might go out to fix an electrical fault, but they can also cut the trees down if necessary.

415. It is about a common-sense approach. If we can set that up, the Committee can go and look at that, which takes on board the point that what is going on needs to be seen at first hand.

416. I appreciate your submission and your presentation. I will now open up the meeting for members’ questions or comments.

417. Mr Newton: I welcome Mr Parkes, and his colleagues, to the meeting. During evidence sessions, a number of those giving evidence will effectively set the benchmark against which apprenticeships in the future will be measured. Today’s evidence sets one of those benchmarks, and, I hope, we will recommend that standard. We have heard one of those benchmarks for the future. The approach set out in the ‘Best Practice Apprenticeships’ paper is right. The quality issue is inbuilt, the outcomes are there with regard to apprentices getting jobs at the end of the day, and the ethos that is driving the programme is right. I think that that is going to be, Chair, one of the benchmarks that we will undoubtedly use.

418. I believe that the foundations are there, and my only real question is around the funding issue. You made the point about the downturn in business, the cost of running the apprentice programme, and the support from the Department on that. How does the support that you get in Northern Ireland measure against that which your colleagues in energy generation in other parts of the UK, or, indeed, in the Republic get?

419. Mr Parkes: That is a very appropriate question. Yesterday, I was in London with my human-resources (HR) colleagues from the energy sector, looking at how, jointly, we can manage in the economic downturn. Funding tends to vary; however, we would say that the funding we get is good funding. There are other areas of the UK where there is no funding. There are areas where funding is £4,000 for the full three years of the apprenticeship. There are areas where funding is more; however, that funding is linked to incentivising the employer to make sure that, as we have been suggesting, the apprentice completes the course and does so within a three-year period. In those cases, the level of funding will be higher than here. However, that is through an incentivised route.

420. Mr Newton: Do you know what the figure is for that?

421. Mr Parkes: No, I do not have any evidence of what it would be. Yesterday, figures of around £5,000 or £6,000 per year were quoted for the full apprenticeship. However, I do not have the hard evidence.

422. Mr Hilditch: I concur with the comments made, and, in particular, with those of the Deputy Chairperson. I think that this is going to set a standard and a level that we would like to see throughout the Province. A couple of my questions have already been answered. However, more and more, throughout the construction industry in Northern Ireland, I know that contracts are being awarded with conditions attached. Companies are required to employ a certain number of apprentices and local people, and so on. In the supply chain for the energy industry, are conditions placed on those companies that have big contracts to employ apprentices?

423. Mr Parkes: There are requirements on all the people that work on our behalf, and work for us, in relation to all company policies, such as the equal opportunities policy and the requirement for apprenticeships, as part of the balance of the workforce. Most of the teams that work for us would have apprenticeships underpinning the entire process. If, for example, there were a team on site of perhaps 12 people, there would be one or two apprentices in that team.

424. Mr Hilditch: What about the other major companies that you deal with when you are awarding contracts? Do you expect that they should try to attain the same level of apprenticeships or standards?

425. Mr Parkes: It is not as specific as that. It is a requirement, under the equal opportunities policy, to make sure that the companies apply those principles around the male/female and religious aspects, and in particular, the workforce balance in relation to age. Therefore, we ask for a full age range, and that full age range catches the apprentices. We do not state specifically that they must employ apprentices.

426. The Chairperson: I ask the following question because the Committee will produce a report at the end of its inquiry. You mentioned cost issues and condensing three-year programmes into two years. How many days do your apprentices spend in class? If three-year programmes are reduced to two years, how many days would they spend in class? I have my own view on that, but I would like to hear your answer.

427. Mr Feeney: Over the last couple of years, our programme has evolved to a standard whereby all successful applicants embark on a BTEC ONC programme. Prior to that, it was City & Guilds 2320. The ONC can be undertaken as a two-year programme. Of the 36 people who are currently on the programme, five are on a two-year fast-track programme, 31 are on a three-year programme, and all of those people are doing an ONC. Indeed, some who are close to the upper age bracket of 24 come in with qualifications such as ONCs.

428. The Chairperson: I know a lot of young people who have no difficulty getting up at 6.00 am or 6.30 am to be picked up at 7.00 am on the four days that they are out on an apprenticeship. However, those same young people cannot be got out of bed on the one day that they have to go to class. I am trying to work out how to strike the right balance between the required classroom-based work, such as health and safety training, and on-site training. The majority of apprenticeships last for three years. If some of those are reduced to two years, how do we get that balance?

429. Mr Feeney: The decision to condense three-year programmes into two years is based on two things, the first of which is the apprentice’s aptitude. We have extended the upper limit of the age group to 24, and 22- and 23-year-old former joiners and plumbers, who have excellent hand skills, are now applying. We were able to reduce the study element of the ONC programme to one day a week for two years, which is fine. The decision is also based on the discipline concerned. We have cracked it for jointing, but — as Gordon mentioned — it could take two or three years to condense the programme for electricians who work on overhead lines and plant maintenance.

430. You are absolutely right that it is vital that a guy who has finished his apprenticeship can sit in front of a final authorisation panel and be deemed to be employable by NIE; that is key to the entire process. The final interview sets a bar that is pretty hard to reach. We will not sacrifice that, which is why we are taking the process in stages. We have cracked it for jointing, and we have to expand it to the other disciplines.

431. Mr Parkes: We have our own training facility room — similar in size to this room — in which apprentices receive a lot of their training. Those apprentices have to go to college one day a week, but why can the college not come to us? We currently train 14 people at any one time, which is enough to justify the day elements of a programme being run on site.

432. Ms Lo: Does that happen at the moment?

433. Mr Parkes: No; apprentices still go to the college.

434. Chair, you are absolutely right that a lot of them do not turn up in the initial period, and that issue must be managed.

435. The Chairperson: I know that from personal experience.

436. Mrs McGill: Thank you for the briefing. I want to speak about Gordon’s point on the notion that people apply for an apprenticeship if other options fail, which was also emphasised by the Chair. That could be addressed in the new career strategy, which I understand — and maybe someone can confirm — is been taken forward by the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning

437. Since the rationalisation, the director of the North West Regional College is based in Derry, but there is a site in Strabane, and the people concerned are trying to raise its profile. They want relevant and meaningful training programmes, and so forth, to be available in the town. Con, how many of the 36 apprentices are from the west or north-west?

438. Mr Parkes: At present, one third of the 36 apprentices are broadly from the north and north-west.

439. Mrs McGill: That is the point; are you including Coleraine in the north and north-west, because that would not apply to my area.

440. Mr Parkes: I suppose that the best way to answer that is that when we advertise widely across the entire country for new applicants to the schemes. Therefore, when we recruit for various areas, the geographic spread tends to vary. At present, exactly 29% of the apprentices come from the general area of the north and north-west; that probably includes Coleraine because there is no narrower definition.

441. Mrs McGill: That is my point; Coleraine is included in the statistics for the north and north-west. I do not dispute the geographical relevance of that, but I represent West Tyrone. The North West Regional College covers Derry, Limavady and Strabane, but not Coleraine. In many ways, that skews what is happening with apprenticeships in the north-west.

442. The Chairperson: I do not want to know how many apprentices are from West Belfast. However, to follow on from that point, do the apprentices travel every day or are they based in Belfast?

443. Mr Parkes: When the apprentices are being trained on site, they have to travel to the training centres, which are based in Antrim and Lurgan.

444. The Chairperson: Does that create a difficulty?

445. Mr Parkes: We include assistance for travel and accommodation as part of the overall package for apprentices.

446. Mr Feeney: As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of the three-year programme comprises on-site training, and we have work bases in Enniskillen, Omagh and right across the Province.

447. Mr Attwood: I agree with other members that, broadly speaking, your programme is highly regarded. Your proposals, including, given the current situation, the suggested uplift in assistance to enable you to provide apprenticeships, seem measured and appropriate. The Committee should take immediate action, or at least probe officials further, on the matter.

448. One of my two questions is straightforward, and the other is not. In England, people who receive state aid for providing apprenticeships are required to pay the minimum wage, but that does not apply here. From what you said about your apprenticeships, I got the sense that you provide help to pay for travel and accommodation. Given that there is an issue about many apprentices not receiving even the minimum wage, will you outline your rates of pay?

449. Mr Parkes: An apprentice starts on £10,000 per annum, exclusive of accommodation costs, which are covered depending on where a person lives and how far he or she has to travel. It will vary, depending on the individual, but the base salary is £10,000 in year one, £12,000 in year two, and £14,000 in year three, rising to £16,000 on completion of the apprenticeship. Within two years of that, they can be earning a £20,000 base salary for a 37-hour or 42·5-hour week, depending on their contract.

450. Mr Attwood: I have not done the maths, but does that mean that NIE pays at, or above, minimum-wage rate?

451. Mr Parkes: It pays above the minimum-wage rate.

452. Mr Attwood: My second question may not be so straightforward. You indicated that NIE is suspending its apprenticeship programme this year.

453. Mr Parkes: There are 36 apprentices still following their training, so the programme is still in operation, but recruitment will be suspended. The intake normally begins in September, so that decision is still under review.

454. Mr Attwood: As we speak, and for the purposes of this hearing, you anticipate that the intake will be suspended for this year. Obviously, that is worrying, for two reasons. First, NIE is still a highly-profitable organisation, and you indicated that the cost of the training scheme is around £1 million per year. I am a bit surprised that one of the premier organisations, which is very profitable, is deciding at such an early stage to suspend its apprenticeship scheme. Given that NIE is highly profitable it seems to me that it should be spending some of its money on sustaining that scheme.

455. Secondly, it is also worrying because one of the measures that the Minister has advised the Committee would be a way of dealing with the downturn is by identifying some of the premier employers who can take on apprenticeships, so that people who are losing apprenticeships can be fostered by other businesses. I would have thought that NIE, as a profitable, premier employer, should be taking up some of the slack, rather than suspending its apprenticeship programme. What is your reply to that?

456. Mr Parkes: Your points are relevant. First, NIE is a profitable company; and certainly during the current financial year that ends on 31 March it will be a profitable company. However, like all other organisations, NIE is going into the next financial year with a gloomy forecast. A lot of people do not recognise that NIE is directly aligned to the construction sector, which accounts for a large proportion of our business. We have 450 employees, part of whose job is to connect new buildings to the electricity supply. However, in the first nine months of the current financial year the number of such connections has decreased by 25% since last year, is likely to decrease by 35%, and it is not likely to get any better over the next 12 months.

457. NIE’s first priority is to ensure that it gets through the next financial year and does not reach a situation, for the first time in its history, of having to speak to unions about redundancies. The first priority is to ensure that the workforce is intact and that the skills base is kept in place, including existing apprentices. It would therefore be improper for NIE not to forecast. We pride ourselves in taking apprentices on and seeing them through to completion and a successful career. We do not want to build expectation by taking young people on and then having to let them go as part of an overall process.

458. NIE is not immune to the prevailing economic circumstances. The reduction in new connections is one issue; however, everybody is aware that the economy is heading for deflation. As the income given to us by Government to run the network is increased in line with inflation, there will be no increase if there is deflation. As a business, we are facing things that we need to attempt to predict, and the best analysis, with all the information available at the moment, is that we should consider every pound spent in costs in every area of the business in order to preserve existing jobs. That is the starting point.

459. Mr Feeney: I will expand on Gordon’s point: NIE’s price control with the regulator is RPI-linked, therefore, if there is deflation then prices will reduce in line with minus-RPI, and there will be less money available to run the network.

460. The Chairperson: We are not going to talk about prices. [Laughter.] That is for a different Committee.

461. Mr Attwood: What was your profit last year, and what is your anticipated profit?

462. Mr Parkes: The specific profit for NIE is not shown, but for the Viridian group it was approximately £100 million last year.

463. Mr Attwood: What is the indicative profit for this year?

464. Mr Parkes: For the year we are about to be in, the profit for the Viridian group will be similar.

465. Mr Attwood: Are you saying that that is going to be slashed to zero next year?

466. Mr Parkes: No; our profitability must be considered in the context of the reinvestment that is made into the network. A large proportion of the millions of pounds earned is reinvested in the network on an annual basis to maintain the supply. Therefore, the profit is not hived off for someone’s benefit; it goes back into the network. As with all organisations, we have responsibilities to our employees, shareholders and customers — the way that the company operates must ensure that those responsibilities are balanced.

467. Mr Attwood: Has a decision been taken about capping, or reducing, salaries within your organisation, given that you are not bringing in apprentices next year?

468. Mr Parkes: Yes; those are all part of the measures that we are looking at.

469. Mr Attwood: Given that you have made a decision about the apprenticeships, have you made a decision about the salary scales within your organisation?

470. Mr Parkes: What we are saying at the moment is that we do not want to build expectations. Therefore, when a careers adviser from an employment agency asks whether we are taking on apprentices, we tell them that that is unlikely. If we get to the stage of pay freezes, we will have unions to deal with. The regulated income is decided in October, so we have got a period from now until October to decide our strategy and communicate with unions on the issue of pay.

471. We are looking at a number of cost-cutting measures. Those will be taken at all levels, right across the board, and will involve such measures as unpaid leave and not introducing pay rises. As an organisation, we are not immune to the economic downturn — we are being affected in the same way as every other employer.

472. Mr Attwood: I hear what you are saying, and I understand that: However, I think that there are some people in this Building who do not hear what you are saying, but that is another issue. I am not completely satisfied, so I will take this as a work in progress and see where we are in three months’ time.

473. Mr Parkes: The last thing that we want is to be suspending the apprentice programme — we have never had to do that. This decision has not been taken without a lot of consideration — we re-evaluate such issues on a weekly basis.

474. The Chairperson: The Minister is telling us that a lot of work is being doing by the Department as regards fostering. However, if a company such as yours, whose name would be up in lights with regard to its apprenticeship programme, is not taking on apprenticeships, how does that sit with what the Minister is saying? Has the Department proposed any kind of package to you?

475. Mr Parkes: No.

476. The Chairperson: Have you informed the Department that you are suspending apprenticeships?

477. Mr Parkes: No: through the careers office we have been telling them that it is unlikely that we will be taking on apprentices. We have not made a formal announcement because it is still very much under review.

478. The Chairperson: Is the Department’s careers service aware of this?

479. Mr Parkes: Yes; but we were simply putting that message out in order to manage expectations. We have not made a statement saying that we are suspending the apprenticeship programme because we are not at that point yet. However, we do not want to create the wrong expectation.

480. The Chairperson: There are plenty of people here from the Department; I am sure that the word will go back.

481. Mr Newton: I want to push the point, if I may. Were you approached by the Department to foster a number of apprentices who had been made redundant from other areas?

482. Mr Feeney: I am not aware of that happening.

483. The Chairperson: Will you check that out for us, Con?

484. Mr Feeney: Yes.

485. Mr Irwin: Thank you for your presentation: it was practical and has given us a lot of food for thought. My question relates to apprenticeships, an area that Alex has touched on already. You have 36 apprentices, and you are proposing not to take on any next year. However, you have 1,200 employees and, to me, it seems that there is bound to be some natural wastage, which means that you are bound to need apprenticeships coming in. I am just a layman, but it seems to me that having only 36 apprenticeships seems small fry in relation to the £100 million profit that you make. When one sits back and looks at the situation, the amount that the apprenticeship scheme involves seems a pittance — you seem to be penny-pinching in this area.

486. Mr Parkes: Again, taken in isolation, that is a valid point. All the measures that we are looking at are relevant to every aspect of our business, of which apprenticeships are, and have been, a key part. We are not talking about one measure, but about hundreds of measures across the entirety of our business, into areas such as pay and other sensitive matters, all of which have to be worked through with the unions.

487. Mr Irwin: Apprentices are the future. I would have thought that it would be the last area that you would want to drop.

488. Mr Parkes: We anticipate a downturn in our work. Currently, 36 apprentices are working their way through the system and 14 will qualify this year. They are still in the system, and if we do not have an intake for one year, we may find that we will have to take more people on in the following year, so we can ramp up as necessary. Our decision is fluid: right now, we are saying that this is our position, but we are constantly looking at that in order to review it. To answer your other question, we have high retention rates; less than 2% of our people leave the business. We do not lose many of our employees. Furthermore, there are only a small number of people who are close to retirement.

489. Mr Butler: Thank you for your presentation: I apologise for missing the start. The Committee has had discussions in the past about engineering graduates and STEM subjects. You seem to be saying that you are having problems in recruiting engineers. Is there a shortage of engineering apprenticeships and full-time positions for engineers?

490. Mr Parkes: There is a perception that our industry is not “sexy" enough for many graduates. They tend to like the IT stuff more; we are seen as being about three wires and a plug. Today’s graduates are more interested in the BT-type engineering with electronics added to it. Queen’s University struggles to get enough people to go through its degree course.

491. Mr Butler: Is there not a deeper problem that goes back to primary level and post-primary level? Young people are not taking an interest in science and technology, or, in your case, engineering. What have you done to correct that? It is obvious that you have been working with the colleges in order to encourage people to take up the subject. I know that this is not solely down to your company; it is also a matter for the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education. Is NIE doing anything to promote the idea that engineering is a good career choice, and that there is a shortage of engineers?

492. Miss McClintock: Gordon is right about the way in which engineering is perceived. However, we have actively gone out to schools and careers fairs, and have been involved, along with many other employers and engineering societies, in trying to encourage people to become interested in engineering at a young age. I am sure that members will have seen some of the articles in the press about the young girls from Belfast who won an engineering competition. That is how we can get young people interested in engineering as a profession.

493. Mr Parkes: In our written submission we have pointed to the introduction of GCSE engineering into the Northern Ireland schools curriculum as a major step forward.

494. The Chairperson: Thank you. The presentation has been very interesting and has given the Committee plenty of food for thought for its inquiry into apprenticeships. The presentation raised some questions that we would like to get the answers to. We are keen to go out and see what is going on; I am sure that we can arrange that with you. Thank you for giving evidence today and for providing us with further information.

11 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr Laurence Downey
Ms Tory Kerley

 

Alliance of Sector Skills Councils

Ms Deirdre Stewart

 

Confederation of British Industry

495. The Chairperson: The Committee will now take evidence from Laurence Downey and Tory Kerley of the Alliance of Sector skills Councils (ASSC) as part of its inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships. You are very welcome. I will not go into my preamble, because we are pressed for time. Therefore, we will move to your presentation, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

496. Mr Laurence Downey (Alliance of Sector Skills Councils): I appreciate that everyone is extremely busy at the moment. Thank you for the invitation. We welcome the opportunity to update the Committee on our thoughts on the future of apprenticeships. I have provided members with a short paper and a slide presentation, which highlights the key points, so I will go straight into it.

497. I do not need to tell members about sector skills councils (SSCs), as we have appeared before the Committee on previous occasions. However, I will use the opportunity to say that, from April 2008, the way in which the sector skills councils work collectively has been brought together, through the creation of a new organisation called the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. We all come together to speak as one voice, to promote the work that we do and to work in a consistent way across all our constituencies.

498. I transferred from the Sector Skills Development Agency to be the manager of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils in Northern Ireland. That is a little bit of background information about us and about why we are called that and also what we are trying to achieve.

499. Speaking as one voice, I will provide our comments on apprenticeships. By way of background, we asked all the sector skills councils about how they sensed things stand at the moment and about how they see the way ahead as far as apprenticeships are concerned. We then tried to pick out those things that were consistent across all the SSCs.

500. The first point that we want to make is that the journey over the last few years from Jobskills to where we are today with apprenticeships has been a very positive one. The Minister, this Committee, the Department and the sector skills councils and others have worked very hard to reshape the offer, which is ApprenticeshipsNI, into something really positive, and we want to acknowledge that. The Minister recently announced that the target of 10,000 apprentices in training had been achieved. So, there are lots of good things to report.

501. The branding of ApprenticeshipsNI has been very distinct; it really helps with the promotion of apprenticeships and has some status associated with it. From our point of view, employed status from day one is very important. We believe that that is the way to enhance achievement rates. The introduction of all-age and part-time opportunities to do apprenticeships has been a very welcome development, as has increased flexibility around both level 2 and level 3. Apprenticeships are, increasingly, forming part of a way ahead with regard to career progression, with opportunities to move on into higher education, and so on. However, we still feel that there are some opportunities for further developments, and that is primarily what we are here to talk about.

502. Tory Kerley is from Skillsmart Retail. I will mention some general points, and Tory will pick up on some of those points specifically from her sectoral point of view, to give the Committee a flavour of what that means.

503. The essential-skills component of apprenticeships is a recurring theme with SSCs. There are concerns still about the way in which essential skills is delivered within the framework. Some of the requirements for 40 hours of study for each of the key components of essential skills creates some difficulties and does not necessarily prove to be as attractive to employers as we would like. I am sure that Tory will return to that point.

504. We can all work collectively. It is much harder to improve the whole marketing and recruitment of apprenticeships, particularly in how we recruit and support the recruitment of apprenticeships for our SME community.

505. There must be increased flexibility in the contracting model, and we must find different ways and approaches to deal with different sectors, both the large and small companies.

506. There are concerns about funding. The funding model, currently, is a back-ended one and there has been interest from many SSCs to see whether there could be increased upfront incentives for employers to encourage them to take apprentices. It is inevitable, given the journey that we have come on from the Jobskills programme, that an enormous amount of inspection and audit still seems to be carried out. Although we understand that at the start-up we need to be clear on what we are, and are not, achieving, it is hoped that, with a bit of stability in the programme and some common sense, that can settle down and people can get on with the job, as opposed to being diverted to prepare for what can be quite intensive inspection regimes. However, we understand the reasoning behind that.

507. As regards specific developments, the introduction of public-sector funding for apprenticeships would be important in addressing some of the needs in the public sector for skills development.

508. Those are the main development areas that we have identified. I will pick up on some of the general points at the end, and I will then invite Tory to comment.

509. Careers advice and guidance is essential to ensure that people make a proper choice, whether they are taking an apprenticeship route or another route. We were pleased with the announcement of the new all-age careers education, information, advice and guidance strategy. Hopefully, as that is implemented, we will be much more clever in how we signpost individuals to proper and secure routes for developing their skills.

510. It is an age-old problem and one that may never go away, but the parity between vocational and academic qualifications is something that we must continue to work at to ensure that we secure professional and technical skills in our workforce through the apprenticeship and vocational route.

511. I mentioned science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, as I know it is a strong and important topic. STEM apprenticeships will be crucial to the future of the economy. Can we perhaps be a little cleverer in how we target STEM and how it is funded, to make it a more attractive apprentice package? Should there be incentives or opportunities for international travel for STEM apprentices? We can enlarge that to some of the other priority sectors where we know there are particular challenges.

512. The sector skills councils are working with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) on the development of careers fact sheets to support the work of careers advisers across Northern Ireland. Careers fact sheets for each of the main sectors will be useful across a much wider audience, including schools and FE college careers advisers.

513. This week and next week, members of some of the sector skills councils and I will be speaking to groups of schools’ careers teachers specifically about STEM careers. We are trying to get the message across and get a bit of excitement and understanding about the importance of STEM subjects. Those are some of the things that we are doing in that area to help direct people in a proper way.

514. The apprenticeship programme is only one particular offer, and we want employers to have a menu of options available to upskill and reskill their staff. The apprenticeship programme, particularly with the introduction of adult apprenticeships in the past year or so, has been seen as an attractive route to start upskilling and reskilling people, but it is not the only way. There is quite a large programme, and the employee may need only a small intervention to upskill. Tory may talk more about that.

515. We recognise, of course, that the essential-skills component is important to an apprenticeship. However, it is hoped that a person doing an apprenticeship will also develop some other important employability skills — or soft skills — such as teamwork and communication. It should not be forgotten that the development of those skills is an important part of what we are trying to achieve.

516. The development of the new qualifications and credit framework (QCF) is a work in progress, but it will be vital for future flexibility and provide bite-sized chunks of learning. How that qualifications and credit framework will sit alongside, and within, an apprenticeship framework is still being developed. Ultimately, it is about having a much more flexible offer for employers and employees, one that is not seen as a pure apprenticeship but can be used as one of a series of strands to upskill or reskill a workforce.

517. I have zipped through that quite quickly and made a number of general points. I invite Tory Kerley to pick up on some of those points and make specific comments from her point of view.

518. Ms Tory Kerley (Alliance of Sector Skills Councils): Good morning everyone, and thank you for having us back. I also want to thank you on behalf of our employer group. Those employers asked us to do that, because they have been delighted that the needs and views of the sector were reflected in the recent changes. I am very appreciative that much of that was a result of our visit to the Committee, and the employers are delighted that their views were taken into account. That is the whole point of sector skills councils, so we are glad that the process is operating in that way.

519. As some of you may recall, our sector’s particular bugbears were the lack of all-age and part-time apprenticeships and the fact that Training for Success and apprenticeships were locked together in an ungainly mass. All of that is beginning to be dealt with, and the result of the availability of all-age apprenticeships can be seen in recruitment numbers. We now have almost twice as many retail apprenticeships as we would have had if the old system had remained in place. We are really delighted with the resounding success that it has been to date, so many thanks for taking account of our evidence in your deliberations.

520. Although we are delighted with those positive moves, other issues that we brought to the table when we were last here remain and must be given due consideration. I am speaking on behalf of our sector, but many of the essential-skills issues are clearly cross-sectoral. The way in which essential skills is tagged onto apprenticeships here is still seen by most of our sector’s employers as a barrier to uptake, because it puts candidates off doing an apprenticeship. Either only people who do not need the qualification are doing it — which is similar to only healthy people being taken to hospital — or the people who most need the qualification are being put off upskilling in that manner.

521. We still find that there is a lack of sectoral contextualisation in delivery. For example, a retail student is being taught alongside a plumber and someone from construction. That situation is due to economics — it is not cost-effective to do otherwise — so we need to be a bit smarter on that front. Economics means that many private providers cannot afford to employ someone of sufficient skill to deliver the essential skills. Much of the training is, therefore, subcontracted to colleges that have the expertise.

522. That is fine, but it can be very difficult for people in rural areas to access support from a college. Indeed, the Henderson Group, which has Spar convenience stores dotted throughout Northern Ireland, raised that point at a recent meeting. It said that employees in rural areas are being turned off and cannot be expected to drive long distances for a couple of hours every week over a protracted period of time in order to get an essential skills qualification. Many of the Henderson Group’s target group have families and other commitments. Its big plea is that — whatever interventions are made — training needs to be contextualised and as close to the store as possible, if not in store.

523. There is also the dreaded 40-hour rule, under which someone must do a minimum of 40 hours’ training in two — soon to be three — essential skills areas, irrespective of the distance that that person has to travel. Someone could be one millimetre away from achieving an essential skills qualification — in fact, he or she could simply need to get certified — and yet that person would still have to do the same amount of work as someone who really has those needs. That must be made more flexible to respond to the needs of the learner and not to what is referred to as the “robustness" of the academic qualification. Clearly, everybody has a different distance to travel. We would like that issue to be looked at. Most of my colleagues in other sector skills councils feel the same way — this is not simply a retail issue. However, the situation with regard to rural learners is a particularly strong issue for our sector.

524. Another part of the challenges that we face with the system is the one-size-fits-all means of contracting for apprenticeships. Our sector goes from, literally, the largest employer in the country, Tesco — representatives from the company spoke to the Committee the last time — to one-man bands, such as very small employers and micro-businesses.

525. Clearly, a micro-business will need an awful lot more support in development training and learning than Tesco. I use Tesco as an example, but, clearly, companies that have more than 400 employees, including Harry Corry and Menarys, employ extremely skilled trainers who are head and shoulders above most of the training providers themselves as regards the quality of their experience and sectoral knowledge. Those employers would like more flexibility, so that they can provide much more of the delivery themselves, rather than having other training providers offer what they see as less than good interventions. I do not mean that as a criticism of training providers per se; it is simply a matter of fact that employers’ training providers have that experience.

526. We had a very fruitful meeting on 12 February 2009 in the training programmes branch at DEL with some of the large employers, including the Henderson Group — which I mentioned already — Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco. The branch said that it will look at flexibility of provision for all sectors and at the contracting arrangements. We do not want to undermine what is available for the small and medium-sized enterprise market, because it needs the support of full training provision. However, if the larger employers have people with the right qualifications to deliver training, they are clearly equipped to do so. We cannot have just anybody dishing out apprenticeships, but if large retailers have suitably qualified people they should be allowed to use them, and the system should reflect that flexibility of provision.

527. I would be doing a disservice to Ronnie Moore of Energy & Utility Skills, who could not be here today, if I did not get his message across that he would like to see more upfront funding for apprenticeships, which is not so much of an issue in our sector. He feels that, without that upfront funding, employers and providers face a big struggle. I have done my duty by him and mentioned that point to you.

528. Laurence mentioned a new form of upskilling that the Department is considering. I think that its working title is “the skills solution", which some members may be aware of. It would, by and large, offer funding for upskilling interventions at level 2 and level 3, but it would not in fact be the full apprenticeship framework. Therefore, if people do not need the whole remit of an apprenticeship, but just need to upskill, say, in our sector in the area of visual merchandising, customer service or logistics, they can do a unit in their chosen area, for which funding will be available.

529. We would welcome that hugely. It would be such a breakthrough for upskilling in all sectors, but particularly in ours, because we hear the cries that training must be in-house and that it must be in small bite-sized chunks, so that that can be built up. We are delighted that that is being progressed. In fact, one of the employers in our sector, Austins of Derry, is actually involved in that trial and is very excited about it. I think that it starts next week. We will watch that with great interest. Our plea is that there will have to be a certain amount of brokerage with a small “b" — I am not talking about the English system here — as regards matching the employers, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a correct solution.

530. We ask strongly that that brokerage be independent so that not everything is pushed necessarily to programmes that may not be relevant. DEL officials need to explain to employers what they can do and what the programmes are. Brokers, skills solution advisers or whatever one wants to call them must be independent, because there is a worry that too many people will offer employers this, that and the other. That needs to be looked at very carefully. That is all that I want to say at this stage.

531. Mr Downey: Regarding pilot schemes, we are concluding some discussions with the Department at the moment to conduct and to lead an essential-skills pilot scheme, not within the system of apprenticeships but separate from it. Part of that would be to look at the 40-hour rule, which is a recurring theme, to see what could be done to demonstrate that additional flexibility would still improve, or at least retain, the same outputs. We are hoping, over the course of the next nine months to one year, to conduct a pilot scheme, and I am happy to return to the Committee at some stage to give an update on that.

532. That concludes our formal input; I apologise if it was a little rushed.

533. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. You have provided help and information that will be useful to the Committee. It is also quite useful in inquiries such as this for the Committee to receive suggestions rather than criticism. You have brought some issues to the fore that the Committee will be looking at.

534. Tory, I appreciate your kind words to the Committee on behalf of your members.

535. Ms Kerley: It was sincerely meant.

536. The Chairperson: Every other day MLAs are getting criticised — it is not that often that someone speaks highly of them. On behalf of the Committee, we appreciate that.

537. Mr Newton: I thank Laurence and Tory for coming here today. With regard to the presentations that have taken place, I know that the members of the Committee have been impressed by the way in which sectors of the industry and individual employers deal with apprenticeship training. In the submission that you have provided, under the heading “Future developments on ApprenticeshipsNI Programme", you say that the provision is “patchy". You use the phrase: “a more structured approach to recruitment".

538. You also say that there are:

“still too many Apprenticeships being recruited by ‘cold calling’ employers and offering ‘free training’".

539. Will you expand on that, and will you also tell me what you think about the principle of centres of excellence in relation to apprenticeship training? I understand that a member of staff went to London to look at a fashion college there. Speaking for myself, I was impressed by what I read about the approach that is used there. I suppose that that could be regarded as a centre of excellence in the field of fashion. Will you expand on your thinking about centres of excellence as the vehicle for apprenticeship training?

540. Ms Kerley: I will happily respond to that, because quite a few of those comments came from me. With regard to cold-calling and people being approached, there are still instances where employers tell me that providers have been offering them free training. When one digs underneath that, what they are actually offering is to support the employer with the apprenticeship programme. That undermines the quality of the programme. For a start, we would never want people to be talking about free training; it has to be training to a certain value. The public sector provides training to the value of however many thousand pounds, if people choose to enrol on the programme. Offering free training completely undermines the status of apprenticeships.

541. Apart from anything else, it would suggest that there are some providers who are offering that training for economic reasons of their own, rather than the upskilling of our economy as a whole, which is what we all want to see happening. That is the criticism, and there is evidence of employers saying that they are bothered by that and it annoys them, although that evidence is mostly anecdotal; I have nothing on record. The employers generally say “No, thanks" and put the phone down. That is not good for anybody; neither for the providers or for the status of apprenticeships.

542. Regarding the question about centres of excellence, you referred to the visit to the Fashion Retail Academy. Skillsmart Retail has been involved in the development of that. Centres of excellence in retail in England have worked reasonably well in various regions, although not all regions have them. Those will, pretty much, all come under the flag of our national skills academy for retail. As Committee members know, that is an England-only intervention, and I provided the Committee with some information about it on my previous visit. We are keen to see something similar established here where we could have, as you said, collaborative area learning networks in given areas where the expertise is pooled. In those areas, for example, there will be one expert in areas such as delivering apprenticeships, delivering units on the new QCF among others. Those experts will then become the recognised providers in that area.

543. The difficulty of such a scheme in this country arises when an employer is dealing with all areas and wants to have one point of contact. In such circumstances, it can get a bit confusing. Therefore, we cannot have too many centres of excellence, because it would dilute the excellence and make things confusing. We need to get a balance between access for everybody, regardless of where they live and the type of employer that they have, and not overly confusing the marketplace. Currently, there are 26 contracting areas, which is an unbelievable amount for an area of this size. I can see how that could work for a small employer, but it certainly will not work for large employers who will then choose to dip out altogether.

544. Mr Newton: Basically, you are interested in a centre of excellence that replicates what exists in other regions, and you think that that would be useful for apprenticeship training.

545. Ms Kerley: Absolutely; and it does not necessarily require much investment, because centres of excellence already exist. It is about packaging, putting arms around what is available, encouraging what already exists and giving it a recognisable badge that people respond to.

546. Mr Newton: That would address the complaints about patchy provision, cold-calling and free training.

547. Ms Kerley: Absolutely; it would clarify the market, which is currently muddy in some places.

548. Mr Downey: The Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (SEMTA) is working on ideas to assist SMEs. It is looking at the feasibility of how it can support a more structured way by which groups of SMEs can recruit. SEMTA wants to help groups of SMEs to work together to recruit apprentices and do the difficult work that they might not be able to do alone because of a lack of expertise and resources. Apprentices could move around between companies, including the larger companies, for training and experience in order to get the breadth of experience that may not be possible in their own organisation.

549. SEMTA is checking the feasibility of whether a pilot in that area would prove an attractive way to encourage SMEs to get more involved with apprenticeships and also give them an apprentice who is developed in a much wider way than the very narrow SME interests. Therefore, there is some interesting stuff that we are working on. It is work in progress, and we are trying to test some of those concepts.

550. The Chairperson: The good thing is that the Committee is approaching the issue with a blank sheet of paper, so we can look at all of the options.

551. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: The paper provided has been very useful. Robin has asked my question, and you have answered it.

552. Mr Newton: That is the benefit of going first.

553. Mr Downey: We are psychic as well.

554. I want to re-emphasise that we are conducting a pilot on essential skills, which is consistently one of the big issues, so we hope that it will bear some fruit in the next nine months to a year.

555. The Chairperson: Will you inform the Committee about the outcome of that pilot?

556. Mr Downey: I am happy to come back to the Committee and tell you more about the outcome.

557. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation and the papers that you have provided. We will see you again soon.

558. Mr Downey: Thank you.

559. The Chairperson: I welcome now Deirdre Stewart from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). It is important for the Committee to hear the employers’ point of view on the issues, so that it can take a holistic approach to the question of apprenticeships. Thank you very much for coming, Deirdre. The Committee will hear your presentation, and I will then open up the meeting for questions from members.

560. Ms Deirdre Stewart (Confederation of British Industry): I do not want to say too much, because members have copies of the paper. I will reiterate the points that are in bold in the submission.

561. The Confederation of British Industry is very supportive of apprenticeships and welcomes the fact that the target of 10,000 apprenticeship places has been reached. The Department’s recognition of priority skills areas is also welcome.

562. I would like to underline the importance that the CBI places on careers guidance. I know that we are now in the strategy implementation phase, but the CBI is waiting to see what way that will work through. It has been a long time coming and is something that we have talked about for quite a few years.

563. The CBI feels that it is important to cut down on the red tape and bureaucracy associated with apprenticeships. I suspect that the Committee has already heard much of what I am saying, because I have a copy of the paper that was submitted by the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. However, I assure members that there was no prior collaboration. I did not get that paper until yesterday, when I realised that it was saying the same thing as us. However, that is not really surprising, given that we are coming from the same place.

564. CBI members’ feedback indicates that in certain cases auditing involves a lot of bureaucracy, so any streamlining of that would be welcome. It also came through strongly that the sectors differ quite a lot, and it would be good to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach by trying, if possible, to tailor the system to the relevant sectors.

565. Other messages include the importance of front-loading funding — particularly because, in the first year, apprentices may not be that productive — and the need for better advertising of apprenticeships.

566. A lot of other points are interconnected. There is work to be done to avoid apprenticeships being regarded as a second-best career option. It came through strongly in certain sectors that apprenticeships are seen as being for people who are not academic enough to enter third-level education or to go to university.

567. That is an issue that the CBI has been hearing about for several years. I recall that in areas such as engineering — even when there were fewer skills shortage in our labour market — we constantly heard that a technician-level apprenticeship was needed. That all withered on the vine. Young people, who might previously have done BTECs or whatever, are going to university, to which they are not that suited, so employers lose out.

568. The message is that we must not sacrifice quality for quantity. It is great to have those 10,000 places, but standards and skills must be kept up. The CBI does not want apprenticeships to be seen as a safety net for those not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

569. The CBI has done quite a bit of work in GB on this, and we are keen to work in with that, provided that it is good for Northern Ireland and is not done in a slavish way. What emerged in my research for today’s Committee meeting was that there seems to be quite a funding difference between the regions. It may be better to move towards a more standardised approach, with the proviso that we do not impose a one-size-fits-all system for the sake of it.

570. I picked up that there seems to be an issue around the essential skills and the 40 hours that must be undertaken by apprentices. That seems to be a turn-off for people, because it involves mainly mature people and, for them, it is like going back to school. That seems to be quite a rigid departmental requirement, and maybe that could be addressed some way. I heard about that, particularly from the motor industry.

571. The other thing to come through was whether we could extend, or get the idea of apprenticeships, into areas such as professional services, where that has not happened. Not everyone needs a degree, and that backs up the point that I made about the technician-type level, where there is a gap. An emphasis has been placed on third-level education, and we have already achieved 50% for university places. The CBI has always said that further education and higher education is great, but we must look at the subjects that people are doing, without going off down that road. There are big issues around engineering, and so forth, and that reflects through into the apprenticeship side.

572. I do not want to say too much more. That is a brief encapsulation of what the paper contains. I am happy to take any questions — if I can answer them.

573. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for that and for your paper. You have highlighted similar issues to those raised earlier by Mr Downey and Ms Kerley. As I said earlier, the Committee has a blank sheet, and it can come up with anything and make any recommendations. It is useful that the Committee is not looking at a one-size-fits-all approach; it is getting a view from everyone right across the board. It is also keen to talk to people who are involved in apprenticeships.

574. If there is a similar theme in the issues coming through, have any of them been brought to the Minister’s or the Department’s attention, and, if so, do you know what the response was?

575. Ms Stewart: I put my hand up and say probably not. They probably have been in the past, as part of our input to the skills strategy. However, that would have been at a fairly high level. I have had to have a steep learning curve over the past few weeks since I knew that I was coming before the Committee, as it is an area that I was not particularly close to. To be honest, it is not an area that we had heard much about, although, perhaps now with the change in the labour market, we might start to hear more about it. We had not heard a lot about it from our members; it was not something that was coming up the agenda, which is, sometimes, a good thing, as it means that everything is working well.

576. On the other hand, it might not necessarily be a good thing. It might be because companies are not involved in apprenticeships, or they feel that it is not a system that can be improved — although I would not like to think that. I was talking to a building company yesterday, knowing that I was coming here today, and I made the point that, in that company’s area of work, which is quite diverse — it has a house-building side, but it is mainly civil engineering — it had not gone down the apprenticeship route. I suspect that that is part of the reason why we have not heard a lot about it. Many of our members would not be in areas where they would have a lot of apprentices.

577. The Chairperson: I am conscious of the time. Some members want to leave to go to the rally in Belfast.

578. Mr Newton: I want to pick up on the point about the construction industry. Does the CBI not cover, or include membership from, the construction industry?

579. Ms Stewart: It does, of course. The Construction Employers Federation (CEF) is a member of the CBI. The CBI has a category of membership for trade associations. I have been speaking to the Construction Employers Federation recently on this subject, and I understand that it is working with the Department, but it has been quite a protracted process. Therefore, I do not want to go down that route.

580. I should have said before I started that I know that the Committee is hearing from a lot of sectoral people who are more than able to put forward their own sectoral arguments, which is one reason why I kept the paper at a fairly high level, and also to put in some feedback. Probably most of the major construction companies are among our membership. However, again, I suspect that they are probably talking to organisations such as the Construction Employers Federation and the Construction Industry Training Board about those issues, rather than talking to us.

581. Mr Newton: You mentioned apprenticeships in the professional field. I have not heard that idea being mentioned before.

582. Ms Stewart: The idea came from one of our IT members. It may have been an off-the-cuff remark, but it was quite interesting, because the company could see the value of such an apprenticeship in relation to the kind of people that it uses. However, IT varies so much. I better be careful, because this is being recorded, but companies such as Gem, for example, are seen as being in a quite different area of work from some of the more technical companies.

583. IT is an area where a one-size-fits-all programme would not work, so it might be very difficult to try to work it through. Nevertheless, it might be an interesting idea to explore, but I suspect that it will be a difficult one. I simply thought that it was an interesting point, because it was not something that occurred to me, but it might be worth some investigation. However, I suspect that, technically, it might be quite difficult.

584. Even in the motor industry, apprentices are given generic training, because further education colleges do not have up-to-date kit. Dealers or garages have to use their premises for training purposes, to enable apprentices to use the most up-to-date machinery, because things have moved on so much. Therefore, there is an issue around that. I thought that it was an interesting point, but it may not be possible.

585. Mr Newton: Will you follow that up?

586. Ms Stewart: I will follow it up and come back to you. I will go back and find out if the person who made the suggestion has had any more thoughts on the matter.

587. Mr Butler: Thank you for your presentation. The submission from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils mentioned STEM subjects, and often this is about the number of people who are taking up those subjects.

588. Ms Stewart: We have talked about that issue, but more in terms of degrees. However, it also spills over into this issue, because I know that universities have been very concerned, particularly about the fall-off in some of the engineering disciplines over the past two or three years. The issue always comes up after the A-level results come out, and it is quite relevant. The CBI always comments on that nationally, but there has not been such a big fall-off in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, we still do subjects such as additional maths, for example, which seem to have fallen off elsewhere. We also have the double science awards.

589. However, without becoming complacent, having looked at the issue in the wider field and not just in relation to apprenticeships, I think that the feedback that we got was that we are storing up trouble for ourselves. The figures for the subjects taken are holding up OK, and I have a copy of the statistics from the Department of Education. However, in the medium term, that is, in four to five years’ time, teachers of those subjects will retire, and we will have a problem getting replacements for them. There are issues around that, but I do not want to go off too much on that. I did not pick up particularly on that point, but I read about the issue in the submission from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, and we concur with those points.

590. The Chairperson: Deirdre, on behalf of the Committee, thank you for your paper and for your presentation. Robin mentioned that he would like you to come back on one issue.

591. Ms Stewart: I will come back on that issue through the Committee office.

592. The Chairperson: Once again, on behalf of the Committee, thank you very much.

18 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr John D’Arcy

 

Association of Northern Ireland Colleges

Dr Catherine O’Mullan

 

Northern Regional College

Mr David Smith

 

South Eastern Regional College

Dr Raymond Whiteford

 

Belfast Metropolitan College

593. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): The Committee will now hear a briefing from the Association of Colleges on the Committee’s investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships. Over time, the Committee has built up a relationship with the association.

594. Mr John D’Arcy (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges): Thank you. I echo the words of our chairman, Brian Acheson, and thank the Committee for taking the time to visit the college and hear our evidence on apprenticeships and how they work in the college sector. We look forward to showing you round the building and meeting lecturers and apprentices, as well as employers. The paper that we have submitted to the Committee represents the views of the six colleges on the wide issue of apprenticeships. The main detail will be provided by my three colleagues, and I would like to introduce them.

595. On my far left is David Smith, the director of economic engagement at the South Eastern Regional College. Next to me is Catherine O’Mullan, the deputy director for support and development at the Northern Regional College. To my right is Raymond Whiteford, senior manager for science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Belfast Metropolitan College.

596. I will highlight the current situation with regard to apprenticeships as it impacts on colleges and/or learners. Of course, the situation is heavily coloured by the current economic downturn and the practical issues that that poses for colleges, young people and, indeed, employers because the whole area of apprenticeships is based on a partnership model.

597. We also want to comment on the operation of the pre-apprenticeship model and how practical impacts arise from the economic downturn in terms of how young people might progress out of the pre-apprenticeship model as it currently stands. As colleges are places of learning, our core focus with regard to progression is to ensure that young people progress throughout their learning experience and, also, into employment. Again, however, there are particular issues that impact on training providers with regard to progression.

598. Northern Ireland still faces the whole issue of recognition and perception of vocational education. The ongoing debate about academic versus vocational education is pertinent at the present time. As colleges, we always like to put forward the vocational, professional and technical route as an appropriate mode for many young people here.

599. In my colleagues’ comments, you will find that there is a clear focus on how colleges respond to employers’ needs. Some apprenticeships that we have taken forward in the past number of years have been a direct result of engagement with employers. You will hear about and see some good examples of that during the course of your visit.

600. We will also comment on the quality of provision that young people get, which has already been referred to in our informal discussions prior to the meeting — about how we envisage that students can avail themselves of all of a college’s services, so that an apprentice has the same access to facilities as higher-education and mainstream further-education students. We see that as being a value-added aspect of college provision.

601. Finally, we want to look forward to how the apprenticeship model might be improved. It is particularly timely that the Committee is looking at the model at this stage. Perhaps the economic downturn gives its work a renewed focus.

602. Mr David Smith (South Eastern Regional College): The work that the South Eastern Regional College does is similar to work that is done by the other colleges with regard to apprenticeships and training. We have a large intake of trainees — over 1,200 each year, 267 of which are apprentices. We offer a range and breadth of provision in 18 vocational areas. Much of our work on apprenticeships is done with industry. We work closely with employer groups and the sector skills councils.

603. For example, I draw your attention to the work, more of which you will see this afternoon, that we have done Province-wide with the Polymers Association. That work was requested by employers who wanted an apprenticeship to support training in the polymer industry. I am pleased to say that we have got that course up and running with apprentices this year. You will hear more about it later. We also offer unique programmes for wood machining, refrigeration and air conditioning. We are one of only two Province-wide providers of apprenticeships in construction-plant maintenance.

604. Apart from the work that we do with industry, we are keen to regard training as being of equal importance to the higher-education and further-education provision that we offer. Training and apprenticeships are not regarded as second-class provision for young people; that is wrong. We are committed to ensure that the provision that we offer is of equal value and worth.

605. As colleges, we are able to offer additional and tailored learning support for young people. We have good careers packages. The South Eastern Regional College offers an online careers package to help young people to progress beyond their particular programme. We have staff who, I must say, go beyond the normal duty of care when they work with young people in order to give them the extra support that they need to, for example, open bank accounts and find employers; and in supporting them when they are employed and in directed training.

606. In a Learning and Skills Development Agency survey of the college’s young people in training programmes, 98% said that the training increased their confidence and was relevant to their career aspirations. A survey of employers found that most were very satisfied with the relevance of the apprenticeships and other training programmes to their businesses. We see training programmes as mainstream and crucial to what we do. We will work with the Committee and the Department to ensure that what is offered is and continues to be appropriate.

607. Dr Catherine O’Mullan (Northern Regional College): I will give an overview of how the colleges in the further education sector work with employers generally and how this has led to a number of specific adult apprenticeship programmes being developed. You are aware that the colleges have links with employers through the formal training programme. However, we also have a holistic focus on economic engagement generally, and that has been directed by the Department for Employment and Learning’s FE Means Business agenda.

608. As part of the structure of the new regional colleges, there is a deputy director, a senior manager and other managers whose main focus is to develop and maintain relationships with employers, to be able to ascertain their needs and to provide solutions for them, particularly in the areas of upskilling or reskilling employees. One of the main ways in which colleges do that is by liaising with their workforce development forums. You will be aware that six workforce development forums were set up, and that their geographical areas align with the six regional colleges.

609. The chairperson at Northern Regional College is Graham Whitehurst. He is also managing director of Michelin, which obviously has a long-standing relationship with the college. Michelin’s training sector is actually based at the Farm Lodge site in Ballymena. The key aims of the workforce development forums are to maximise engagement with employers in the region, to encourage employers to translate and articulate their actual skill needs, and then to work and liaise with the colleges to develop specific solutions to those needs.

610. In our briefing paper, there is one specific example — the Northern Regional College’s development of an adult apprenticeship in maintenance engineering. That came out of research that the Engineering Training Council for Northern Ireland, representing the sector skills councils, undertook initially in conjunction with the workforce development forum. They identified a particular skills gap at level 3 — technician level — in maintenance engineering across the region. About 16% of the population are actually employed in manufacturing in that area. Essentially, a small number of employees were moving from company to company, and that created a backdraught — a particular skills gap.

611. The college was asked to devise a specific programme to address those needs and to help to upskill and reskill existing employees, taking into account their previous experience and qualifications. We therefore developed a two-year adult apprenticeship programme, involving two years of on- and off-the-job training, that enabled employees to gain a NVQ at level 3, a national certificate in engineering — which is a well-recognised, accredited qualification — and any essential skills that were integrated into that programme.

612. The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) supported fully that course programme. In fact, in the first instant, the Department funded the pilot fully. The workforce development forum also supported the programme fully, as did the employers that bought into it and identified the skills need. When the programme started last September in Ballymena, we had a cohort of 11 apprentices. A number of significant companies — Michelin, Montupet, Schlumberger, Diageo and Moyola Precison Engineering — sent their employees. Those companies have not had to pay for the training directly, but obviously they have invested in their employees’ training. That is a very successful example of how the college can liaise with the workforce development forum and support local employers.

613. If I were to point out the key successes of that programme, they would be that we were able to identify the skills gaps and that we took a collective approach. Given the college’s good reputation and credibility, based on its staff expertise and facilities, employers were happy to send their employees on the course.

614. Dr Raymond Whiteford (Belfast Metropolitan College): Dr O’Mullan has emphasised the holistic nature of the provision of apprenticeship programmes in the college and the integration of that service with other areas. Students who come to the colleges are safe and happy in a neutral environment, which is an important development for them. As students, they have the full resources of the colleges at their disposal, such as the information and learning technology networks, the learning resource centres and the libraries. Personal training plans are negotiated individually, and the work is generally done to a high standard.

615. Careers advice and guidance is available at critical points during the apprenticeship period — at the beginning, and at the transition between level 2 and level 3. Quite often, there is a temptation to stop at level 2, so guidance is given at those critical points. Most importantly, from the holistic point of view, there are clear progression opportunities. Students are given advice at level 3 about further development opportunities that are available to them. That is particularly important in training the trainers and managers of the future, who have to go on to a higher level. Certain trades and certain areas have experienced some blockage in that respect, which probably coincided with the introduction of NVQs. That bridging to higher-level courses is very important.

616. All the colleges are focused on their role in economic engagement and development. Like other colleges, we have a separate head of department for workforce and economic development. We have an employment engagement officer for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. That has allowed us to establish a partnership with the industry and the sector skills councils.

617. A good example of that in our case is the development of a new gas engineering apprenticeship. Gas engineers need a range of skills; not only gas-related skills, but electrical and some plumbing skills. It is a multi-skilled qualification which also addresses the issue of renewable energy sources. The colleges have co-operated with the employers and the sector skills councils to develop that apprenticeship programme, which is up and running successfully this year. For people who leave after level 3, that can lead on with us, for example, to a foundation degree in building services and renewable energies. That demonstrates the holistic approach.

618. The maintenance apprenticeship programme has already been mentioned; it is run in partnership with the Engineering Training Council. Colleges often provide bespoke training, sometimes at full cost, to employers that really value it, such as FG Wilson, Bombardier Shorts and Montupet. Engineering Skills for Industry is an initiative that we offer for unemployed people. It was established through the European social fund, and has been very successful for long-term unemployed people, some of whom have progressed into jobs. In fact, 98% of people who have completed it have moved into employment, and some of them have moved into apprenticeships. That is a useful route for long-term unemployed people, which helps to solve social problems.

619. The staff of the colleges are qualified to national standards. Many are external verifiers for the awarding bodies, and have participated actively in the development of new courses and qualifications with the awarding bodies. That gives us a particular strength.

620. We have heard a lot about World Skills, which will be hosted in the UK in 2011. There is a big drive to up our game and participate in that. There is a good tradition of participating in skills competitions in certain areas of apprenticeships; perhaps not so much in others. A good example of that is the Skill Build competitions, one of which concluded recently. Students from different colleges compete against one another to show what they can do, and can win gold, silver and bronze medals. I will not mention the winners from Belfast Metropolitan College, but I am happy to say that we had some in that competition.

621. They will then move onto the finals — the UK championships in London — and that will feed through to World Skills. We participated in the medal competitions for City and Guilds, and there were a number of gold-medal winners. That competition included City and Guilds as a whole; only half a dozen people from 70,000 can win gold medals, and those were students from Northern Ireland. Again, that really shows the standard. I could go on; however, I think that I had better stop.

622. Each college is now appointing a skills champion to gear up for World Skills 2011. In the case of Belfast Metropolitan College, I found out on Friday that that will be me. The skills champion will be important in developing areas where competition is well developed, and in promoting other areas where the idea of competition is not so important.

623. Why are competitions such as that so important? To repeat what was raised earlier: the status of people engaged in completing apprenticeships, of fully qualified tradespeople and engineers, is completely different here than in some other European countries. For example, in Germany, a master carpenter has a high social status. There is not that social status here. We have got to address that right across the board, in the science, technology and engineering disciplines.

624. Looking to the future, we are going to have to export to survive. We need to export skills, knowledge and expertise, and our building companies should be building in the UK mainland and further afield. We have to export to survive. The only way that we will do that is to value the people with those skills.

625. Mr D’Arcy: Hopefully, that gives you a flavour of the importance that colleges put on apprenticeships. It has been a core part of college work for many decades and will continue to be. Some of the examples of developing relationships with employers show how we are actively able to make sure that the apprenticeship schemes delivered meet the needs of the employer, and, most importantly, the needs of the learner.

626. We have flagged up particular issues — and I am sure that you will want to pick up on those — that are largely a result of the economic downturn. We are concerned as providers, and as people who provide pastoral care for our learners, about the impact on young people who may be losing their jobs. We want to make sure that we can continue their training within the college setting. There is concern as to how we take that forward.

627. The economic downturn has had an impact on the pre-apprenticeship programme. Normally, young people on a pre-apprenticeship programme would be expected to move on. However, there may not now be a job or an apprenticeship for them to move on to. Those are very current issues that all colleges, and, indeed, all training providers, are facing. We are actively working with the Department so that we can ensure that young people are not disadvantaged because of the current wider economic downturn.

628. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. There are a couple of things that have come up continuously throughout the inquiry into apprenticeships. I do not think that we are coming at it from a negative point of view. We are trying to see the positives in apprenticeships. Dr Whiteford made a point about the recognition of people who have skills in their field, and that is something that we need to look at.

629. The issue of essential skills keeps coming up. At our last meeting, we had a presentation from the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils — which Dr O’Mullan mentioned — around the careers advice that young people are receiving. There is an issue of flexibility around hours, and around how to get a balance between how long people spend in college and how long they spend out on the job, for want of a better phrase. We are trying to pull all those issues together so that we can bring a positive report to the Department which tries, where possible, to tweak what needs tweaking or change what needs changing. I would appreciate it if you talked about careers advice, essential skills and the possibility of being in college versus being on the job.

630. Dr O’Mullan: Are you interested essentially in the 16- to 18-year-old cohort? All colleges have specialist staff and/or experienced academic staff who interview all the students, including trainees. We treat our trainees in the same manner as our further- and higher-education students. They will be advised of course content and potential career opportunities and so on at recruitment, before starting at college.

631. The biggest issue that colleges have at present is that, with recruitment, young people ask what the point is of doing an apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship or training course. One of the key aspects of the apprenticeship programme is that it is employer-led. Employed status is vital. Students have difficulty finding an employer and they cannot enter into an apprenticeship programme; that is a disappointment.

632. The pre-apprenticeship option is also dependent on having good, relevant work placements. We are having great difficulty in obtaining work placements at week 13 in the programme for our young people. Ours is a college with extensive employer links, a database of 700 or 800 employers, and a tradition of excellent employer relationships over the years in the north of the Province and as far south as Newtownabbey, yet we still cannot find placements for young people. We have about 1,400 young people on training provision, including those on the Electrical Training Trust course next year. It is a difficult one, in view of some of the mixed messages that are out there for young people. However, we need to provide skills and training.

633. Essential skills are a component of each framework. As with further education, most colleges provide young people with the opportunity to gain essential skills. It is a component of the framework, usually delivered and integrated into the vocation area. It is part and parcel of the programme.

634. Recruitment is a big issue. As Mr D’Arcy said, a difficult issue for us is how we should advise our pre-apprentices who are finishing their courses in June as to what options are open to them. At present, if they cannot secure employment, an apprenticeship at level 2 is not an option. Other options may lie in further education, with a national diploma course. However, if we want to retain a focus on skills in the sector, there needs to be some consideration of progression routes for young people this coming September.

635. Mr Newton: Like you, Chairperson, I agree with Dr Whiteford as to the status of the skilled craftsman in society. I put a question to the Minister on Monday at Question Time on those lines — I asked him what he intends to do to enhance the status of the craftsperson.

636. I have some difficulty in trying to understand one aspect of the paper, namely, the pre-apprentice and apprentice route. What do you see as the solution? One cannot qualify unless one has had work experience on the job: college experience alone does not suffice to gain an apprenticeship.

637. Mr Smith: There is potential in using simulation to provide a realistic work environment for some of those young people on pre-apprenticeship programmes. It can be argued that that is not the same thing for them as being employed, being with an employer and learning from what happens in the workplace. However, it is an option. If the framework for apprenticeships is broadly similar to that for pre-apprenticeships, progression will be easier.

638. At the moment, in some programme areas, it is difficult for a pre-apprentice to follow the same curriculum as an apprentice. Therefore, if the pre-apprentice finds a job, he cannot interchange as easily as we would like. However, there is an opportunity for simulated practice in a number of the vocational areas, and that is one area that could be looked at.

639. Mr Newton: There is a lady at the back of the room with former City and Guilds qualifications experience who would not agree with you — I only agree with you up to a certain point.

640. Mr Smith: It is not possible for someone to obtain a NVQ, which is part of the apprenticeship programme, unless they have been in the workplace and can provide evidence from that experience. However, we can offer an alternative model if we work with awarding bodies and sectors skills councils, and we need to work at doing that.

641. Mr Newton: The Committee has been provided with evidence of excellence in training, yet we are aware that there are other apprentices who do not get such quality of training. If we go down the route that you suggest, will some apprentices benefit from best practice while others receive secondary-level experience and qualifications?

642. Mr Smith: If enough parties work hard to ensure that that does not happen, we can overcome those barriers. That will involve not only the colleges; it will involve awarding bodies and sector skills councils. We need to come up with something that will work in the next few years. We will, eventually, come out of the recession and will then need large numbers of appropriately qualified young people. I accept that it is not an easy issue to solve, but if enough people approach the matter with open minds, there is potential to find a solution — it will not be easy, but there is potential.

643. Mr Easton: I was feeling a wee bit old today — I attended this college when I was 17 years old.

644. How are colleges coping with apprentices who are losing their positions with employers — are they able to find substitute employers quite quickly or are they struggling? What are colleges doing to promote apprenticeships among women, given that apprenticeship schemes are mostly male dominated?

645. Dr O’Mullan: There is a formal set of DEL guidelines — we call them our contingency arrangements — that we work through when young people have lost their employed status and are not apprentices any more. The first step is to look for alternative or foster employment, which is very difficult to find. That does not stop us from trying, but it is extremely difficult. We link with the sector skills councils and check all possibilities but, to be honest, it is not happening.

646. First-year apprentices can transfer onto the equivalent pre-apprenticeship programme, which is a parallel programme that does not require employed status. As Mr Smith said, in some vocational areas the curriculum attached to those programmes differs; therefore, it is not an easy transfer, but we are managing it. The major issue has been with those young people in the second year of their apprenticeship programme — when a transfer to a pre-apprenticeship is of no real value — who are six to eight weeks from completing their NVQ level 2.

647. We work closely with the Department for Employment and Learning, which has been keen to hear about our issues and look for ways to help us. We are retaining our young people in the college — in some cases they are being transferred to further education (FE) status. We are also working to see whether we can finalise the last bit of their portfolio or evidence base, to ensure that those young people get their qualification. The last thing that we want is for young people who are 80% of the way through a level 2 programme to have to leave that programme and become unemployed, without having obtained their level 2 qualification or all their necessary skills.

648. Every college has been working through the contingency arrangements, and DEL has been very responsive to the suggestions and proposals that we have put forward. That is how we are managing the situation at the minute.

649. Mr Easton: Thank you. What is being done to encourage women onto apprenticeships?

650. Dr O’Mullan: I should be able to answer that question. As a scientist, I know that women have been encouraged into engineering and science since my time in education — I will not say how many years ago that was. There is a number of initiatives; I am sure that every college has different initiatives. The Northern Regional College has an initiative to get women into engineering and technology.

651. I shall outline one example from two years ago, when our staff, working with local schools — with which we have close connections through the entitlement framework programme — recruited a cohort of lower-sixth girls for a three-day programme to give them an overview of engineering. Many young girls still believe that engineering apprenticeships only involve heavy engineering work, whereas many engineering jobs are AutoCAD-based, utilising computer aided design (CAD), computer aided manufacturing (CAM) and robotic computer numerical controlled (CNC) machinery. The three-day programme was designed to show those girls what they could do and encourage them to consider undertaking a national diploma or, indeed, a higher national diploma (HND).

652. The higher education opportunities in FE are a well-kept secret; there is a range of HND programmes throughout the sector that enable girls to acquire skills, establish links with employers and, hopefully, obtain careers at the end of their courses.

653. Mrs McGill: I welcome the witnesses, and I thank them for their briefing. I am particularly interested in Catherine O’Mullan’s comments about the workforce development forum. In the north-west area —which includes Derry, Limavady and Strabane — we are trying to ascertain the value of the forum and its impact on the needs that exist in particular areas. I have read the paper that ANIC submitted to the Committee and it seems that the workforce development forum is well developed; its engagement with employers, its remit and what it delivers sound impressive. Are all the forums equally developed? Perhaps that is a question that John D’Arcy could answer. It seems from ANIC’s paper that the northern workforce development forum is delivering and its plans are well advanced.

654. Mr D’Arcy: The workforce development forums have settled down well in the past year or so. They have managed to move forward quickly with specific projects — the adult apprenticeship initiative that Catherine mentioned is an excellent example of that. The Belfast workforce development forum has introduced some project-based initiatives in software engineering and in information and communication technology (ICT). The work of the forums has been impressive; they have been able to gather detailed information from local employers about the skills needs in particular areas. As the forums develop, their work will bear a lot of fruit for colleges.

655. One area that should be looked at is the relationship between workforce development forums, the sector skills councils and other employer organisations — indeed, the Department is looking at that. There can be several different messages coming from those organisations at the same time. However, as providers, colleges and private training organisations must ensure that they send the right message at the right time, so that people get the maximum benefit from them. Nonetheless, the forums have taken off well.

656. Mrs McGill: I hear what you are saying. Who do the workforce development forums report to regarding their effectiveness? You have given a verbal report concerning one regional college, but it would be valuable to the Committee if we were to get some kind of feedback about what is happening in all areas. I was impressed by your report, but I want to find out about the positive impact of the workforce development forum in my area, the north-west.

657. Dr Whiteford: Further to what John D’Arcy said about software engineering, after the dot-com boom and bust in 2000-01, the IT industry suffered from a shortage of new programmers and software engineers. As a result of the workforce development forum, colleges have developed an accelerated programme that retrains graduates from non-computing and non-technical disciplines to meet the needs of the IT industry. There has been a high number of software developers completing that programme and linking successfully with Momentum, which is the sector skills council for that industry.

658. In the past, for example, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) had to link with 16 colleges, but it now has the opportunity to link with the six area-based colleges. That enables CITB to have a much closer working relationship with the colleges, to ensure that they work towards meeting the needs of the construction industry. Representatives of the construction industry are members of the Belfast workforce development forum.

659. Mrs McGill: The needs of employers and of particular areas must be taken into account. The North West Regional College serves my area, which includes Strabane and Derry. There is a great amount of needs in that area, and those have been magnified and multiplied at this time. Catherine, you mentioned an extensive number of employers that got involved in programmes, but we do not have an equivalent pool of employers in my area. Therefore, the north-western workforce development forum must be very proactive.

660. John, the paper from ANIC states:

“in the North West, the Electrical Training Trust finds it difficult to provide apprenticeships in that area because of limited local employer support."

661. I wonder about the use of the word “support". Will you clarify whether there are local employers located in that area or, historically, have those particular apprenticeships not been available in the north-west? To clear up any confusion; I know that, geographically, Coleraine is in the north-west, but are we discussing the geographic north-west or the area served by the North West Regional College?

662. Mr D’Arcy: The part of the paper that you quoted from refers to the area served by the North West Regional College. The difficulty that the college experiences in trying to service the needs of the community is that electrical apprenticeships are demand-led by employers and there are not enough electrical employers in that region. Therefore, it is difficult for the Electrical Training Trust to provide a course.

663. The college is concerned that electrical apprenticeships not being available in that region could have a negative effect on the region’s development. Discussion is required on how far to take the demand-led model and whether there is scope to train for the future.

664. The Chairperson: It is good that our consideration is regionally based.

665. Mr D’Arcy: To return to a previous question, it is my understanding that workforce development forums report to the Department. The Department for Employment and Learning established the forums; the colleges simply provide secretarial services for them.

666. Ms Lo: John, in your briefing you mentioned the possibility of exploring public-sector provision of apprenticeships. There is a clear urgency to provide an adequate number of places on apprenticeship schemes. How far have you gone with that idea? Have you spoken to the Department? We should bear in mind that it is a question of involving not only the public sector but its suppliers and contractors.

667. Mr D’Arcy: I will hand over to David to answer that.

668. Mr Smith: I am not aware of any particular discussions that have been had with the Department regarding apprenticeships in the public sector. The idea has been mooted, but the operational guidelines for apprenticeships currently exclude the public sector from offering them. However, there are opportunities in areas such as construction and engineering to work with public-sector employers.

669. For example, we, as a college, have discussed potential apprenticeships in areas such as construction plant maintenance, catering and hospitality, for example, with one public-sector employer. If we cannot find private-sector employers, there is an opportunity for public-sector employers to offer realistic work experience that meets the requirements for some NVQs. That area has much merit and could be explored.

670. Ms Lo: What can the Committee do to progress the matter? How can we help?

671. Mr Smith: It is not for me to say, but the Committee might decide to include that as a recommendation in its report. The regional colleges have talked to the Department, which has had a positive attitude towards many new ideas and suggestions. However, given the current economic circumstances, that area is worth exploring.

672. The Chairperson: Keep that up your sleeve until we start to compile the Committee report.

673. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Thank you for your interesting presentation. One problem that we encounter again and again is the fact that many young people in the broader or wider educational field are deficient in maths, English and cognitive skills. What are you doing to overcome that problem?

674. Dr O’Mullan: As I mentioned earlier, the essential skills — literacy, numeracy and, from 2009 onwards, IT — will be a component part of all frameworks for training provision, such as Training for Success, and apprenticeship provision. Moreover, some areas will include wider skills such as problem solving and working with people. When young people reach the age of 16, the FE sector gives them the opportunity to redevelop those skills through further education and, in some cases, higher education.

675. It might be fair to say that the FE sector feels that it is addressing that needs of young people aged between 16 and 18. There may be an issue about how to equip young people with literacy, numeracy and other skills in the post-primary sector. However, those skills are a component of all frameworks in training provision, and young people cannot succeed in a programme unless they undertake to develop those skills.

676. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: The lack of those skills is a problem. Have you outlined that problem during any discussions with representatives of the primary and secondary education sectors?

677. Dr O’Mullan: Ballymena recently had an area-based inspection. It was the first time that the Education and Training Inspectorate had examined primary, post-primary and further education and considered transition arrangements in their broadest sense, such as the handing over of data and information about young people and their educational needs. The issue of essential skills and young people’s needs has been raised on numerous occasions — it is fair to say that the Education and Training Inspectorate, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education are aware of it.

678. Mr McClarty: Nowadays, grammar schools, particularly in rural areas, accept pupils of all abilities, unlike schools in Belfast, which can afford to select A-grade students. Some young people are more naturally suited to a vocational-type course but are attending a grammar school — how proactively do the colleges encourage those young people to take a vocational course? Given that it is necessary for schools to put bums on seats in order to obtain funding, is there competition for pupils? Are grammar schools intent on keeping those young people rather than encouraging them to attend FE colleges?

679. Dr Whiteford: I will begin by adding to the earlier point about essential skills and schools. It is very important that, in apprenticeship schemes, the essential skills — that is; literacy, numeracy and IT skills — are taught in relation to the vocational subjects that apprentices are studying. That makes the skills real for students, and it engages them — that is the key. The older a person gets, the more difficult it becomes to teach them the essential skills; therefore, relating the skills to vocational subjects is advantageous and it would be nice to see that being done in schools.

680. Schools run a vocational education programme that involves contracting colleges to provide vocational units. Belfast Metropolitan College has been actively engaged in that for a number of years. With the establishment of the entitlement framework, all schools will have to consider having a provision that is one third academic, one third vocational and one third mixed.

681. I agree that grammar schools are a fertile field for benefiting society and everyone in it. We find it a little difficult to engage with grammar schools, but we have been, and are increasingly, successful with that as things change for grammar schools — the entitlement framework will help us in that respect. For example, we work with Inst, which is located beside the college, to deliver the European Computer Driving Licence, and the school has been positively surprised by the way in which that has benefited its pupils. That is something that we hope to develop.

682. Some of the sector skills councils have intimated that they want to work with Belfast Metropolitan College and other colleges to develop a scheme that offers modules of an apprenticeship programme or provides NVQ level 1 and level 2 modules in schools as part of their vocational education. That would encourage young people to think about technical apprenticeships and get an idea of the range of technical abilities that are needed as well as the great opportunities that exist. In engineering in particular, there is a replacement cost involved in simply maintaining the current levels of people in the sector — as people retire, for example — never mind the cost that is involved in facilitating any expansion.

683. Mr Smith: To add to Raymond’s point, colleges are very proactive in engaging with grammar and secondary schools. In meetings with secondary and grammar schools — I realise that Mr McClarty’s question referred to grammar schools — our principal has been told that the further education college is central to those schools’ plans for the future and that they cannot deliver without us.

684. In the last two months, I have had meetings with colleagues from two grammar schools. They have been very open-minded about what is best for their students and have asked questions about what is best for their students’ needs. The issue is not necessarily about getting bums on seats; it is about what best fits, and how the college can help and support the schools. I am pleased to say that we are central to what the schools are trying to do.

685. Dr Whiteford: I agree with David; that relationship has changed, and the entitlement framework is central to that.

686. Mr McClarty: For Raymond’s information: there is only one Inst, and that is in Coleraine. [Laughter.]

687. The Chairperson: We will let Stephen Nolan know that.

688. Mr Attwood: I apologise for missing the early part of the briefing. I first want to clarify something: I get the sense from the paper that was submitted by ANIC that you believe that, in the round, the current model of apprenticeships is fit for purpose. You acknowledge that you must make various proposals, particularly in light of the current economic downturn, but I want to clarify that that is your view. I have a number of specific questions arising from that.

689. It is my understanding that there was a big argument that there should not be common points of entry for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship schemes because people said that the higher-level skills base had to be put in place in order to have a skills-based economy and society. Is there not a tension between those positions? You are now saying that we need a common point of entry for pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as part of the response to the economic situation, given that people are dropping out of apprenticeships. Prior to the downturn, we had information indicating that we needed to build a higher level of skills.

690. You are right to state that there should be an examination of whether we should have apprenticeships in non-traditional areas. Is the Department buying into that idea? That is an important question. The Committee’s report will be critical, given the situation that we face at present. The upturn, when it comes, will involve an economy with a different structure than previously existed. Is there any forward thinking by the Department about apprenticeships in non-traditional areas? Certainly, we are not getting much fresh thinking from the Department about how to implement your other recommendation, which is to create apprenticeships in the public sector. That is important currently, and may be even more relevant in the future.

691. My third point is that you seem to have some coded but, nonetheless, blunt criticisms of sector skills councils, particularly in the plumbing sector, which you have gone out of your way to mention. In your submission, you go as far as to say that there are “closed shops" in some sector skills councils — will you elaborate on that? It would be concerning if it were the case that there are areas in which sector skills councils are protecting their own interests rather than creating a more open system.

692. Mr D’Arcy: Broadly speaking, colleges feel that the apprenticeship model is working reasonably well — that has come through in the tone of the paper. The economic downturn has focused attention on particular parts of the model; however, colleges, working in partnership with sector skills council employers, believe that the current programme has made reasonable progress.

693. I will now address your third point. It has been a difficult start-up period for a number of the sector skills councils. They are two years old, and several of them have only recently appointed Northern Ireland representatives. Therefore, there has always been a bit of a difference in how they have been able to engage with the employers that they represent. That has been flagged up by a number of other employer groupings.

694. Colleges are concerned that sector skills councils must be very clear as to their role: it is to represent the views of employers in identifying the skills needs and the sort of qualifications and frameworks that are required to support the development of their particular sector. Over the last year or so, we have experienced a degree of slippage in remits and agendas. At times, it appears that some sector skills councils may want to play a wider role in the provision of training, rather than their articulating what training should happen, how it should happen and how it should be accredited. That aspect is concerning.

695. Every organisation needs to be clear about what it is doing and we feel that the sector skills councils have a strong role in the very important task of upskilling and skilling people in Northern Ireland. However, councils need to be definite and focused as to what that role should be. In some areas, the relationships have changed and improved over the last number of years, but there are other areas in which they could yet be improved. It is important that, in the provision of training and skills to young people and in the reskilling of others, unnecessary tensions are not created between the various players. That leads us back to the question that Mrs McGill asked about whom workforce development forums report to — there is a lot of noise in the system as to who does what, who specifies what and who delivers.

696. Dr O’Mullan: The main distinguishing feature between the apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship models was not whether there was a common point of entry; it was whether apprentices had employed status. Having employed status enables someone to undertake an apprenticeship programme, which allows them to undertake a NVQ at level 2 — the work-based learning qualification — as well as, for example, a technical certificate in essential skills. The pre-apprenticeship programme, by definition, does not require someone to have employed status; therefore, its curriculum does not focus on NVQs.

697. At the beginning of the programme two years ago, when the economy was doing well, we had very successful apprenticeship recruitment. Employers recruited and employed young people, and we had distinct cohorts of apprentices and pre-apprentices. There was a common core to the curriculum then. If someone lost their job, it was relatively straightforward to transfer them on to a good, suitable, relevant programme. If they gained employment — which actually happened two years ago — they could easily be transferred to an NVQ programme.

698. The speed and extent of the economic downturn has exacerbated the fact that we have cohorts, particularly in colleges, that we have to manage, where there is a change between the two. Over the last two years, the sector skills councils have directed, established and developed specific frameworks representing employers for pre-apprenticeship provision that are significantly different from the programme that apprentices are following. The timing has been unfortunate, but it is another factor that exacerbates our being unable to manage that change from apprentices losing their job on to a good, suitable relevant programme.

699. As Mr D’Arcy said, had all things been equal and had the economy been buoyant, the role of the sector skills councils and the frameworks might not have been an issue. However, if they are directing or influencing these pre-apprenticeship programmes very heavily, and they do not align with the NVQ programmes, it presents operational issues in addressing young people’s needs if they lose their jobs — and they are losing their jobs. A discussion has to be had about the frameworks and whether we are tied so specifically to them. It is a management issue.

700. Mr Attwood: It is a pretty fundamental comment about the whole pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship world at the moment. You are saying that there needs to be a pretty big discussion about the frameworks.

701. Dr O’Mullan: Absolutely, yes. The frameworks need to be available in good time to allow all providers and colleges to be able to deliver, and for young people to have a quality provision in an appropriate way. We are recruiting young people at this age, and it is very important that we should know, and young people need to be aware of, the frameworks that are going to be delivered to them in September.

702. There are certain sector skills councils whose frameworks need to be available or amended in a timely way. Whereas they say that they are representing employers, there may be instances where they are representing large employers. In the area of construction, there are a significant amount of small and medium-sized enterprises and small family businesses who may not know what a sector skills council is. The issue is to ensure that they are representing all of the employers out there, and that the framework reflects that, so that we can train young people accordingly.

703. Mr Smith: I do not want to give the impression that we have issues with sector skills councils per se. We have very good support and relationships with a number of them; like Semta, ConstructionSkills, People 1st and so on. We just want to get across some points that have been flagged up in our paper.

704. Mr Attwood: I provocatively said that I did not get the impression that DEL was responding to the question of how to broaden the apprenticeship base, including non-traditional industries, given the economic downturn. Do you agree with that?

705. Mr Smith: I can give you an example of —

706. The Chairperson: Do not allow Mr Attwood to provoke you. [Laughter.]

707. Mr Newton: Or to lead you.

708. The Chairperson: It is apprenticeship training that has got him to where he is now.

709. Mr Smith: I can, in fairness, give an example: we have reintroduced an all-age apprenticeship in the financial services industry. We did that this year, and we needed the Department, as part of a pilot scheme, to waive the rules of how we could deliver it. The Department was very receptive to that.

710. We have also had discussions, jointly with the Construction Industry Training Board, about work and proposals to deal with unemployed apprentices in the construction sector. We had a very receptive hearing, and my experience in dealing with the Department is that it is willing to consider ideas and looking for ideas. I have not had experience of specific instances where the Department has said that it will not entertain an idea. There is a willingness to consider non-traditional apprenticeships and non-traditional routes, but perhaps more work needs to be done to firm up the proposals.

711. Dr O’Mullan: I do not wish to give the impression that apprenticeships only exist in the construction, engineering and motor-vehicle sectors. They exist in catering, healthcare, retail and administration. Colleges and private training providers pick up on those sectors.

712. Mr Attwood: Those are minor sectors against the total number of apprentices.

713. Dr O’Mullan: Yes, they are.

714. The Chairperson: Most of the questions and comments have been covered. It has been useful for the Committee to hear from you. We also wish to take a holistic approach, and we are keen to talk to everyone who is directly or indirectly involved. I look forward to talking to the young people who are involved in apprenticeships. We claim to know all that is going on, but we should always talk, where possible, to the people who are directly affected by the issue.

715. I found today’s meeting quite useful; it was open and honest. We are not trying to criticise the Department — if it is doing things right, we will be first to say so. If the Department is doing things wrong, bits and pieces may need to be changed. On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your presentation, for your ongoing support to the Committee and for guiding, rather than leading or provoking, us down roads that it is useful to go down.

25 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alex Easton
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Ms Carolyn Brown
Mr Wilfred Mitchell

 

Federation of Small Businesses

716. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Newton): I welcome Wilfred and Carolyn from the Federation of Small Businesses, and I thank them for coming here today. They are fairly regular visitors to the Committee by now, and we are all the better for that. To date, Members have heard from a wide range of groups.

717. By the way, I am not Sue Ramsey. She has just arrived. [Laughter.]

718. Mr McClarty: I just thought that you had a cold. [Laughter.]

719. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Newton): Chairperson, we have just started the meeting, and the witnesses have not yet given evidence.

(The Chairperson [Ms S Ramsey] in the Chair)

720. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I offer my apologies, and I thank Robin for starting the meeting. Good morning once again. I will hand over to the witnesses now to make their presentation, after which we will have a question-and-answer session.

721. Mr Wilfred Mitchell (Federation of Small Businesses): Good morning, and thank you very much for inviting us here today. We sent the Committee a briefing paper in advance of the meeting, and we are happy to answer questions on any issues that arise from it. I will make a few remarks by way of introduction.

722. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) values apprenticeships and recognises their importance to the Northern Ireland economy, particularly in these difficult economic times. We recognise the importance of skills provision for the current and future workforce. Apprenticeships are a very important career-development route. They provide a credible and desirable alternative to university education, particularly in light of the recent calls for increases in student tuition fees, which, if allowed, will put traditional third-level education out of the reach of many young people from relatively well-off families.

723. However, small businesses experience particular difficulties in engaging with apprenticeship programmes: money, time and red tape. Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — enterprises with fewer than 250 employees — of all the regions in the UK. Around 98% of the private sector in Northern Ireland consists of micro-businesses, which are businesses that have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 95% employ fewer than 10 people.

724. Small businesses employ 65% of the private-sector workforce in Northern Ireland and contribute 60% of all private-sector turnover. The FSB believes that the current economic downturn provides an opportunity to establish the right environment for job retention and the creation of good-quality jobs.

725. In respect of apprenticeships, small businesses can offer a rounded workplace education, a broad range of work, more individual attention and mentoring and, often, more responsibility than the big traditional firms.

726. Last year, the FSB conducted a survey of over 1000 members in the UK on the issue of apprenticeships. The figures are in our briefing paper, but they are worth repeating. Only 26% said that they employed apprentices on a recognised apprenticeship training programme. Some 20% used their own training schemes, but nearly one third said that they were concerned that employing apprentices involved too much red tape and was too time-consuming and costly.

727. In addition, 21% said they had concerns about the quality of trainees. Hiring and retaining good-quality apprentices is perceived as a problem. Only 6% said that apprenticeships would not be appropriate to their business. Some 78% said they would employ apprentices if financial support was available from the Government.

728. The survey also found that many small firms and micro-businesses are largely unaware of what training they can offer and how to take advantage of it. Thus, there is a clear need to promote better the apprenticeship programme itself and the financial-support incentives that are already available to employers. Serious consideration must also be given to promoting the quality of training in apprenticeship programmes.

729. The FSB strongly recommends greater use of group training associations (GTAs), which are non-profit organisations that provide training and related services on behalf of local employers. That would make it simpler for small businesses to employ apprentices by removing the burden of red tape. Group training associations could cut the employment risk and broaden the available learning by sharing apprentices between a number of SMEs.

730. GTAs could design and maintain apprentice-training programmes to fit the needs of small businesses; those programmes would preferably be short, affordable and based in the workplace. GTAs could also provide a matching service for employers and apprentices. Consideration should be given to the potential for sector skills councils and current learning providers to act as GTAs.

731. Only one fifth of Northern Ireland respondents to our latest biennial survey of FSB members indicated that they expected to increase their expenditure on skills development and training over the next two years. Northern Ireland respondents were also more likely to consider a lack of available trained staff to be a barrier to expanding their business — that issue was classed as very important by nearly 30% of Northern Ireland respondents compared to an average of 19% of respondents in the whole of the UK.

732. We recommend that small businesses be given a financial incentive to take on a new apprentice. That will ensure that there is an adequate wage and training structure for apprentices, which will improve apprenticeship completion levels and increase the likelihood of the apprentice being employed on completion of the programme. We also recommend that apprenticeship training be aligned with the Matrix recommendations and that future markets be identified as well as traditional sectors.

733. Ms Carolyn Brown (Federation of Small Businesses): It is worth remembering that the various partners involved in apprenticeships have very different objectives. The Department for Employment and Learning will, no doubt, want to develop skilled employees for future employment in economic development as well as to reduce unemployment. The young people involved will want to gain skills and experience, increase their own employability and develop their careers. We agree with those objectives entirely, and we support the need for a well-trained and available workforce.

734. However, employers — in particular, small businesses — have not gone into business to be trainers, educators or teachers. They want people who can work in their business, who will know their company inside out and who will specifically contribute to their productivity and profitability, not that of the industry or other employers, and certainly not for the good of Northern Ireland as a whole. Their main objective is profitability; at the moment, however, it is survival, in many cases. Small businesses are prepared to invest, so long as they can see a tangible return.

735. Other research that the FSB carried out found that small businesses are considered to be very good employers who offer flexible working, and that employees in small firms are much more likely to feel treated fairly by their managers than employees in other firms. Small businesses are a good place for apprentices to train, and more should be done to encourage greater take-up by small and micro-businesses.

736. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation and for your paper, which all members have received. Members will now ask questions or comment on your presentation.

737. Mr Newton: Your submissions states that:

“Consideration should be given to the role of Sector Skills Councils and current Learning Providers to act as Group Training Associations."

738. Have you had discussions about that with the sector skills councils? Representatives from the retailing sector skills council, Skillsmart Retail, provided evidence to the Committee. They said that they had given some consideration to the establishment of a centre of excellence as a means of providing training. You have provided an example of how a group training scheme could work. How would you take forward your proposal?

739. Ms C Brown: We engage regularly with the sector skills councils and the Alliance of Sector Skills Council to discuss various issues. Although the sector skills councils already exist, their licences are being reviewed at the moment. That offers an opportunity for a review of some of their functions, and training could well be one of them. They could make it their objective to identify small employers who could be grouped together, perhaps geographically, so that individual businesses would not feel as if they are acting alone and having to find out everything for themselves. It would be beneficial if there was one place to which they could go for information and assistance with the human resources and management development elements of apprenticeships. Now is an excellent opportunity for them to do that.

740. Mr Newton: The vehicle for doing that would be the sector skills councils.

741. Ms C Brown: Learning providers are already involved in the apprenticeship frameworks as well. It is perhaps not for the FSB to decide how such arrangements should be set up, but there are existing institutions that could be adapted.

742. Mr Attwood: I am always surprised by the hard statistics that make a big impact, not least the statistics that show that small businesses employ 65% of people in the private sector in the North, but that only 26% of your 1,000 members employ apprentices. I know that figures can be interpreted in more than one way, but that is a stark figure. Our report on apprentices must get to grips with the reasons why so many employers do not take on apprentices. If nothing else, that hard figure removes some of the scales from my eyes.

743. To follow on from Robin’s question, are you in discussions with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) on your proposal for GTAs? Given that there is a structural problem in that so few of your members are taking on apprentices, have you discussed with the Department how the GTAs could provide a mechanism to assist with that problem? To be fair to DEL, as far as Training for Success is concerned, the Minister said that if learning could be applied quickly, the Department would apply it quickly. Given the harshness of those figures, your proposal seems to be one way of doing that.

744. Furthermore, will you elaborate on the financial incentive for taking on a new apprentice? As the Committee will know, even NIE is indicating that it will not take on apprentices in September, and it is one of the premium employers in the North, with a huge profit base. Given what is happening in the economic market and with apprenticeships, getting to grips with that issue of a financial incentive, over and above the £40 a week, seems to be the way to unlock things.

745. Ms C Brown: We have not yet discussed the matter with DEL yet. However, we are engaging with the Department on various employment issues, and we intend to take that issue forward. As you said, the figures are quite stark, and the proposal is one that the FSB has recently begun to promote and lobby for throughout the UK. Therefore, we intend to take it forward shortly.

746. One of the biggest issues is getting the information on financial incentives to small businesses in the first place. Having said that, we understand that the apprenticeship scheme in Great Britain offers a wage subsidy for every apprentice who is taken on, and that seems to have been well received by employers.

747. Financial incentives could also be offered at the beginning of an apprenticeship and at various stages throughout, which would encourage the apprentice and the employer to stay together and to keep maintaining the training programme.

748. The Chairperson: No other members have indicated that they wish to speak. Claire, you are sneaking in at the end.

749. Mrs McGill: To be truthful, sometimes I do not indicate that I wish to ask a question because my question might be answered in response to other members’ questions.

750. The Chairperson: Do you want to ask a question?

751. Mrs McGill: Yes. Also, sometimes I do not indicate that I wish to speak, but then something that is said in response to a member’s question might prompt me to ask a question.

752. The Chairperson: That is fair enough, but members need to indicate to me that they want to ask a question, because there are four or five presentations today, and I need to be careful of the time. Go ahead, Claire.

753. Mrs McGill: Thank you for your indulgence.

754. Forgive my ignorance, but how many GTAs are there? Can you give me an example of a business that the GTA might operate on behalf of? I think that another member already mentioned the comment in your submission that consideration could be given the possibility of sector skills councils acting as GTAs. Is that a new idea? Will it add something or take something away? Will there be a change in structure?

755. Ms C Brown: At the moment, not very many group training associations operate in Northern Ireland. There are, I believe, more in Great Britain. One organisation that operates in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain is the Engineering Training Council. There is a sea-fishing organisation, the name of which I cannot remember — perhaps Wilfred can help me out.

756. Mr Mitchell: Is it Northern Ireland Sea Fish?

757. Ms C Brown: No. Anyway, presumably that organisation operates in Northern Ireland and Great Britain because it deals with shared waters. It acts as a group training association and identifies employers, who I presume are its members.

758. Group training organisations can operate on behalf of businesses that do not necessarily specifically produce engineering components — for example, small businesses that use only one or two machines to manufacture packaging or some other product. Those businesses perhaps do not have enough technology, if you like, to employ an apprentice full time. The benefit would be that an apprentice could go to a packaging business, for example, to learn how to work the computer numerical control (CNC) machine there, and then move to a confectionery business to learn how to work another machine, thereby building up their engineering skills. A central organisation is needed to co-ordinate that type of activity.

759. Mrs McGill: However, those organisations are not in place here. You are recommending something new.

760. Ms C Brown: They are not common here.

761. Mr Newton: It would work very well in Strabane. [Laughter.]

762. Mrs McGill: That was an in-house joke, Carolyn.

763. Mr Irwin: Thank you for your very practical briefing. It is interesting that 78% of businesses would take on apprentices if financial assistance was available. It is good to see that that figure is quite high. Do you agree that any financial assistance would need to be of a reasonable level so as to encourage employers?

764. Mr Mitchell: One of the reasons for my grey hair is that I can remember the very situation that you described arising 20 years ago in the aquaculture industry. I would not have employed apprentices if the incentive had not been so great. Later on, an apprentice was of value because they generated an income in order to maintain their position. I am going back 15 or 20 years, so the problem is not new. Those initiatives existed in the past. I do not know what happened between then and now.

765. Ms C Brown: Financial incentives have to be at a level that is attractive. Interestingly, however, when the FSB did some research across the water into an increase in the minimum wage, it was small businesses in particular that supported an increase for young people and apprentices. Therefore, small businesses are prepared to pay for good-quality trainees.

766. The Chairperson: According to my list, nobody else has indicated that they want to ask a question.

767. I want to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Committee, to thank the witnesses again for their submission and recommendations. You have appeared before the Committee a few times before, and you have been very helpful.

6 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Attwood
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr Joseph Doyle

 

Apprentice Bricklayer

Mr Stewart Emmet

 

Polymers Apprentice

Mr David McCluskey

 

Apprentice at Cahill Motor Engineering (NI)

Miss Jenny McGeown

 

Apprentice at Translink

768. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I want to put on record my thanks to John D’Arcy for arranging this morning’s useful briefing. Throughout our discussions on Training for Success and apprenticeships, we have repeatedly said that that we want to talk to people who are at the coalface of the programme. It is useful for the Committee to hear at first hand about the issues, whether in a positive or negative context, from you as participants in the programme. Rather than talking for much longer, I will hand over to you to introduce yourselves, after which I will open the meeting to questions and answers. Thank you for taking the time to come here today.

769. Mr Stuart Emmet (Polymers Apprentice): I am Stuart Emmet, and I am on a polymers apprenticeship course.

770. Mr David McCluskey (Apprentice at Cahill Motor Engineering (NI)): I am David McCluskey, and I am on the level 3 heavy motor vehicle programme. I am doing NVQ level 2, after which I will move on to the level 3 technical diploma.

771. Miss Jenny McGeown (Apprentice at Translink): I am Jenny McGeown, and I work for Northern Ireland Railways, which is part of Translink. I am studying heavy vehicle maintenance and repair at the Northern Regional College.

772. Mr Joseph Doyle (Apprentice Bricklayer): I am Joe Doyle, and I am a level 3 bricklayer. I am studying for an NVQ level 3 at Belfast Metropolitan College.

773. The Chairperson: I am Sue Ramsey, and I am the Chairperson of this Committee. I am keen to hear evidence from you today, because it is useful to get a human perspective on some of the programmes that we talk about. I will ask some questions, and then I will open the session up to other members. Please answer the questions if you feel that you can. If you do not have the answer to a question, just say so. Feel free to make any suggestions or recommendations about the programmes that you are involved in. We will only get things right with help and advice from people like you.

774. Careers guidance and advice in school is one issue that has been raised in our inquiry. I trained as a chef, so I went through an apprenticeship, but I did not receive much guidance about apprenticeships at school. Did you receive much guidance when you were at secondary school before you decided to take up an apprenticeship programme?

775. Mr Doyle: Not really, to be honest. I left school early to work with my father because the job was there. I was happy to do that. However, my school did not provide much advice about how to look for a job. It was all about being at school, going home, doing homework and turning up the next day.

776. Miss McGeown: It was the same for me. My school discouraged us from taking up apprenticeships. I attended a grammar school that encouraged us to stay on in sixth year and do A levels, and that was not for me.

777. The Chairperson: Were you made to feel excluded because you chose to go down the apprenticeship route?

778. Miss McGeown: Being at a grammar school meant that we were encouraged to do A levels. It is not that I felt excluded; when I decided not to stay, that was it. The school forgot about me and concentrated on the students who stayed on.

779. Mr McCluskey: The situation was the same for me. I did not receive much advice about what to do, apprenticeship-wise. It was something that I wanted to do, so I made my own way.

780. Mr Emmet: I left school 11 years ago.

781. The Chairperson: You do not look it.

782. Mr Emmet: Thank you very much.

783. I was in the same situation. My school did not provide any advice about apprenticeships. I have had two jobs since leaving school. I have come a long way in the second job, as a polymers apprentice, in the nine months that the course has been running. I cannot fault the course in any way, except that I could do with having a few extra hours each week. Between work and day release there are not enough hours in the day to do the work in the tech and the coursework that is required, especially as I do not have Internet access. I have to travel from home to the tech in Bangor to do research for my assignments.

784. The Chairperson: That is a useful point. I know that you are all on different schemes, but have you any ideas about how your apprenticeship programmes could be improved?

785. Mr Doyle: I could do with more work. The recession has hit bricklaying big time. Many building projects were started, but workers have been sacked halfway through because there is no money to keep those projects going. That is obviously a big concern for bricklayers, because if there is no work, there is no wage, and people will end up on the buroo.

786. Miss McGeown: The only thing that I can say about the heavy-vehicle course is that it is not very relevant to trains, which I work with everyday. Therefore, I am doing two separate things; I am doing my work, which is all about trains, and it is only slightly relevant to what I am studying in tech to get my certificates. Obviously, there is not much that you can do about that.

787. Mr McCluskey: I cannot think of any improvements at the moment.

788. The Chairperson: Before I invite Committee members to ask questions, I want to ask about encouraging more young women to get involved in science and engineering apprenticeships. Do not assume that the woman will answer my question. Do you have any ideas or suggestions about how we might encourage more young women to take up apprenticeships?

789. Mr Doyle: I do not know — probably, advertise it as much as you can.

790. Miss McGeown: As a young woman enrolled in an apprenticeship, nothing encouraged me to do it because I am female; it was just a personal choice. There is not a lot that you can do about that — it is down to personal choice. I did an engineering NVQ before I started my apprenticeship, and there were two other females in that class who completed the course.

791. Mr McCluskey: It is about advertising — trying to get rid of the stereotype.

792. Mr Emmet: Put women in your advertisements. Do not put men in them: only women. That would attract women more. There seem to be more men than women in all advertisements.

793. Mr Doyle: No girl wants to sit in a class with a load of fellas.

794. The Chairperson: It depends how good looking the fellas are. [Laughter.]

795. Mr Doyle: That is it.

796. Miss McGovern: It is not that good. [Laughter.]

797. The Chairperson: Do you agree that we do not hold up as models of good practice people who are involved in apprenticeships of any sort? We do not advertise and write up in lights what people have achieved through apprenticeships. Do you think that there is a lack of encouragement in that respect?

798. Mr Doyle: Aye; probably in all courses, not just the one that I am doing. I have a lot of friends who have done courses and have qualified, but they have not got anything out of it. More needs to be done for everyone who passes a course.

799. The Chairperson: We are producing some of the top chefs, bricklayers and plumbers, but we do not seem to have an avenue to promote that type of achievement, even through advertisements. Do you think that more work should be done to promote apprenticeships?

800. Mr Doyle: Aye, because a lot of things are going to waste that should not.

801. Miss McGeown: I know what he means. People who stay on at school and do A levels, and maybe go on to university, are more highly thought of than people who leave school at 16 with a couple of GCSEs, go to the tech, work hard and get a well-paid trade or job. You are still looked down on, because you are just a tradesperson and do not have A levels or a degree.

802. The Chairperson: That is still quite common.

803. Mr McCluskey: I am going through a level 2 programme, and I was over in England at the UK skills finals. You need to try to give people a picture of how far they can go if they take up the programme.

804. Mr Newton: I join the Chairperson in welcoming the young people to the Committee. I am particularly keen on apprenticeships and on enhancing the status of the engineer or the craftsperson in society. To underpin the success of the economy, we need very skilled people at all levels. Joseph, you mentioned your friends who were made redundant, what was their experience of being made redundant? Stewart, you said that you are travelling to tech in Bangor; do you have any contact with the polymer unit at Queen’s University Belfast?

805. Mr Emmet: Yes.

806. Mr Newton: I will ask all my questions, and then you can respond to them. The Committee visited the polymer processing research centre at Queen’s University and was very impressed by it. Jenny, you said that the programme that you are studying is not directly related to the work that you do, but I presume that it is as close as it can be as an academic or vocational qualification in Northern Ireland. What could be included in the course to make it more relevant to your work experience? Translink is a large company, which must take on apprentice engineers every year.

807. Mr Doyle: What was the question again?

808. Mr Newton: I asked about apprentices being made redundant.

809. Mr Doyle: A couple of guys who hang about with me have done apprenticeships in bricklaying, joinery and other trades, even sports studies. When they qualified, they tried to get jobs, but they were unable to do so because of the recession. However, even before the recession, companies did not want to take apprentices on. They had no time for them. When they did take them on, they just had them running around the site doing the dirty work.

810. Mr Newton: Are you treated as though as you are cheap labour?

811. Mr Doyle: Yes, more or less. Apprentices have to serve their time with well-paid bricklayers, but they end up doing the hard labour, instead of the work that they should be doing. That should not be happening.

812. Mr Emmet: I have been on a level 1 polymer-processing course at Queen’s University, which provided basic training for injection moulding. To be honest, I do not rate the course. It was not very good, and it was not well explained. It was a week-long course, but it was crammed into two days. At the end of those two days, we were meant to sit an exam, but it did not happen. The course was not well explained; it was thrown together. It could do with a larger injection-moulding side and a larger extrusion side, as well as other aspects.

813. Mr Newton: So it was not a great success?

814. Mr Emmet: No, it was not.

815. Miss McGeown: You mentioned that Translink is a large company, which must take on a number of apprentices. That is true for bus depots, but apprenticeships in rail engineering are minimal. In recent years, Translink has taken on four apprentices every two or three years, which is a small number. I understand that apprentices cannot do much in college, because a train cannot fit into a tech, but some of the tasks that we are doing as part of our technical certificate have no relevance whatsoever. It might be better to change some of the jobs so that they involve more engine work, rather than learning how to steer a train, because the job does not entail steering a train.

816. The Chairperson: It is useful for the Committee to hear that information. With regard to the point that Joseph made about jobs, through the Programme for Government, there are ideas in the pipeline in the public sector. That is why we are keen to hold this inquiry. If public-sector contracts are being developed, it is useful to ensure that apprenticeships are included before the projects are even up and running. There is no point in spending money in the public sector if there are no apprenticeships. I take on board the point that you are making.

817. The key issue around Training for Success, based on the Audit Office report on Jobskills, is the exploitation of young people, and that should not happen again. We are also keen to take on board the fact that there are a lot of small and medium-sized businesses here, so we need to get that right. Some trainees in joinery or bricklaying may be with only one or two people. It is necessary to achieve a balance by ensuring that the craftspeople get their jobs done while training people on the job. A common-sense approach is needed. I take on board the frustration of those people who have probably trained and retrained, but find that there are no jobs at the end of the process.

818. Although you may be nervous speaking here, it is useful for us to hear about your experiences first-hand. David Hilditch has personal experience — though not as an apprentice — of some of the issues that are involved.

819. Mr Hilditch: You are very welcome. Following on from Robin Newton’s question, you indicated that you had friends who had completed their apprenticeships and could not find work. Do you have any friends who were paid off, perhaps halfway through their apprenticeships, without completing them? How do they feel that they were treated?

820. Mr Doyle: A friend of mine is a fully qualified bricklayer. He served his time in the tech, but he was paid off because of the recession.

821. Mr Hilditch: Do you have any friends who did not even get the opportunity to complete their apprenticeships?

822. Mr Doyle: No.

823. Ms Lo: Thank you very much for coming. It was very good of you to come and talk to us. How are you treated when you are at work as an apprentice? How relevant is your course in relation to your current jobs and the qualifications at the end of your apprenticeships?

824. Mr Doyle: I am treated all right because I work with my father. [Laughter.]

825. The Chairperson: It is as well you said that — this is being recorded.

826. Ms Lo: You mentioned doing the dirty work. Are you given opportunities to learn from your work?

827. Mr Doyle: Yes. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot of stuff from my work. The people who I know are hard workers. They put the time in, but they do not get treated properly. When it comes to the wages at the end of the week, they do not get the money that they want or think that they deserve because of the work that they do. I do not know whether that is because there is not much money about or because people are being greedy.

828. Ms Lo: We have heard before that carpenters, for example, who are under subcontract, work for the day to hang 35 doors, and they get paid for those 35 doors. They do not have time to train apprentices or show them how to do things. Do you all find that you are left aside to watch, or are you given the chance to do hands-on work?

829. Mr McCluskey: I get a good chance to work. I work with someone, or else I work on my own, and another person checks what I do. We also get a lot of training through work. We get sent across to England to be trained specifically on different topics.

830. Miss McGeown: I am very well treated as an apprentice. Translink looks after its apprentices. It makes sure that apprentices work with fully qualified tradespeople. However, those tradespeople sit back and let the apprentice do the work rather than work while the apprentice watches.

831. Ms Lo: Is it recognised that those tradespeople supervise apprentices? Are they given time to give you time to learn?

832. Miss McGeown: Yes. We move around different sections of our workshop and do different types of jobs. Whichever job we do, the company recognises that an apprentice worker is in that section and that they will need a bit more time and things like that.

833. Mr Emmet: I am very lucky, because I am very well trained in work and at tech. If I have any questions about work, all I have to do is ask, and there are a number of people, ranging from machinery operators to the managing director, who will help me. I go to tech one day a week, and I cannot fault any of my teachers. They have been trained, and they are now training us. If I have a question, even when I am at work, or if I need extra tuition, all I have to do is lift the phone and call any of my teachers. They will give me an answer to the best of their ability.

834. Mr Doyle: I am in the same boat. We have the phone numbers for our teachers; any time we need to have a word with them, we can call.

835. Ms Lo: Is what you learn at college relevant to your work? Jenny, you said that it is perhaps not very relevant for you at the moment, but what about the others?

836. Mr McCluskey: The course that I am on is exactly what I need to be doing for my work area. It will give me all the relevant qualifications that I need to go further when I finish my apprenticeship.

837. Mr Emmet: The job that I do is injection moulding, and I do a polymers course. It teaches you how plastic is made using hydrogen atoms, oil, and coal — the whole process, from the big bang right up until plastic is made.

838. Ms Lo: We have four very happy apprentices.

839. Mr Easton: Thank you for coming. You all seem happy, so my question will be easy for you to answer. Has your time as an apprentice been a positive or a negative experience?

840. Mr Doyle: It has definitely been a positive experience.

841. The Chairperson: You are looking for a pay rise from your Dad. [Laughter.]

842. Mr Doyle: No way! I am lucky to get my wage on a Friday.

843. It has definitely been a positive experience. If I had not had the opportunity to do what I am doing, I would probably be unemployed.

844. Miss McGeown: I feel the same; without the apprenticeship, I would most likely be unemployed. School was not really my thing, so staying on to get A Levels was not for me. I could not be happier than where I am now. As far as I am concerned, I have one of the country’s very good jobs. Translink is known throughout the country, and I am happy with my job and with tech. My course includes an online programme called CDX. If there is anything that I am not sure about when I am at home, I can access my own online account. That will show me a video, which will take me through, point by point, exactly what I have to do. I am never stuck for anything.

845. Mr McCluskey: Like Jenny, I am happy with the experience. The course was the only thing that I wanted to do when I left school. I am definitely glad that I have had the opportunity to go as far as I have.

846. Mr Emmet: Could you repeat the question?

847. Mr Easton: Has your apprenticeship been a positive or a negative experience?

848. Mr Emmet: It has been a positive experience, and it helps in my job. As this is the first year of my course, I am still learning. I will probably only get the real benefits of the course next year.

849. The Chairperson: I know the answer to the question that I am going to ask, because I know some people who are involved in apprenticeships. On the days that you have to attend tech, what is the overall attendance? Some people find it easy to get up at 6.00 am and go out onto a building site, yet on the day that they have to attend tech, they cannot get out of bed.

850. Mr Doyle: That is true. I know people like that.

851. Our class seems to be dead on. Everyone is there every week, and everyone is eager to learn and to get stuck in. I would rather be in tech than lying in bed. I am an early riser, and I want to give it a go

852. Miss McGeown: I have to be honest; I would prefer to be in work than in tech. However, when I am in tech, I get my head down. As I said, through the online course, I can get stuck in at home as well as at tech. There are a lot of benefits.

853. Mr McCluskey: It would be the same overall, because the class is full 99% of the time. The only exception is when someone is sick or has been called in to work.

854. Mr Emmet: The attendance level for my class is between 95% and 100%. The only absences are when people are away on courses or are sick and are, therefore, unable to attend. The only reason that people are late for classes is heavy traffic.

855. Mr Doyle: People think that we have taken the easy option by going to the tech.

856. Miss McGeown: They think that it is a day off work.

857. Mr Doyle: As a bricklayer, it is good for me to go to tech. Otherwise, I could be working on a site and building a big, straight wall all day. By going to tech one day a week, I can use the workshop to build different things, such as arches, corners and curved walls. Those are handy skills for me to have.

858. The Chairperson: Do you agree that you have to be self-motivated too?

859. Mr Doyle: At the end of the day, everything requires self-motivation, even getting up in the morning to go to work.

860. Miss McGeown: I agree with Joe. I would rather be in work, but it is much more beneficial for me to be in tech. When we are in the workplace, we stay in a certain section for several months and do the same work every day, whereas in tech we do a variety of jobs in different areas and sections. That is more beneficial.

861. The Chairperson: I found it easier to go into the kitchen than the classroom, until I realised that until I went into the classroom, there would be no kitchen.

862. Mr Doyle: That is the same for us. There is too much paperwork involved in the bricklaying course. Bricklaying is not about studying books and answering questions but about getting out there and building. I do not like the amount of paperwork involved. As you said, you would rather have been in the kitchen than doing paperwork in the classroom. You learn more when you are in the kitchen; you learn that not everything is done by the book.

863. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Stuart, you mentioned that the university equipment is not suitable for your level of training. Are you suggesting that that equipment is obsolete and that the course would be more relevant if the university had the same equipment that you use at work?

864. Mr Emmet: The machine in Queen’s University is up to date, but the training that was provided was not accurate — it was not explained well.

865. The Chairperson: We have a saying that something is not industry-ready.

866. Mr Emmet: In that case, the course was not industry-ready.

867. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I am trying to establish whether there is a deficiency in the university’s preparation.

868. Mr Emmet: Yes.

869. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: The Committee must look into that.

870. Mr McClarty: Believe it or not, Stuart, it is more than 11 years since I was at school.

871. I want to find out from each of you what your prospects for full-time employment are when you have finished your apprenticeships. Joe, you know the boss, so you might be all right.

872. Mr Doyle: It does not always work out like that.

873. Mr McClarty: No, it does not. What is the prospect of gaining full-time employment after your apprenticeship, Joe?

874. Mr Doyle: The prospects for bricklayers are poor at the moment. Before the recession, when the industry was booming, apprentices finished their courses at tech and went straight into work.

876. Mr Doyle: Aye; we have done jobs all over Ireland, which is good because it means that I am not working in the city all the time. I have worked on houses in the country, and I am happy to see the work that I have done as I drive. That is better than being stuck in the city all the time.

877. Miss McGeown: The chances of my getting a full-time job after my apprenticeship with Translink are fantastic. Ninety-nine per cent of Translink’s apprentices are offered a full-time position at the end of their apprenticeships. Also, there is the opportunity to go on to study for a higher national certificate (HNC) or degree and work up through the company. Translink fully supports further training for those who have finished their apprenticeships.

878. Mr McClarty: If successful, you would be a female in a fairly male-dominated industry. Would you be treated differently from anyone else?

879. Miss McGeown: No.

880. Mr McCluskey: When I finish my course and get my qualification, my job prospects will be very good. Like Jenny, I will have the chance to do more courses and climb higher up the ladder.

881. Mr Emmet: I am already in full-time employment, but I go to the South Eastern Regional College on day release. When I finish my course for a national certificate, which is equivalent to two A levels, I will continue to do my job; however, I will be able to help my company to save money in certain ways, because of the course that I am doing.

882. Mr McClarty: Finally, are you typical apprentices or are you the four best apprentices from a fairly ordinary bunch? It may be difficult for you to answer that. Do you regard yourselves as typical apprentices?

883. Mr Doyle: Oh aye. The fellow sitting behind me is no different from me — he is a bricklayer, too. He knows just as much as I do. I do not want to put myself in front of other people who are also trying to learn. I am an “average Joe".

884. The Chairperson: Is this a tech day or a work day?

885. Mr Emmet: Today is a work day — I had to think about that.

886. The Chairperson: What did your company say when you asked to come here?

887. Miss McGeown: We were given the day off work.

888. Mr Doyle: It is for a good reason.

889. The Chairperson: At least you are getting something from the experience.

890. Miss McGeown: It looks good for us in our places of employment — we are not sick and we do not have doctors’ appointments, we have the day off work because we trying to help the company and promote apprenticeships.

891. The Chairperson: You are helping us, too. This has been an interesting morning for the Committee. It is great to hear about the positive outcomes of your apprenticeships in particular, instead of always hearing about the negative. We hope to highlight some of the things that need a bit of tweaking. If we can to do that, we should have a seamless link between schools, colleges and universities as well as the industry.

892. One key point that has been made this morning is that training might not be industry-ready. According to careers advisers in secondary schools, students need to be industry-ready for whatever sector they choose to work in. We must try to get that right and link up like the Olympic rings, especially now that we are in a new dispensation.

893. Thank you for coming. Someone will get your contact details because we might be useful to one another. A member of staff will take you to the Basement Restaurant for a cup of tea or coffee and a scone. Do not go nuts, though; it is on me. [Laughter.]

894. Miss McGeown: If I may say so, my school did not encourage me when I finished school and went to a tech to start an NVQ. However, some schools operate day-release programmes to the techs to encourage students to do apprenticeships.

895. The Chairperson: I know that some schools are very good and have bought into apprenticeships. Some of the members cannot remember that far back.

896. Mr Doyle: A lot of apprentices do courses so that they can work on a building site. However, a lot of them cannot get jobs, because foreign people who have come in will do jobs for a cheap price. They get jobs before we do, and we go through two or three years of training. That is another reason why people are unable to get jobs.

897. Miss McGeown: They are also less encouraged to train.

898. The Chairperson: It is about getting a happy medium, too. Many people from these shores go across the water to a lot of different places. We need to get a happy medium to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities. I take your point.

899. Mr Doyle: However, the ones who are qualified —

900. The Chairperson: I take your point; we should not employ people as cheap or slave labour. It is a matter of getting that balance right. The world is open it us all. Thank you for coming.

901. Mr Hilditch: Can the Committee find out what support exists for people who are paid off during their apprenticeships? I have just taken a telephone call from two guys who have been paid off and who have been down at their local benefits office. They have been told that they can go to technical college so that they can continue their education, but, as soon as they start to claim jobseeker’s allowance, they cannot do that. Can we get some background as to what support is available to the apprentices who are being paid off? It is OK for us to get monthly figures, but can we delve deeper into the situation?

902. The Chairperson: We will check that out. The Minister has sent a letter to Executive colleagues about the training allowance today. We should be able to get a copy once it has gone through that process. It should answer some of those questions. The departmental Assembly liaison officer is here today, so we should be able to find out specific details.

6 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill

Witnesses:

Mr Rory Galway
Mr Stephen Snowdon

 

Bombardier Aerospace

903. The Chairperson (Ms Ramsey): We move now to the briefing from Bombardier Aerospace under the Committee’s investigation into apprenticeships. I welcome Rory and Stephen to the meeting. You probably did not hear the presentation that we received from young people earlier. Please give the Committee an introduction with some background, after which, members will ask questions. Thank you for coming.

904. Mr Rory Galway (Bombardier Aerospace): I thank the Committee for the opportunity to give a presentation, a copy of which has been circulated to members.

905. I am Rory Galway, manager of equal opportunities and technical training. My colleague is Stephen Snowdon, our technical training manager, who is responsible for our skills centre, which is based in Interpoint in the centre of Belfast. I offer apologies on behalf of Carol Phillips, director of organisational development and employer relations. Unfortunately, Carol is ill; she has got a cold. I spoke to her last night, and she is very poorly, and sends her apologies.

906. I do not intend to go through every word of our presentation, which you will probably be glad to hear. We want to tell you something about the company in Belfast, so I will give you a brief overview. I want to say a few words about our commitments to apprenticeships down the years. Members will see from our notes that we have been committed to our apprentices for over 50 years. I also want to mention our outreach measures.

907. The theme that we want to get across is that one does not get something for nothing. One has to invest a lot of time, effort and money to try to attract the best people and, hopefully, to develop them into even better individuals and employees, to retain them and to maintain a successful organisation that represents Bombardier in Northern Ireland.

908. I will briefly go through our recruitment process to emphasise the measures that we take to try to ensure that we get the best people. Stephen will then take the Committee through the details of our apprentice-training programme. We will refer to the last Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report that we got in March 2008, which was very good from our point of view.

909. We will turn to a couple of other items that we have been involved in, such as our upskilling programme, which is an internal process to move people from semi-skilled roles into skilled roles. We will also refer to the Engineering Skills for Industry programme, which is external training that we have been sending people on to try to prepare them for working in engineering and manufacturing environments. We will finish with some of our views on apprenticeships and what we think is important.

910. As I have said, I do not want to spend a lot of time on the overview of the company, but it is involved in the design and manufacture of major aircraft components; fuselages, engine nacelles, and flight control surfaces for regional and business jets. Stephen Snowdon has worked for the company for many years. He worked in quality assurance before he took over responsibility for the technical-training school. He will say a few words about the products that we make, as he has more technical expertise than I do.

911. Mr Stephen Snowdon (Bombardier Aerospace): Our Belfast plant manufactures fuselage components. The fuselage is the part of the aircraft in which passengers sit. The nacelles are the engine casings, which are built to a high technical specification; they can contain an explosion in the event of an engine failure. We are world leaders in engine-nacelle manufacturing. We do quite a bit of work for Bombardier and Rolls-Royce. All the European Airbus aircraft have Rolls-Royce engines with Bombardier nacelles that are made in Belfast, and we are proud of that tradition.

912. We currently manufacture a range of regional 70-seater to 100-seater aircraft fuselages, which are bigger and are built for journeys such as Belfast to Paris, Manchester or Newcastle, and have a range of 1,000 miles to 1,200 miles. Bombardier makes a range of business jets for which we make all the fuselages, from a Learjet eight-seater, which costs around $15 million, to a super-luxury Global Express, which does not hold a lot more passengers, but costs approximately $50 million. We build —

913. The Chairperson: How many seats? A 15-seater plane for how much?

914. Mr Snowdon: An eight-seater Learjet costs around $15 million. A Global Express — the sort of jet owned by people such as Richard Branson — does not hold much more passengers but is a heck of a lot more expensive.

915. The bigger aircraft that we make do not fly very far. They have a range of approximately 1,000 miles. The smaller aircraft are all capable of transatlantic flight; the six-seater can fly from London to New York. A Global Express will fly a bit further; it has a range of approximately 5,000 miles.

916. The new CSeries aircraft that you may have heard about can do both. It is capable of transatlantic flight and can carry up to 130 people. It is a different type of aircraft and is roughly the size of the easyJet or Ryanair aircraft that fly between Belfast and London. Most of what we currently manufacture is made of aluminium alloy, but the aviation world is moving rapidly into the use of carbon fibre. It is essentially a cloth material, which comes in rolls, and is shaped in an oven as required. It is a man-made material, so there is no shortage of it. We are running out of bauxite to make aluminium alloy; carbon fibre is the future of aircraft.

917. Mr Galway: At this point, Stephen’s comments about the man-made materials either frighten the life out of people or intrigue them.

918. That is all that we have to say about our product range. We are involved in virtually every Bombardier aircraft programme, and have been since Bombardier took over Short Bros plc in 1989. The advantage of that is that when things are going well on the regional and business jet fronts, we do extremely well. The downside is that when things are difficult, as they are now, we feel the cold air a bit more because all the programmes are reduced. However, we are taking measures to deal with the difficult situation that we are facing.

919. We still have 5,300 permanent employees in Northern Ireland. In addition, until recently, we had between 700 and 800 people on temporary contracts or in what we call the complementary labour force — working in the company but employed by an agency. It is with no joy that we say that the temporary or complementary labour force will go first. We hope to minimise the impact on our 5,300 permanent employees. There will be an impact, but we hope to mitigate that by offering as many voluntary redundancies as we can.

920. When I read through the notes of my presentation last night, I realised that I had inadvertently left out our Newtownabbey plant. I apologise to any members present who represent Newtownabbey.

921. The Chairperson: As long as it is not Strabane, we are OK. [Laughter.]

922. Mr Galway: Machine parts production and the final assembly of different components are carried out at Queen’s Island, and our customer service facility is based there. We have a sheet metal production unit in Newtownards, an advanced-composites unit in Dunmurry and an identical facility in Newtownabbey for work on advanced-composites materials. The Interpoint building — the old Co-op site — in Belfast city centre houses our skills centre. The building was recently sold to the University of Ulster, and we will relocate the skills centre, probably, to its original site on Queen’s Island.

923. The apprentice training programme has been in operation for over 50 years. Some people argue that it has not changed a bit since it started; however, it has. Less time is spent initially on filing blocks of metal simply to get into the habit of doing so. The programme is much more concentrated and directed. It is a modern apprenticeship for young people. Sorry, I should say young people and not-so-young people. Age-discrimination legislation has taken away any upper age limit.

924. Throughout difficult years, such as the recession during the early 1990s, we maintained our apprentice intake. A massive event for us occurred in 1996, when Fokker went out of business. We employed more than 1,000 people in the Fokker production unit. More than a third of our business comprised the production of Fokker aircraft wings. We also experienced difficulties post-2001. The central point, however, is that we maintained our apprentice intake during all of those difficult times. We have always taken the view, which our unions have supported, that that intake is desperately important for the company’s future.

925. There are currently 150 trainees over the three years of the training programme. In 2008, we had an intake of 78 trainees — the largest intake that we have had for many years. In 2009, in difficult times, we propose to take in 40 apprentices of a mix of both craft and technician engineers.

926. As far as we are concerned, it is critical for our company to be able to produce a skilled workforce for the future. Members will be aware that generally, throughout the past several years, engineering and manufacturing has been in decline in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland for that matter. To a large extent, we must, if you like, grow our own apprentices because Government training centres do not exist. Few other employers take on large numbers of apprentices. Therefore, the talent pool is being reduced all the time.

927. Again, it is important for us to be able to take in good people and to train and develop them to become managers of the future. More than 30% of the company’s current management-grade people — in assembly operations, engineering, and methods engineering — have come through our training programme. That is the current percentage, which does not include people who have left us and gone to other companies, retired, or whatever. Therefore, it is a massive concern of ours to be able to develop people.

928. Page 5 of the submission describes what we do to try to encourage applications. We advertise widely. We have used the press. Having said that, until a couple of years ago, the number of people who applied to our apprenticeships was only around 200, which is low when you consider that, on average, there are 40 apprenticeships each year. In 2008, we dragged ourselves into the twenty-first century and tried advertising on a radio station, which, incidentally, I am too old to listen to. The upshot of that was that we received over 600 applications.

929. In 2009, we advertised as usual in one of the major newspapers and on the radio again. We received over 900 applications. Therefore, there is still massive interest in apprenticeships. Of those 900 applications, we discounted around 150 for different reasons; some people had applied twice, for example. There are 750 live applications. At present, those applicants are undergoing tests.

930. We write to all post-primary schools and colleges in Northern Ireland to alert principals and careers teachers to our vacancies before they are advertised. I have included some points to describe our ongoing programme of support for schools. However, they do not actually do justice to the sort of work that two people who report directly to me, Tony Monaghan and Howard McIlwaine, do in primary and secondary schools.

931. Our submission details examples of some of the things that they do, including providing work-experience placements, careers talks, attending regionally-organised careers fairs in schools, and organising competitions to try to inspire young people, at both primary and secondary level, to consider our type of industry. Most young people respond to flight; they are fascinated by it. We have developed a range of materials; a number of years ago we produced a CD-ROM, which we circulated to all primary, secondary and third-level schools and colleges in Northern Ireland. It contained activities that teachers could use to teach relevant subjects. They were not teaching just about flight; they were using flight and our industry to help teach English, maths, history, geography and so on. A major part of our work is about trying to ensure that young people know about our industry and are enthused to consider Bombardier as a place of employment.

932. The principal idea behind Bombardier’s recruitment process is to identify candidates, not only with the necessary qualifications, but with the necessary qualities to join us and be successful with us. The first stage of that process involves the use of aptitude tests that are compiled by a consultancy firm and are based on English, maths, mechanical aptitude and spatial awareness. That is the shortlisting stage. We then invite those who have scored above a certain mark to interview, and, with 40 vacancies, we will probably interview roughly four or five applicants for each vacancy — possibly more, it depends on where we see a suitable cut-off line, following the aptitude tests.

933. The interview process has a standard format. We are conscious of the anti-discrimination legislation and the way in which we have to treat individuals, regardless of their race, disability, age, or whatever. A range of documents must be completed by each interviewer for each candidate. There is a fully documented process to ensure that people are treated fairly, but, more significantly, that we are sure that we are identifying the best possible people.

934. Later in the presentation there will be a reference to the Education and Training Inspectorate report, which records that our company has more than a 90% success rate and retention rate. That can be traced back to the quality of the recruitment process.

935. Candidates are ranked in order, from the top-scoring candidates down. We can go down that list as far as is needed. Young people who apply may decide to go back to school, may get other careers, or may simply change their minds. There is no issue with that; they can apply again the following year if they wish. The point is that we take the applications in rank order until the requisite number of vacancies is filled. All of the people involved in the recruitment and selection processes are trained in interviewing techniques, and are briefed in the relevant company policies and the relevant legislation. We do not let loose people who do not know what they are doing.

936. I have some photographs that I was unable to send by email; I will distribute them among members. I know that the initial plan was for the Committee to be given a tour of the Interpoint facility, but I have brought some photographs of the facility, to give members an idea of what it is like. It is a fully equipped workplace and training facility.

937. Mr Snowdon: As Rory said, the photograph shows the workshop where the apprentices spend their first year, as well as one of the instructors and some of the apprentices. It is a fully dedicated facility, the ground floor of which is used exclusively for the apprentice workshop, classrooms and so on.

938. I will briefly outline the training programme. It is a modern apprenticeship programme, which is similar to that in other companies. Some of the practical skills that we teach are a bit different. I will go through this part of the submission briefly, because we use processes similar to those employed by other companies that provide modern apprenticeships.

939. The three-year modular programme combines study for a technical certificate that is required by modern apprentices who must have the required practical skills. Apprentices must complete logbooks of the work that they do as part of a detailed programme and gain a technical certificate. Therefore, they study for a technical certificate and carry out practical work in a process that has been developed over a long time and that is used by us and other companies.

940. After a certain period — two years for a City and Guilds or four years for a BTEC/Higher National Certificate (HNC) — the following happens. Our craft apprentices, who are destined for the shop floor, do the basic City and Guilds technical certificate before undertaking further training that leads typically to an HNC. As Rory mentioned, 30% or 40% of our apprentices end up in engineering management or operations management. Many of our factory managers came through craft apprenticeships before doing their City and Guilds, HNDs and degrees, all of which were funded by the company. That is the career route.

941. A technical apprenticeship is a four-year programme with a minimum attainment of the HND. Those apprentices do three years’ practical training followed by a fourth year to gain their HND. They also tend to move on in the company. I do not want to relate the process word-by-word, but that should give the Committee a feel for what is involved.

942. Apprentices spend the first year with us at Interpoint, emerging with an NVQ level 2, which rises to level 3 after a further two years. That is standard for modern apprenticeships. To recap, apprentices attain the City and Guilds or BTEC; the development of knowledge and skills to level 2 and level 3; and it takes three years to reach level 3. All first-year apprentices are based at Interpoint. I am not sure whether the Committee wants me to go into the detail of the programme, but, as I said at the start, it is fairly well developed.

943. We work very much in conjunction with the Engineering Training Council. Any company with an apprenticeship programme has a range of different business-dependent modules that their apprentices can undertake. We have chosen mainly aeronautical-engineering-oriented modules, but we also have mechanical-engineering modules and so on. Therefore, there is a bit of both, and it is all overseen by the Engineering Training Council based at Interpoint, where they rent premises from Bombardier. David Hatton and now Bill Brown of the council are based there.

944. Pretty much all second-year apprentices spend their time on the shop floor. Young engineers still need to understand how factories work. We try to employ people close to where they live, but they move work location every three months. Typically, a second year apprentice will have four moves in his or her second year. As Rory explained, work at the composite facilities is totally different from that on the main factory assembly line, which remains predominately metalwork. We try to give apprentices a good grasp of how the whole company works.

945. Third-year craft trainees remain on the shop floor. Ultimately, they will be the craftsmen of the future and will stay in the area to which they are assigned. Engineers will join a technical department within which they will rotate. The company has quite a large number of engineers. I am not sure of the exact figure, but it is well in excess of 1,000. Therefore, those people will move around five or six distinct engineering functions. There is reference in our submission to “Design, Stress, Methods", which are different engineering departments.

946. I have touched upon the fact that a technical certificate is a mandatory part of a modern apprenticeship. We work in conjunction with Belfast Metropolitan College, essentially because we have worked with it for many years. The college is centrally located and our apprentices tend to come from greater Belfast. Some come from further afield — Ballymena, Downpatrick and other areas — but, predominantly, they come from greater Belfast. We have talked to other colleges that are keen to work with us. At present, however, the logistics of getting to specific college sites such as Lisburn and Bangor are poor. Young people tend not to drive in the first few years of an apprenticeship and organising transport can be a headache.

947. As I said, the framework is developed in conjunction with the Engineering Training Council. Any modern apprenticeship depends on the field that the person is in, whether it is engineering, hairdressing or catering. It is a bit like baking a cake; there is a whole list of ingredients and one must pick the ones that suit. The Engineering Training Council agrees that list and oversees engineering apprenticeships, but it does not oversee catering or hairdressing apprenticeships.

948. Basically, our accredited instructors train apprentices and then sign them off. An independent person who works for the company signs off on all the work and training. The Engineering Training Council also overviews that and carries out the audits. It is a similar process to that which is used by other businesses in other walks of life.

949. Workshops are pretty boring places. I worked in one 42 years ago, so I can say that. Rory mentioned that I had been through the programme. In some ways the programme has changed a lot, and in other ways it has not changed at all. Basics are basics — if you were to learn to swim today, you would still use the same technique that people used 40 years ago. Students still have to go through the basics.

950. The programme can be a bit boring and can involve long days, so we try to introduce other activities that take place outside the workshop. The students go to Belfast Metropolitan College for one day a week. They spend time in the workshop at the Interpoint building and attend classes. We try to bring in various people, such as our vice presidents, to break the programme up and make it a bit more interesting.

951. Rory mentioned the leadership team in the company — or maybe he did not, perhaps I am stealing a bit of his thunder. The current senior management team comprises 12 or 13 people, four or five of whom started off as apprentices. Those people come along to the classes to talk to the apprentices. I hope that you understand that not every apprentice wants to be a manager, but things can change as the years progress.

952. Health and safety is a big issue, particularly in our industry. We cannot pull an aircraft over to one side and park it if there is a problem. From day one, we instil that in the students. As Rory mentioned my background is in quality assurance, which is also very important. Lean manufacturing is a fairly modern process whereby we try to create efficient activities. Some of you might be aware of that.

953. As regards business improvement techniques, we work through different manuals and exercises and set hands-on tasks. Bombardier Aerospace is probably the only company in Northern Ireland that has a dedicated facility and, certainly, dedicated staff for training apprentices. Since Government training centres no longer exist, Bombardier Aerospace is certainly the only company that has a large facility. I cannot remember the square footage, but it is large. Some of you might have been there.

954. We currently have six full-time accredited instructors who sign off on the work that apprentices do. I am the training manager, and another person deals with the administration. When apprentices finish their training at the Interpoint building, we follow and track them through their second and third years to ensure that the programme that they follow is NVQ-compliant. Therefore, we do not simply pass apprentices on at the end of their first year; we are involved in a three-year process. In fact, young engineers are monitored for four years. Therefore, we are not simply managing the 80 apprentices that we currently train, or the 40 whom we will train next year, but the other students who have continued their training elsewhere.

955. I do not mean to steal Rory’s thunder again, we also have a number people — mostly adults — who have worked in the company for many years and who are now being upskilled from semi-skilled to skilled status. Currently, 80 to 90 people are being upskilled, with another 80 or 90 to follow. We will talk about that in a while.

956. Rory spoke about a recruitment programme that we run in west Belfast. Our main recruitment programme requires apprentices to have minimum qualifications, such as GCSEs. We also run another programme that does not require students to have any academic qualifications. We recruit a number of people onto that programme every year. In order to complete a modern apprenticeship, those people must complete a certificate in essential skills, with which some of you may not be familiar. An essential skills certificate is the equivalent of being trained to GCSE standard in English and maths. A modern apprenticeship, therefore, involves obtaining a technical certificate, a practical certificate, as well as an essential skills certificate, if appropriate.

957. There is also pastoral-care provision. We work predominantly with young people, although a few older people are currently coming through for assessment and may ultimately be invited for interview. Since new legislation came into force last September, there has been no age restriction. In the last couple of years, we have trained a few people aged 24 or 25, and now we train people of any age.

958. Apprentices are also involved in outreach activities and community projects. The 80 apprentices who are currently with us went up Divis Mountain and helped to lay out paths and so on. We tend to take our apprentices away on team-building activities, but 80 is a large number of people; it is basically two busloads. We try to break the course up, take them out and get them involved in community projects. In the past, apprentices have helped to paint homes and so on to try to help the local community.

959. Rory talked about the ETI. Like other companies, we have to complete a very detailed report every year of certain minimum requirements. On that basis, the ETI comes in periodically and undertakes audits or assessments. We were graded as 1, which is outstanding. It probably helps that we have the only dedicated facility, but we like to think that the training that we provide is cutting edge. Currently, other people in the aerospace industry and in Bombardier are assessing ways to do things better. The ETI summarised Bombardier’s training as outstanding.

960. Our strengths include the commitment of training staff, who provide excellent training. We are unique in providing facilities and resources. Other strengths include self-evaluation, improvement, planning processes and standards of skills and technical analysis. That is all standard stuff. We are very proud of our staff retention. Unlike many other training organisations, people seamlessly move into a job at the end of their three-year apprenticeship. That has been the case since I have been with the company. That is pretty unique in Northern Ireland. Our retention rate is about 95% or 96%, so most people seamlessly move into employment. Unfortunately, there are issues every year with one or two trainees, but that is inevitable, given the large numbers that we employ.

961. Mr Galway: The upskilling programme is a training programme that we developed internally for semi-skilled employees — primarily riveters — to progress to skilled status. Early last year, it was discussed with the trade unions, and we launched it in March of last year. The first group of individuals will finish their first period of training in September 2009. Thereafter, they will have to carry out skilled tasks on the shop floor: they cannot simply go back to being riveters because, in order to fulfil the requirements of a modern apprenticeship, they have to carry out, and be assessed doing, skilled work on the shop floor.

962. That mirrors the current apprentice training programme that is primarily for young people who come into the organisation. Those individuals also study for a City and Guilds qualification at Belfast Metropolitan College. They receive a lot of support from the college and its lecturing staff. As in the case of the other apprenticeship programme, the Engineering Training Council oversees the whole process and awards the certificates. As Stephen mentioned, we have our own internal verification process, but it has to be covered by the external process through the Engineering Training Council.

963. About 70 people are currently on the programme. As I said, the first group is due to finish the first phase in September. There is one group each day from Monday to Thursday, because the Interpoint Centre is quite busy with our ordinary apprentices. In the autumn, they will all move into the second phase of their training. We have plans — although we may have to put them on hold, given our current circumstances — for other cohorts to undertake that training.

964. We developed the Engineering Skills for Industry programme in conjunction with Montupet, Ryobi and FG Wilson, in the wake of reports from the West Belfast Task Force and Greater Shankill Task Force. The programme is not limited to people who live in those areas, but that is where it originated. Bombardier is the main sponsor and pays the salary of the programme director through Business in the Community. It is run in genuine partnership with Springvale Learning, Impact Training, Belfast Metropolitan College and local employment agencies.

965. Much work had to be done to reassure people that they could embark on the programme and come out with something worthwhile at the end of it. The Belfast Metropolitan College has provided a lot of support, and the guy who has been in charge of the programme for the past six years, Harry McGonigle, is Bombardier’s former training manager. He took voluntary redundancy about six years ago, and, just last week, I found out that, out of 8,000 or 9,000 lecturers across Northern Ireland, Harry had been declared the lecturer of the year. That is a tremendous accolade for him, and the award was based specifically on his work on that programme.

966. Last week, Harry gave me figures for the programme: 171 have people completed the programme, 157 of whom have moved on employment. The largest number went to FG Wilson. When Bombardier embarked on the programme, it was not recruiting and did not, therefore, receive any benefit. The 24 people who have been employed by us, after having completed the programme, started over the past 18 months to two years. I mentioned some of the other organisations, so that members will be aware that the programme is not confined to the organisations that were instrumental in setting it up. The point of the programme is to give people skills. They do not emerge as fully skilled craftsmen and craftswomen, but they are taught basic engineering and manufacturing skills that can be translated into different places of employment. At present, 20 people are enrolled on the programme.

967. The second picture that we have handed to members is of a jig. Bombardier Belfast is building the wing for the CSeries aircraft. Stephen has more technical knowledge about that. He will briefly explain the picture and what it means to the company.

968. Mr Snowdon: The computer-generated image is, essentially, of part of the wing, the manufacturing of which represents the go-forward position for Bombardier Belfast. It is extremely advanced technology for the new aircraft that will go into service in 2014. Bombardier will build the wings for it exclusively. As I mentioned, the aircraft is roughly the same size as an easyJet Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320. The image shows part of the aircraft’s wing, which is made totally of plastic.

969. Rory mentioned Fokker, and Bombardier supplied Fokker with wings for between 20 and 25 years. Each Fokker wing comprised thousands of parts: bolts, little angles and machine parts, sheet metal parts, and so forth. I cannot remember exactly how many parts there were, but there were several thousand.

970. In contrast, the wing for the new aircraft will comprise large plastic parts, manufactured in an autoclave that was mentioned. Modern technology means that significantly fewer, extremely complicated parts are made. The thousands of little brackets, and so forth, that were used previously, are all integrated into the new design. A new wing, therefore, comprises only a few parts, albeit they are sophisticated and extremely large.

971. Part of the inner wing bolts on to the fuselage, and another bit attaches at the smaller end, which points upward. Members may have seen that on some modern aircraft. Its purpose is to keep the airflow over the wing when aircraft are landing at slow speeds, and so forth. It is pretty dull stuff, but that part makes life a bit easier for pilots. I hope that I have given the Committee some idea of part of the assembly of the CSeries.

972. Mr Galway: Members probably know from newspaper coverage that we are building a totally new facility to make the CSeries wings. It will be based in Queen’s Island, and all the technology will be new and based on techniques that we have been working on for the past four or five years. Our procedures for dealing with composite materials are ahead of those many aerospace manufacturers.

973. To conclude, I will share some of our views on apprenticeships. I hope that we have impressed on members our belief that it is good for Northern Ireland, not just for Bombardier, to have a workforce that has a range of higher skills. In no way is that view intended to criticise other types of apprenticeships or to imply that some are less valid than ours. There will always be a need for lots of different jobs here, in the service sector and elsewhere. However, Bombardier Belfast took a conscious decision to move to higher-value-added products and services.

974. Bombardier Aerospace’s head office in Montreal has certain primary goals. The one that Belfast developed for itself, and which added to those primary goals, was to do with higher-value-added products and services. In practice, that means that we are committed to providing a full design, manufacturing and after-sales facility for the products that we make. We know that in pure manufacturing terms we cannot hope to compete with the emerging nations. Therefore, we have to offer something different, something extra. That full range of design, manufacturing and after-sales services is designed to make us a more worthwhile part of Bombardier Aerospace and of Northern Ireland in general.

975. We mentioned the number of managers who have come through our training programmes. That has been important for the organisation’s succession planning. That is not to say that we do not employ people from outside — we do. However, it is critical that we “grow our own" and know that they understand our engineering and manufacturing processes, and can develop the necessary behaviours for dealing with people and being part of a successful organisation.

976. One does not have to go too far in Northern Ireland to find someone who either works for Bombardier — or Shorts, as some people still call it — or has a relative or friends who work there. That is a mark of the size of the organisation. However, many of our people have gone on to work in other organisations and have made a valuable contribution to them.

977. The experience of our workforce contributes greatly to the local economy. In our submission, we mention the value of contracts that Bombardier has awarded to its suppliers. Although we use suppliers from outside Northern Ireland, many Northern Ireland firms are on our preferred supplier list. It is significant for us that we have maintained those links with people in the local economy. We estimate that our salaries put approximately £130 million a year into the local economy, where people buy their fridges, freezers, cars and houses.

978. The Government and the Assembly must continue to support and promote apprenticeships. That is not a criticism; there are many new industries, such as IT, that many young people find more attractive. From talking to young people and conducting surveys, we know that we are in competition with those new industries and that we are regarded as being old hat. That is often because people are not aware of the high-tech nature of the work that we are engaged in. The pictures that we included in our presentation are computer-generated images, but the wing design and the associated composites manufacturing processes also require us to develop additional skills alongside the basic skills that are still valid. The component that is pictured in the photograph is worth approximately £250,000. If someone makes a mess of that equipment, it is not the same as damaging a £40 metal bracket. We are engaged in serious work, and the behaviours that we inculcate in our workforce are different from those that might occur in other places.

979. I do not criticise the education sector: it is there to do a job, which is to produce people who have qualifications. However, we would like it to put a bit more emphasis on other routes to careers. Unfortunately, although league tables seem to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, schools still want to be able to say that they have x number of passes at grades A to C at GCSE or A level.

980. Much of our work focuses on asking schools to present apprenticeships as a viable alternative. We do not say that everyone must come to us, but that people should recognise that there may be benefits. They can come to our organisations, get skills training, be paid and get a qualification, without getting into the severe student debt that young people who spend three or four years in university tend to acquire. They will also be further up the career ladder than those who have gone to university.

981. Recently, here and in GB, announcements have been made about additional support to try to ensure that young people are able to finish their apprenticeships. Although there is no question of Bombardier stopping people who are currently in the middle of training, I am sure that other organisations will tell you that they will have difficulty in allowing young people to finish their training in the present economic climate. That will have an impact on us. With our larger intake in 2008, we will, potentially, have 300 redundancies from our permanent workforce. We hope to cover most, if not all, of them by way of voluntary redundancies. However, if we do not, we may need to make some people redundant. Questions will be asked about our apprentices. We want to protect them and to ensure that, at the very least, they finish their apprenticeships.

982. A particular concern of ours is mentioned on page 14 of our submission. In some other apprenticeships — I am not saying all of them — young people do some productive work during their first year. In our case, as you have heard from Stephen, our first-year apprentices are in full-time training. They do not contribute at all. I am aware that this will sound selfish, but we want greater support for organisations, such as ours, in which first-year apprentices do not add to production.

983. I have referred already to the support that is needed for organisations to ensure that apprentices complete their training. Announcements have been made across the water about funding. Last week, an announcement was made about funding to help SMEs to ensure that their current apprentices finish their training. I assure you that the following is not a whinge; however, our conservative estimate is that it costs us around £2 million each year to run our apprenticeship programme. The money that we get from grants, and so on, is in the region of £500,000. That includes further-education costs, which have doubled for us in recent years.

984. Finally, the main point that I want to leave you with is that, as we all know, you do not get something for nothing. We are happy to invest. We do not look for Government or anyone else to pay everything for us, because we know that we are looking after our own vested interests. However, it is important that employers are given any support that is available to create and maintain high-value jobs in Northern Ireland and to secure a greater future for us all. Thank you for your time.

985. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your comprehensive presentation. You mentioned an on-site tour. We have not been able to schedule that as yet. However, we will get around to it. Some Committee staff visited and were impressed. We will try to factor in that visit in the near future.

986. Mr Galway: It is an open invitation. We will do all that we can to accommodate you.

987. The Chairperson: Thank you. Earlier, we had a presentation from young people who are involved in apprenticeships. A joined-up approach between schools, colleges and businesses seems to be lacking. In your submission, you mention that you are involved in careers talks and that you send letters to principals and careers teachers. That must be commended. It strikes me that, if possible, it might be useful to include MLAs, because we are a conduit in constituencies and through our involvement in the community and voluntary sector. If we are aware of opportunities, we can then feed some of that in. I am aware of the good work that is being done by the West Belfast Partnership Board, and some of the stuff that has come out of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill task forces. I think that you should be using MLAs to promote the programme as well.

988. When you write to schools about careers talks, is there much take-up on that? Is there something that we can do to encourage the Education Committee here to look at such issues? It is crucial that you are in at that level.

989. I have another point on the issue of the industry-led demand on wings and such, and the way in which the world is moving. First, is there a possibility that there will be job losses, given that you mentioned the amount of equipment and pieces that were required in the manufacture of wings previously? Do you change your apprenticeship courses regularly to meet needs based on the changes in the industry?

990. Mr Galway: We used to do around 30 to 50 careers talks in different schools. We noticed a fall-off in that as schools found it harder to get the time to get groups of young people together. Over the past two or three years, we have developed a programme called Your Career in Aerospace. Working in conjunction with W5 — and sometimes the Folk and Transport Museum — we organise events where schools are invited to bring along a number of students. We hold the talks the lecture hall at W5. I am not sure how many people it holds, but it has been packed on occasion.

991. Our education officer Tony Monaghan talks about the apprenticeship schemes at those events. We bring in an engineer from the company and a couple of apprentices who talk to the young people about their experiences. The apprentices are more relevant to the students than someone like me. We have developed that programme over the past three years to try to get more direct information to schools.

992. We are trying to find different ways of inspiring young people. The competitions that we organise follow the same lines. The work in the summer schools mostly involves primary- and secondary-school pupils. Those are all elements that, as I said earlier, I could have taken two hours to go through.

993. I hope that I have answered your question about careers, but we are open to any suggestions that will help us to get into more schools. No school has slammed the door shut on us. Some find it difficult to work with us as much as they would like to, because of other curricular activities and demands on teachers, but we get a great reception in schools.

994. Bombardier Belfast had to tender to Bombardier Montreal for work on the CSeries. We are not given anything as a right just because we have “Bombardier" in our name. We won the contract to make the wings against external competition. We thought that we might have got the fuselage contract as well, but we got the wings, which are the high-tech element. They are what get the aircraft off the ground. I do not want to do down the work that we have done for many years, but making the fuselage is like making big tin cans, I am told; the wings are the hard part.

995. The CSeries, which is due to be flying by 2013, will sustain around 800 or 900 jobs. We do not anticipate any job losses in relation to that. In fact, our engineering function is working flat out on the design of the CSeries. Although some people may take voluntary redundancy, it is highly unlikely that there will be any compulsory redundancies in the engineering function.

996. As regards tailoring the training, Stephen and I are part of a larger working group in the company. It comprises facilities engineering — facilities engineers are instrumental in helping to build the facility — and methods engineering. We are working on a programme to train existing employees to be able to be involved in the manufacture of CSeries aircraft. One of the tasks that we have outlined in our timeline over the next 12 months is to identify what new skills we need to impart to our apprentices during their training programme. Not all the apprentices will go into CSeries manufacture, but we must ensure that we have a group of young people who are fully skilled and who have the right behaviours to move into that line of work. We are responding to the needs of the organisation and have identified future needs.

997. Mr Newton: You are welcome, Mr Galway and Mr Snowdon. I wish that every apprentice in Northern Ireland received the standard of training that you provide. Bombardier Aerospace’s training programmes must be the example against which every other company aims to benchmark. You indicated your desire for improved support for first-year apprentices who are engaged in full-time training and not in production activities. I presume that you mean that you want more financial support from DEL?

998. Mr Galway: To put it bluntly, yes.

999. Mr Newton: Will you say a few more words about that?

1000. Mr Galway: There are staged payments under the new Training for Success programme. People have to achieve certain standards and pass certain milestones, and we are not criticising that at all. Under the old Jobskills programme, money was handed out after a certain periods, regardless of whether the people had achieved certain standards.

1001. As I have said, we are not criticising Training for Success, but our point is that the staged payments are all the same. In their first year, our apprentices are in full-time training and do not contribute to production in any way. We request that the staged payments be increased in the first year. In the second year, apprentices are on the shop floor and contribute to production. We are really talking about the first-year payments.

1002. Mr Newton: You are essentially asking for the training to be front-loaded financially.

1003. Mr Galway: That would help us.

1004. Mr Butler: Thank you very much for the presentation, Rory and Stephen. You mentioned carbon fibre. I have worked in a further-education college, and there has been a lot of talk over the years that, when they go out into the world of work, apprentices forget some of the things that they learned at college. The basics stay the same for a joiner, for example, but a lot of other things change.

1005. Your situation is different because you are training apprentices that will move onto your production line. However, given that your workshops are very much metal-based, how do you ensure that people are able to carry out jobs that are not metal-based? Thousands of people are being trained in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in other countries; are we well placed to take that up? Given the carbon fibre technology, aluminium may become redundant in the next few years.

1006. Mr Snowdon: About three or four weeks ago, I spoke to Airbus in Bristol about its apprenticeships in general and specifically about adult apprenticeships. Adults are being trained at Interpoint as well as young people. In some ways, we are restricted in what we can do in apprenticeship programmes. There are health-and-safety restrictions on the carbon-fibre materials, because they require toxic adhesives and so on. We can do some stuff, but there is quite a lot that we cannot do.

1007. We are always benchmarking to see what we can do to improve. We like to think that we are fairly cutting-edge on the technological front. We talk to other companies, such as Airbus, and there is generally an open door with our competitors in that regard. There is a certain amount of information sharing.

1008. We like to think that our training process is cutting edge. For example, the employees in the Dunmurry and Newtownabbey plants, who are essentially doing semi-skilled work, are also trained. In the last couple of years Bombardier has trained around 900 to 1,000 people — local people and people from further afield. A lot of those people have been through the Interpoint facility, and have received training in metals. If there is a requirement for training on carbon fibres, we will provide training in those advanced composites.

1009. That is the future; metal aeroplanes will disappear over time. I am sure that that will be the case for Bombardier. We have spoken a lot about the CSeries, which will be the big thing for Bombardier over the next few years, but the next generation of Bombardier business jets will no longer be metal, they will be made from carbon fibre.

1010. Mr Butler: That will impact on apprenticeships. The training undertaken at Belfast Metropolitan College is metal-based.

1011. Mr Snowdon: It will change. We work with that college, and it does offer some training in carbon fibre. There is a certain amount of learning to be done. I am also involved with the University of Ulster. There is a lot of discussion going on about what we can do. We like to think that the people who work for us have the necessary skills. We do whatever we need to do; we are not perfect, but we constantly change things.

1012. Mr Galway: The fundamental skills of our skilled employees will not change. As Stephen said, a lot of the work involved in composite lay-up and so on is semi-skilled work. That will probably not change. As I understand it, the thickness of the composite materials used for the CSeries wings will change. We normally work with widths of around one eighth of an inch — I still speak in old money — whereas the new components will be of a different width. They will have to be joined together, sometimes with other carbon pieces, sometimes with metal pieces. Slightly different skills will have to be developed in that respect, but the fundamental skills will not change dramatically.

1013. A question was asked about STEM subjects. We did not go into that in specific detail, but a craft apprentice will need to have two GCSEs or equivalent, at a minimum of grade C, in English language and maths. A technician engineer will need four GCSEs, at a minimum of grade C, in English language, maths, and either physics or double award science, or the equivalent, plus one other subject. We are conscious of the development of STEM subjects. Tony Monaghan has recently proposed to make the contents of the CD-ROM that I mentioned earlier available on the website.

1014. All of the education boards are appointing STEM subject advisers, and we are going to tap into those individuals to make sure that the items included on our work programme are STEM related, as well as curriculum related. That proposal was made by Tony Monaghan; I found it on my desk yesterday.

1015. Mr Irwin: You are very welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for your detailed presentation. You said that after you advertised on the radio, you had 750 applications, and this year you need around 40 trainees. Do you interview every one of those applicants? It seems like a lot of people to interview.

1016. Mr Galway: No, the aptitude tests are used as a shortlisting mechanism. When we examine the scores in the four tests we can set a threshold mark, and applicants who score above that mark will be called for interview, whether there are 150 or 200. We can determine that threshold.

1017. Mr Irwin: Bombardier employs 5,300 people in Northern Ireland, is that correct?

1018. Mr Galway: Currently, yes.

1019. Mr Irwin: Given the size of the total workforce, 40 apprenticeships seems quite a small number. I would have thought that even the natural wastage would amount to that number each year. Considering that quite a lot of cost is incurred for each apprentice in the first year, would better Government aid enable Bombardier to take on more apprentices? Would that be an option?

1020. Mr Galway: Possibly. Our recruitment target last year was 80 apprentices. We got 78. In fact, we made 80 offers. One person turned us down late in the process, and another did not turn up on the first day, so 78 apprentices started. The planned intake for this year and next year was 60, but that was dropped to 40 because of the economic environment.

1021. I would love to say that more Government support would enable Bombardier to take on more apprentices. However, we must take account of the needs of the company’s departments year by year. That is a conversation that Stephen has every January. As advertisements are planned, we talk to the vice-presidents in charge of operations, George Dodds and Michael Watty, and to the various engineering departments about how many people are needed. We are committed to maintaining recruitment at 40, unless something really falls apart. If business increases, we will respond by increasing our intake.

1022. Mr Snowdon: There is a certain restriction on numbers, because, as we mentioned, we have 70 to 80 adults going through a training programme. We have a quarter of those every day, and another group of 90 will come on board in September. Interpoint is quite a big facility, but we are relatively restricted because, as I have mentioned, we also train the people whom we brought in, and that requires a balancing operation. We will be moving out of Interpoint in the next year or two, but, at present, we are a bit landlocked there.

1023. Mr Galway: I believe that the ground floor that we use at Interpoint is more than 30,000 sq ft. We are looking for something at least that size, wherever we end up.

1024. The Chairperson: On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your presentation and very comprehensive document, which was quite useful. Credit where credit is due, a lot of good points are emerging from Bombardier apprenticeships. The Committee will try to facilitate a site meeting soon, so that members will see the programme at first hand. Thanks, once again.

1025. Mr Galway: I will feed that information to the relevant people in resources and send letters to MLAs informing them of apprenticeships. I thank the Committee for its time.

1026. The Chairperson: Thank you.

Appendix 3

Written Evidence
Submitted by Witnesses
Semta/ETCNI – 28 January 2009

About Semta/ETC NI

Helping apprenticeships survive the downturn

Adult apprenticeships

‘Overtraining’

Programme-led programmes

Completion rates

Making apprenticeships responsive to the global economy

Content

Delivery

Opinions and views of the providers, recipients and the utilisers of apprenticeships

Regional and international examples of good practice in apprenticeships

The expectations and requirements of those undertaking and providing apprenticeships

Relevant experience elsewhere in terms of structures, practices and key targets/outcomes

Sectoral needs shaping policy interventions and programmes

Semta/ETCNI activity to improve apprenticeship recruitment and completion

Key questions from the inquiry

About Semta/ETC NI

1. Industry owned and led, Semta aims to increase the impact of skilled people throughout the science, engineering and manufacturing technologies sectors. We work with employers to determine their current and future skills needs and to provide short and long term skills solutions, whether that be training and skills development, or campaigning with government and other organisations to change things for the better. Through our labour market intelligence and insights from employers across our sectors, we identify change needed in education and skills policy and practice, and engage with key industry partners and partners in the education and training sector, to help increase productivity at all levels in the workforce.

2. The sectors we represent are: Aerospace; Automotive; Bioscience; Electrical; Electronics; Maintenance; Marine; Mathematics; Mechanical; Metals and Engineered Metal Products.

3. Semta is part of the UK-wide network of 25 employer-led Sector Skills Councils.

4. Semta is represented in Northern Ireland by the Engineering Training Council.

Helping apprenticeships survive the downturn

How might the current system of apprenticeships evolve to be more robust in the face of an economic downturn?

Adult apprenticeships

5. In the current economic turbulence, employers will be looking closely at the existing workforce, and considering whether retaining/ redeployment is appropriate. A robust and well-funded adult apprenticeship scheme would enable employers to reskill and upskill the existing workforce, using a programme which is proven and responsive. Adult apprenticeships in England are based on a model which enables the individual to progress more quickly through the framework where relevant previous experience can be accredited, but which provides the same ‘outcome’ for the employer – a highly trained and motivated employee. A successful adult apprentice has all the qualifications and attributes of a younger apprentice, but usually completes the framework in about 2 years (as opposed to 3+ years for a young person).

‘Overtraining’

6. Where large firms and groupings of smaller firms are able to provide additional places, overtraining can be a useful means of sustaining trainee numbers during economic difficulties. Recent announcement in England have shown this approach is gaining in popularity, and can yield significant benefits. Care must be taken to ensure meaningful work placements are possible, as even the largest firms will not want to simply ‘double-up’ trainees on the shopfloor, once the apprentices are ready for work. There must be meaningful and sufficient roles for all apprentices in such a scheme.

Programme-led programmes

7. The ‘programme-led’ approach to apprenticeship provision is welcomed by employers during a financial downturn, as it reduced the initial costs to employer. However, providers may face increasing difficulties placing individuals in suitable workplaces once the off-the-job element comes to an end. It is worth considering more support for the programme-led approach, to provide companies with ‘work-ready’ apprentices. However, the system of ‘employed’ apprentices should not suffer as a result of this, and where a provider is not able to secure work placements, the individual should receive recognition for their off-the-job learning, but not be counted as a successful apprenticeship completion.

Completion rates

8. During difficult economic times, employers and individuals need confidence in training programmes if they are to continue investing their time and money. Analysis of the reasons for non-completion, and policy put in place to raise achievement levels will raise confidence in the programme, and stimulate interest from both companies and young people. Poor completion rates are a particular concern of companies, who invest significant sums in this training. The engineering apprenticeship traditionally has a high completion rate, but other sectors are less successful – addressing this will improve the public perception of apprenticeships as a whole.

Making apprenticeships responsive to the global economy

How can apprenticeships be more responsive to the fast-changing requirements for particular skills and skills pools in the global economy?

Content

9. There are already over 100 apprenticeship frameworks available in Northern Ireland. As the Sector Skills Councils responsible for developing the engineering apprenticeship programmes, Semta and ETCNI would advise caution in the introduction of too much flexibility in terms of the content of apprenticeship programmes. Enabling employers to tailor certain elements is essential, but creating different programmes for every employer risks making the programme too complex, and significantly reducing portability for the individual.

Delivery

10. More funding to enable providers to offer flexible delivery would be welcome. There is a need to keep within a certain structure which combines off-the-job and on the job learning appropriately, as the value of the programme is in the timing of this combination, it is most valuable when the underpinning knowledge is put into practice quickly. While we would not support programmes which separate the off- and on-the-job elements, we recognise that there should be flexibility to enable providers to combine cohorts, or deliver certain units at different times, in response to reasonable employer, provider, or individual requirements.

Opinions and views of the providers, recipients and the utilisers of apprenticeships

11. The engineering apprenticeship in Northern Ireland is particularly well regarded by employers. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • It has been developed in conjunction with them, and is focused on meeting their needs
  • It is flexible in its incorporation of a range of engineering disciplines, while maintaining a core of common engineering understanding
  • It is demanding and rigorous, providing apprentice ‘graduates’ with high levels of technical and practical skills
  • It provides clear progression to further study and skills, which employers and individuals value
  • It combines theory with practice and wider employability skills
  • It is well supported by the network of providers and colleges in Northern Ireland, who are committed to providing a quality experience for the young person, and a valued programme for the employer.
  • The additional ‘per apprentice’ funding provided to employers works both as an incentive and as recognition of the significant costs of supporting an apprentice through to completion of their training

12. One of the largest providers in NI is Engineering Training Services and they undertake an annual review of their apprenticeship programme. The feedback on this programme from employers is that they are very satisfied with the current ETS apprenticeship model and wish to continue to support it.

Regional and international examples of good practice in apprenticeships

13. Semta and ETCNI currently work together in the 4 Nations group, which brings together employers in the science and engineering sectors to discuss best practice across the 4 nations. The following areas of good practice in apprenticeships have already been noted:

  • The Welsh and Scottish models of embedding the key/core/essential skills as part of the framework. This reduces non-completions relating to the final assessment of these skills. There is a view that essential skills in NI are not well embedded into apprenticeships and do cause a barrier to successful completion of the full framework.
  • The Babcock model of employer partnership with Lauder College, where the college have taken over the Apprenticeship training centre for Babcock for the company and the wider community of employers. The relationship has developed from a basis of satisfying the educational requirements of the employees, to a unique partnership providing educational, training and consultancy support to all levels of an organisation. The onset of CVF (Carrier Vertical Future – aircraft carriers) at Rosyth has seen the introduction of Adam Smith College, this will provide an additional dimension to the partnering arrangement and increase much needed capacity in the provision of pre-apprentice, apprentice and other technician training programmes.
  • The Welsh initiative of a shared Apprenticeship scheme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) – this follows on from a successful pilot run in England by the Learning and Skills Council to place 500 Apprentices in SMEs.
  • The Northern Ireland apprenticeship is well regarded by employers (see point on ‘opinions of providers, etc’ previously.

The expectations and requirements of those undertaking and providing apprenticeships

14. As far as engineering employers are concerned, the apprenticeship programme provides them with skills key to the future of the sector. Employers expect all successful apprentices to have a solid grounding in the principles of engineering, the ability to apply those principles in a work-based environment, and wider skills relating to employability. For successful apprentices at Level 3, employers expectations are even higher – they are looking for high level technical skills and a real understanding of the processes of engineering in their discipline. Successful Advanced Apprentices often also demonstrate potential in terms of leadership and management.

15. Engineering apprentices themselves are often ambitious and focused on achieving a rewarding job which utilises their skills. Many are keen for further study, to higher education and beyond, as well as professional status and responsibility in the workplace.

Relevant experience elsewhere in terms of structures, practices and key targets/outcomes

16. We would like to raise the importance of transferable skills within apprenticeship programmes, which can give individuals the flexibility to adapt their skills to related areas, for example motor vehicle apprentices have sometimes become maintenance apprentices.

17. It is also very welcome when the elements of the apprenticeship are linked to further promotion and progression for the individual. This requires the employer to recognise the value of the programme not only as a tool to meet current skill needs, but also as a means to identify and recruit individuals suitable for leadership and expert roles in the future.

Sectoral needs shaping policy interventions and programmes

18. See our previous comments on setting targets, which should have a sectoral element if they are to have a significant impact on the nation’s productivity and competitiveness.

19. We also strongly recommend that sectoral considerations form part of any policy intervention, as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach rarely meets the needs of the range of sectors involved in apprenticeship. Some are still at the start of their exploration and embedding of the apprenticeship programme, and must work to raise employer awareness of the programme, build provider capacity, and improve completion rates. Other sectors such as engineering are already in a strong position, but may need interventions around offsetting the considerable cost of the programme, finding suitable tutors and mentors, and keeping the provider network stable in terms of resources and equipment.

20. Targets for engineering apprenticeships in NI will be determined by the information contained in the Semta Skills Balance Sheet (SBS) launched in June 2008. These targets are considerably higher than current figures. The estimates in the SBS indicate that nearly 900 apprentices will be needed each year over the next six years to meet the requirements of our sector. Almost 300 will be needed at each Level (2, 3 and 4), in total about 900. In order to achieve this, the sector needs to recruit around 1,200 people onto the framework at appropriate levels. The current numbers starting engineering apprenticeships in NI is well below the figure needed. These show 418 new starts from 1st Sep through 22nd Dec 2008. This is less than half the stated requirements, for levels 2, 3,and 4, in the Engineering Skills Balance Sheet for NI. Allowing for an (optimistic) 75% retention rate the starts will only cover just over one-third of the net requirements, principally to deal with wastage through retirement.

Semta/ETCNI activity to improve apprenticeship recruitment and completion

21. We believe intervention is needed to drive up recruitment. The current procedure where the contracted providers mainly rely on employers to do their own recruiting is, we believe, a weakness.

22. Firstly, ETC NI is embarking on a feasibility programme (funded by DEL), to offer a One-Stop-Shop Recruitment service to Engineering Employers across the six regions of N Ireland. We hope this will generate some interest and promote an increase in numbers. We will report to DEL at the end of March.

23. Secondly, we are also embarking examining the feasibility of Shared Apprenticeships, based on the model run by Semta in Wales. This would also serve to boost numbers. Again DEL are funding this initiative.

24. Another aspect of apprenticeships that needs attention, and which Semta/ETCNI will be writing a draft proposal to DEL, is Directed Off-the-Job Training. We believe there is room within the current funding to build in a short period of directed training at the start of all apprenticeships and to have this delivered by well qualified staff at several central locations. Some of the larger companies, like Bombardier, have their own training facility with qualified instructors. Smaller companies cannot do this and other non-engineering sector businesses that employ Maintenance Engineers also cannot provide their own off-the-job training. The proposals will make the case for identified centres to deliver a minimum, 5 or 6 week programme prior to releasing apprentices into the work environment.

Semta/ETCNI
December 2008

Semta Report
Semta Report
Semta report
NIA Image

Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) -
18 February 2009

Summary

1. Representatives of the Education and Training Inspectorate (the Inspectorate)

1.1 Stanley Goudie: Chief Inspector
Paul McAlister: Assistant Chief Inspector: Post-16, Further Education and Training
John Baird: Managing Inspector: Further Education
Greer Henderson: Inspector of Construction and the Built Environment
John Kennedy: Inspector of Mechanical Engineering and Motor Vehicle Studies

2. The Work of the Inspectorate

2.2 The Education and Training Inspectorate (the Inspectorate) is a unitary Inspectorate responsible for the provision of inspection services and information about the quality of education, youth and training to DEL, DCAL and DE. In addition, the Inspectorate also carries out work for DHSSPS, DARD and OFMDFM. The current organisation of the Inspectorate is in the supporting papers as set out in Annex 1.

2.3 There is a published Memorandum of Understanding between the Inspectorate, DEL, DCAL and DE. Each year, through the business planning process, service level agreements are established between the Inspectorate and each of the three Departments.

ANNEX 1

ORGANISATION OF THE INSPECTORATE

Organisation of the Inspectorate

Northern Ireland Electricity plc
– 4 March 2009

1. Background

Northern Ireland Electricity plc (NIE) owns the power transmission network and owns and operates the power distribution network. These networks deliver electricity to 800,000 homes and businesses throughout Northern Ireland. In discharging its Licence obligations NIE is required to develop and maintain an efficient, co-ordinated and economical system of electricity transmission and distribution. NIE has three principal premises in Northern Ireland and currently has 1,200 employees (including employees in its subsidiary, NIE Powerteam).

NIE has maintained a structured apprentice programme for more than 30 years. Many of the skills required within power transmission and distribution are sector specific. As such, these are skills, which are not easily sourced from other business sectors, industries or training providers.

NIE believes that the most appropriate way to develop highly skilled, motivated, enthusiastic and committed future employees is through its targeted and focused apprentice training programme; in this, it is supported by the Department for Employment and Learning.

A key aspect of NIE’s programme is that it both trains and normally ultimately employs the apprentices it has trained. This affords NIE the ability to tailor its apprentice programme to its specific business requirements.

The quality of NIE’s apprentice training was recently recognised by it securing the Department of Employment and Learning’s (DEL) Employer Award for 2008.

The Employer Award follows the success of NIE apprentice Eamonn Maynes, who was recognised as the DEL Modern Apprentice of the Year in 2007.

2. Skills Required

The majority of NIE’s skilled craft and technical workforce have completed a structured NIE apprentice programme. The Apprentice programme has enabled NIE to develop a workforce that has a strong focus on safety, and an ability to deliver work to the highest quality; compliant with NIE’s regulated guaranteed and overall customer standards.

The skills and opportunities on offer within the NIE apprenticeship programme include: cable jointers, plant maintenance electricians and overhead linespersons.

The specialist nature of these roles and the ability of apprentices to be trained by experienced instructors on a real electricity network in order to develop core skills are key features of NIE’s ‘employer led’ apprentice scheme.

3. Apprentice recruitment and selection

NIE has experienced a growing demand for apprenticeship places in recent years. The educational qualification attainment of those applying for NIE apprenticeships, in some cases, are greater than those experienced in the past. We recognise that many young individuals, post GCSE, are now choosing an apprentice based career option rather than continuing to higher education.

NIE recruits apprentices on a province-wide and cross community basis in line with its recruitment, selection and equality procedures. We have typically 35 to 40 apprentices in our apprentice training programme at any given time.

Retention rates are high within the NIE apprentice programme with recent overall retention rates of 84%.

Those apprentices who successfully complete the apprentice programme progress into full time permanent employment with the company.

The NIE apprentice training programme takes promising trainees and provides them with the skills and qualifications to develop their careers within the electricity industry. Many of our now senior managers joined NIE through the apprenticeship scheme so for those who are ambitious it provides apprentices with a tremendous platform from which to launch their careers.

4. NIE apprentice training programme

To facilitate our apprentice programme we have dedicated in-house training centres and on-site facilities. We employ five full time training instructors. Where appropriate, we also use external training providers to deliver specialist training. These trainers include regional colleges, specialist training organisations and experienced individuals.

The typical training programme for apprentices lasts three years. Apprentices complete NVQs at Level 2 and 3. These NVQs are supported by NIE accredited trainers and are subject to internal and external verification by City & Guilds. A high level of academic achievement is available to apprentices through study towards a BTEC National Certificate in electrical engineering at a regional college.

NIE’s apprentice programme is structured and clear and unambiguous targets are set. Apprentices are encouraged to achieve defined milestones within agreed timeframes, or encouraged to push themselves to earlier attainment of these objectives.

The delivery of the apprentice programme incurs a substantial financial cost which exceeds that of many other organisations’ apprenticeship schemes. This follows from the fact that NIE does not enjoy the economies of scale of specialised training organisations delivering broader albeit more generic and less employer specific training to larger numbers of individuals and employers.

We therefore welcome the financial and structured support provided to NIE’s apprentice programmes by the Department for Employment and Learning. This includes Job Skills, Training for Success, Apprenticeships NI and Bridge to Employment.

Health and safety represents the most important focus across the breadth of our apprentice programme. We also aim to instil a strong awareness and focus on delivering work in an environmentally friendly manner; a message which we encourage our apprentices to embrace throughout the duration of the apprentice programme.

NIE is a member of organisations such as Energy and Utility Skills (the Sector Skills Council for Utilities in the UK) and the CBI Employment Affairs Committee. Through these, we continue to influence not only company specific issues such as the development of NVQ’s tailored to the requirements of the power transmission and distribution industry, but also the wider government supported skills strategy within the sector.

In addition to developing apprentices’ craft and technical skills, we also seek to develop softer and life skills which include self-motivation, flexibility, integrity, interpersonal attributes, participation and involvement, decisiveness and assertiveness.

5. How Apprenticeship Programmes need to evolve

NIE strongly supports the continued provision of “employer led" apprenticeship programmes and we recommend further development in the following twelve areas:

5.1 Improve the perception of apprenticeships

Schools and careers advisors need to be properly informed in relation to the benefits of apprenticeships. Government needs to improve the promotion of apprenticeships based on both the benefits to the employer and the apprentice. Employers like NIE also need to constantly search for ways to further promote apprenticeships and develop stronger relationships with schools.

Apprenticeships should be promoted as a primary, first choice career not a second choice career for those who have perhaps been unsuccessful in realising their first choice.

5.2 Encourage a wider range of applicants

NIE continues to seek to recruit motivated individuals to be developed into excellent apprentices to work in our highly skilled and challenging environment. We wish to encourage more young people, females, individuals in other employment and unemployed persons who will recognise the value of an industrial apprenticeship as key in developing the technical skills to enhance their career prospects both within NIE and in general.

5.3 Recruit more experienced trainees

NIE has over the past two years recruited people to its apprentice programme who have been more experienced than in the past. These apprentices may already have embarked on a career in another industry or are unemployed but are drawn to an apprenticeship and career within NIE. This approach has recently led to NIE being able to reduce its cable jointing training programme from 3 years to 2 years. This results in mutual benefits for both the apprentice and the company. We appreciate the continued funding support received from DEL to facilitate the training of these more experienced individuals onto our apprentice programme.

5.4 Improve flexibility of colleges and the links between colleges and employers

Colleges tend to be very rigid and inflexible in delivering their training. We would welcome greater flexibility in relation to hours, location and structure of training.

5.5 Use apprenticeships to develop engineering graduates

In recent years, it has become difficult to recruit sufficient electrical power engineering graduates, with the appropriate academic and interpersonal skills direct from university. In addition to the NIE graduate recruitment programme, NIE will continue to develop apprentices through further and higher education such that their career progression opportunities and their value as employees are equal to those individuals entering the company through any other route.

NIE welcomes the introduction of GCSE Engineering into the Northern Ireland schools curriculum. We hope that this, allied to existing GCSE technology courses, will inspire school leavers to follow a career in engineering through either an apprenticeship or further study of engineering at University. We would encourage systematic promotion by DEL of professional engineering as a good career choice and would encourage additional funding or incentives for higher level students to study power engineering at our local universities.

5.6 Respond to market demands and provide the right skills

The increase of renewable energy provision, including wind and tidal power, with the resultant requirement to reinforce the existing electricity infrastructure in Northern Ireland presents a challenge. This will lead to a demand for a workforce with the skills necessary to construct and maintain this expanded, important infrastructure. Apprentices completing an NIE apprentice programme are uniquely placed, with the specialist skills to facilitate this expansion whether working for NIE or other future renewable energy constructors throughout the world.

5.7 Increase multi skilling

We have introduced a new multi-skilled apprentice programme as combined overhead linesperson/tree surgeon training. We are the first UK electricity network owner to introduce such training. This recognises the need to continually review and develop apprenticeships to meet our changing needs as an employer.

5.8 Increase technical knowledge and educational attainment

In recent years we have sought to increase the technical knowledge and educational attainment of our apprentices by having them study for a BTEC National Certificate rather than as in the past, a City & Guilds craft qualification. We have worked with a local regional college to develop and tailor a BTEC National Certificate in electrical engineering specific to our industry needs. We believe this to be the most appropriate National Certificate on offer within the UK Electricity transmission and distribution industry and that the additional cost of delivering the qualification is worthwhile.

NIE apprentices have also had the opportunity for further education through Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Diploma (HNC/HND) electrical engineering programmes, both during and beyond the apprentice programme.

5.9 Improve NVQs

It is recognised that the current National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s at Level 2 and Level 3) on offer to the UK electricity transmission and distribution industry could be improved to the benefit of apprentices, training providers and employing organisations. To this end, NIE is working in partnership with the Sector Skills Council (Energy & Utility Skills), City & Guilds (NVQ awarding body) and other UK electricity distribution companies including EDF Energy, EoN, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern Energy and National Grid.

This partnership initiative is nearing the completion of developing and accrediting fully restructured, less generic and more industry relevant National Vocational Qualification. The new NVQ’s at Level 2 and Level 3 will be more challenging and demanding and will, importantly, deliver a meaningful and appropriate NVQ qualification which will benefit both apprentices’ learning and NIE.

5.10 Reduce bureaucracy

There is a need to consider a more streamlined, less bureaucratic but equally rigorous approach, by DEL departments. This is relevant to key processes such as administration, inspection, auditing and compliance. There is a real need to ensure that duplication and inefficiency are avoided for training organisations in complying with DEL rules. We recognise and welcome the efforts made by DEL to foster apprenticeships in Northern Ireland. These suggestions are not, from our perspective, criticisms but suggestions for further process improvements. We regard searching for process improvement to be an essential feature of the culture of any dynamic, commercial organisation.

Examples of these improvements include:

  • A more unified approach to auditing and inspection on an annual basis rather than separate audits.
  • The need for training organisations to prepare detailed, and not dissimilar, documents involved with the separate ETI (Education and Training Inspectorate) and IQRS (Improving Quality : Raising Standards) inspection and assessment processes.
  • Providing ‘one point of contact’ for training organisations. This person would have a broader remit than the current DEL Contract Manager in that they would be empowered to resolve and action all queries, across the entire range of DEL processes, departmental and financial requirements.

An example of good practice is the DEL ‘Bridge to Employment’ scheme, which NIE has actively supported for a number of years. This scheme provides ease of administration for NIE as a training provider and ultimate employer.

5.11 Reduce the time required to complete apprenticeships

It is important that apprentices learn to contribute quickly to the profitability of the business. The time required to complete an apprenticeship, where practical, should be reduced from 3 years to 2 years or even 18 months. This would involve more time in the workplace with on site delivery of training or on site assessment.

5.12 Improve funding support for specialist providers

NIE estimates that it costs approximately £60k to take an apprentice through to completion of a three year apprenticeship programme. This is approximately £20k per annum. Presently, NIE receive c£4k per annum in DEL funding, which equates to approximately 20% of apprenticeship costs. In the present economic conditions, we believe that funding will need to cover 50% of apprenticeship costs in order for organisations to continue to support this programme. We understand that reducing the time taken to complete an apprenticeship, will negate against this proposed increased funding.

6. Conclusion

We welcome the opportunity and appreciate the time we have been given to articulate our views on how apprenticeships should evolve in Northern Ireland. We also welcome the constructive, helpful and supportive relationship we have with DEL in delivering our apprentice programme. However, we believe that this is a very opportune time to complete a deep review of apprenticeships and hence allow businesses to be well placed when the recession comes to an end. NIE are committed to apprenticeships but this is on the basis that the concept is continually reviewed in order that the schemes align with organisations’ changing requirements.

We strongly believe that well founded apprenticeships are good for business. However, businesses are faced with very challenging economic circumstances and we need to modernise our apprenticeship programmes in Northern Ireland in order to be responsive to the challenges of the economic slow-down.

When times are tough only training that delivers measureable business benefits can be maintained. The proposals outlined in the report provide both a challenge and an opportunity to ensure that apprenticeships deliver the type of training and development that employers value.

We look forward to the committee considering our papers and as a business we remain committed to working with Government to continually improve NI apprenticeships.

Gordon Parkes Con Feeney
General Manager, Group Human Resources Training Manager
Viridian Group Limited NIE

Gordon Parkes signature
Con Feeney Signature

Alliance of Sector Skills Council
- 11 March 2009

Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Alliance of Sector Skills Council
Laurence Downey
Northern Ireland Manager
Alliance of Sector Skills Councils

Laurence is the Northern Ireland Manager for the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. The Alliance is a new organisation comprising all 25 licensed UK Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), the employer-driven organisations that together articulate the voice of the employers of more than 85% of the UK’s workforce on skills issues. Its core purpose is to:

  • Act as the collective voice of the Sector Skills Councils
  • Promote understanding of the role of SSCs within the skills system across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Co-ordinate policy positions and strategic work on skills with stakeholders across the four home nations
  • Help build the performance capability of the Sector Skills Councils, to ensure they continue to work effectively on the employer-driven skills agenda

Laurence was previously the Northern Ireland Manager for the Sector Skills Development Agency which he joined from Momentum, NI’s ICT trade association, where he was Skills Manager.

Ronnie Moore,
Skills Director National,
Energy & Utility Skills

Main Responsibilities
Heading up the Skills Solutions team across the UK, also ensuring close working collaboration with the other key directorates.

Employer and Stakeholder Engagement in the Nations and Regions, promoting and brokering a better understanding of current and future demand for skills, delivering employer/Stakeholder agreements/Solutions.

Brokering funded opportunities for employers and the delivery of operational projects in the Nations and Regions.

Heading up field activity in the Devolved Nations and English Regions, building sustainable relationships with stakeholders and employers

Tory Kerley
National Manager
Skillsmart Retail

Tory Kerley is National Manager for Northern Ireland at Skillsmart Retail, The Sector Skills Council for Retail. Before taking up that role in 2004, she worked as a self employed Consultant, specialising in Recruitment and Personnel Development and Appraisal processes. Before this, she held a number of positions in Retail Management in Operations, Training and Human Resources.
A graduate in Law & Italian from the University of Wales, Cardiff, Tory joined Laura Ashley Ltd’s graduate training programme and then held various management positions in both England and Wales. She returned to Northern Ireland in 1993 to work for the Cancer Research Campaign, and has also worked as a senior manager for Habitat and Dekko. In addition to Skillsmart Retail’s core remit, Tory is a member of the North Belfast Business Education Partnership, and is Vice Chair of the Training for Women Network. Outside of work, she is a Primary School Governor.

Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
- 11 March 2009

Confederation of British Industry Logo

Response to NI Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning Investigation into a way forward for Apprenticeships

Introduction

1. CBI Northern Ireland welcomes the opportunity to participate in the review by the Committee for Employment and Learning into a way forward for apprenticeships.

2. The CBI is the UK’s leading business organisation, speaking for some 240,000 businesses which together employ around a third of the private sector workforce. No other UK organisation represents as many major employers, small and medium-sized firms or companies in the manufacturing and service sectors.

3. We recognise the importance of the 10,000 apprenticeship places along with the additional 3,000 on the Jobskills programme to the Northern Ireland economy and welcome the fact that priority in terms of funding has been given by the Department for Employment and Learning to areas such as computer science, management and advanced training, building trades and civil, electrical, electronic and mechanical engineering.

Key Issues

1. In the long term, we need to improve careers guidance; ensuring more young people are aware of apprenticeship opportunities is vital if more businesses are to offer apprenticeships and young people to see their value. The CBI’s 2008 Education and Skills Survey showed that some employers are leaving places unfilled because they found it difficult to recruit suitable applicants. In the short term, it is necessary to reduce bureaucracy, including that associated with numerous audits and sub-audits, streamline inspection processes and avoid ‘one size fits all’ prescriptive arrangements for employers.

2. Employers need support, especially in the present climate, when it is essential to maintain apprentice numbers; incentive payments for the early years of an apprenticeship, when employers take on significant risks due to apprentices being less productive, are much needed. Higher and better front-loaded funding would deliver greater uptake as well as better industry-led marketing campaigns. In addition, there is a need for more focus on in-employment upskilling as well as at the pre-employment stage or when starting work.

3. Many employers have highly successful schemes and have long standing experience in this area. Apprenticeships are a key route to skills, bringing benefits to both the business and the apprentice. The desire of government to ensure more individuals are encouraged to start, and of course successfully complete apprenticeships, is an ambition fully supported by business. But this must not be at the expense of quality and ensuring that the programme better meets the needs of employers. The removal of unnecessary red tape and greater simplification and information must be a key focus.

4. Apprenticeships should be seen as a high quality training route – one that young people should aspire to – and not a safety net for low achievers or those currently not in education, employment or training (NEETs) – see also paragraphs 9 and 10 below.

5. Nationally, the UK government has an ambitious target of 400,000 apprentices per annum by 2020 and has proposed the creation of a National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to achieve this. If Northern Ireland is to be included in the NAS, or indeed any other system, increased employer involvement is vital and we need to see the UK government’s commitment to a more flexible and responsive approach to apprenticeship framework design and reform, which should lead to significant improvements if implemented effectively, replicated on a local basis.

6. Some member companies do find that the apprentice system meets their needs and requirements, and feel that it is a good worthwhile system which is capable of being adjusted to meet the differing needs of industry. However, the model of training delivery differs in many apprenticeship programmes in that in some cases first year apprentices are not productive at all, yet the funding model does not take this into account. Some employers are working with groups of FE colleges developing the necessary NVQ, technical certificate and essential skills requirements of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme. However, greater flexibility on essential skills would be welcome and excessive dependence on the FE sector should be avoided. Also, the cost of providing the FE element in apprenticeship programmes has increased substantially in recent years, removing any advantage provided to employers through Training for Success. Overall throughout the UK there is inconsistency in the funding model across the regions. Views have also been expressed that it would be useful to move away from traditional disciplines such as mechanical and electrical engineering and body fabrication towards a technician apprenticeship which would include aspects of each discipline and be recognised as such.

7. Apprentices can play a valid role, particularly in professional services, in an attempt to keep the overall cost base low – not everyone needs a degree. However, they do need to have the ability to retain the necessary information and develop the necessary skills, coupled with the right degree of application. However, many employers find that those who are attracted to respond to an advertised vacancy are often those who have not done well academically (see also paragraph 6 above). For example, heavy vehicle engineering is perceived by careers advisers and society in general as heavy work in a dirty, greasy environment, and this needs to be challenged and changed. Indeed, only one in four applicants for apprenticeships in this area meet the entry standard when they are aptitude tested, and technological changes in vehicle design mean that apprentices have to be computer literate to operate the diagnostic tools used in engineering today. More generally, due to the challenges employers face from emerging economy countries such as China, employers need to be delivering apprenticeship programmes at the higher value end of the skills spectrum. While for many employers new skills linked to new manufacturing technologies are in development and indeed are work in progress, these ideas need to be introduced to apprentices at an early stage. In addition, concepts such as lean enterprise, continuous improvement, problem solving, right first time etc are important from day one. Employers are now realising that attitudes to these concepts are important criteria in selecting apprentices for the future.

CBI Northern Ireland
5 March 2009

Association of Northern Ireland Colleges
- 18 March 2009

Introduction

1. The Association of Northern Ireland Colleges (ANIC) is the membership body for Northern Ireland’s six regional Colleges of Further and Higher Education. ANIC welcomes this opportunity to brief the Committee as part of its investigation into the way forward for apprenticeships.

2. ANIC welcomes the Committee’s willingness to receive this briefing in the Bangor campus of the South Eastern Regional College as this will allow members to see examples of how Northern Ireland’s College deliver Apprenticeships for the benefit of apprentices and employers alike.

3. Colleges are Northern Ireland’s largest providers of skills, professional and technical training, operating across campuses and workplaces in Northern Ireland. Apprenticeships have been a core element of College provision for a long period of time and Colleges have an impressive track record of adapting to the changing demands of Apprenticeships and other training provision in a dynamic, responsive and high quality manner. Furthermore, Colleges are well placed to deliver skills training in priority skills areas at this time of challenge for industries and employers across Northern Ireland through, for example, their existing Centres of Excellence and specific local employer-engagement initiatives.

The Current Situation

4. At present, like many other providers, Colleges have seen a downturn in the number of people entering Apprenticeships this year. This has been compounded by increasing numbers of apprentices being made redundant due to the economic downturn, particularly in the construction sector. In these instances Colleges have assisted the trainees to complete the relevant components of the Apprenticeship framework in line with the contingency arrangements specified by the Department for Employment and Learning. These steps include retaining students on programmes to completion; transferring students to Pre-Apprentice programmes; transferring students to Steps to Work; special arrangements with the Department for Year 2 students to complete; and transferring to FE provision as an option.

5. In the economic downturn it has become extremely difficult for young people to become an apprentice as they must secure a paid job. Young people with aptitude, qualifications and a commitment to a particular trade may have to accept alternatives that may not best fit their needs. The demand-led Northern Ireland Apprenticeship scheme poses challenges in the current economic downturn. The model should ensure that there are opportunities for young people and adults to gain higher level skills which will be required when the economy improves.

6. Colleges welcome the Department’s commitment to source sponsoring companies and look forward to receiving those schemes. However, given the structure of the Northern Ireland economy the challenge facing the Department should not be under-estimated. Colleges suggest that, as a parallel approach, the Department considers further Apprenticeships in areas which have not had a tradition of offering Apprenticeships. These might include health, public sector, education and local government. Opportunities in these areas would not just improve capacity in the public sector but would also assist developing a pool of talent for the private sector as the economy improves.

Pre-apprenticeships

7. While the Pre-Apprenticeship programme has been welcomed, it faces major challenges in the current environment. For example, it will have more uptake as the economic downturn continues. The progression and exit routes from the planned Pre-Apprenticeship model and the programme’s funding requires urgent review.

8. There needs to be a programme in place that allows for apprentices and pre-apprentices to be trained in a way that allows them to transfer between programmes easily. The reason for this is that it is likely that a participant on Training for Success who enters as an apprentice could go onto Pre-Apprenticeship and back to Apprenticeship as his or her employment status changes. The current contingency arrangements may require an apprentice to leave their Apprenticeship provider and go to a different provider for Steps to Work and then, if new employment is found return to the original provider. Having two separate delivery models does not allow this flexibility as is the case with plumbing where the technical certificate for the Pre-Apprenticeship is different to that for the Apprenticeship programme. This means that if an apprentice becomes unemployed it is not easy to cater for his or her training needs until he or she becomes employed again.

9. A suitably structured programme would allow a single point of entry for all participants and enable progression from Pre-Apprenticeship to Apprenticeship and vice versa as employment status changes. The current Pre-Apprenticeship model of 21 hours directed training could possibly do this, if properly planned – however, the current situation with two different Frameworks impairs planning.

Progression

10. It is important that consideration is given to the development of an advanced Pre-Apprenticeship at Level 3 to enable progression for those participants who have not secured employment after completing the Level 2 Pre-Apprenticeship. The development of this would need to be reflected in framework 3 developed by the Sector Skills Council so that there could be ‘transferability’ between the Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship scheme.

11. Another impact of the economic downturn on the Pre-Apprenticeship programme is the increasingly difficulty of securing meaningful work placements for trainees. As many small employers, particularly in construction, are facing challenges to survive, a lucrative source of placements no longer exists. Consideration should be given to the public sector – such as health, education and local government departments providing a number of placements, especially in construction related areas.

12. The Apprenticeship scheme takes people to a Level 3 NVQ. It is important to pay attention to the need for clear progression routes to build the managers and trainers of the future.

Recognition and perception issues

13. Despite strong messages from Ministers and Departments, highly skilled craftspeople still do not receive the recognition and profile they deserve. This compares unfavourably with Germany, where craftspeople, scientists and engineers have at least equal status with the professions. Germany also has the highest export market in the European Union - something to which Northern Ireland must aspire.

14. Colleges believe that the new brand for ApprenticeshipsNI needs to be marketed more strongly, particularly with employers, as evidenced in Great Britain. ANIC and Colleges are committed to playing a strong role in the forthcoming VQ (Vocational Qualifications) Day campaign in June 2009.

Responding to the needs of employers

15. Each of ANIC’s member Colleges have examples of how they meet the needs of employers in the development and upskilling of their workforces.

16. For example, the Northern Regional College (NRC), in conjunction with the Northern Workforce Development Forum and the Engineering Training Council for Northern Ireland (ETC) representing the Sector Skills Council for Engineering (SEMTA) and the Department for Employment and Learning, have developed an Apprenticeship programme aimed at upskilling people from within today’s workforce to deliver fully trained electro-mechanical maintenance personnel within a 2 year timeframe. The 2 year Adult Apprenticeship (including both “on the job" and “off the job" elements) provides training in electro-mechanical maintenance skills, attainment of a NVQ Level 3 Qualification, a Nationally Recognised academic EDEXCEL National Certificate and, where required, Essential Skills.

17. The South Eastern Regional College, in association with the Northern Ireland Polymer Association, Cogent (Sector Skills Council) and the Department for Employment and Learning has developed an apprenticeship programme in polymer processing. Although this was available from 2007/08, the programme began in 2008/09 due to low industry take-up.

18. Adult Apprenticeships could be also used within the public sector to increase capacity and expertise as well as developing a potential workforce for the private sector as the economies emerge from the current downturn.

Quality of college provision

19. Colleges continue to deliver quality programmes and are active in raising quality of their provision on the basis of feedback from ETI, employers and students. In many instances, there is a good match being achieved between the needs of the employers and the directed training with apprentices being well motivated and with excellent attendance.

Student experience

20. Students in Apprenticeships value the esteem of ‘having a real job’ and this is a great motivator. They are able to relate their directed training to their career plans and understand the relevance of the Essential Skills requirements since it is linked to meeting employer expectations.

21. The current 21 hour model for Pre-Apprenticeships has the potential to provide a good quality of training and good learning experience for the participants as it enables sufficient time to develop the vocational, employability and interpersonal skills of the participants without having them having to spend too many hours in College. A work placement after the development of basic skills would be beneficial. Indeed, some Sector Skills Councils and Colleges are proposing a 1 year full-time Pre-Apprenticeship model prior to any work placement. This would require urgent consideration and review of funding.

Role of Sector Skills Councils and Employer Groupings

22. Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) play a critical and pivotal role in the apprentice model currently. This is good where the SSC works positively and in a collaborative manner with providers of training. The drivers and motivators for SSCs and employers may result in frameworks (for example, plumbing) which do not take account of the need for providers to create viability of group size to make most efficient use of scarce and expensive training facilities. Additionally they may not address the wider Departmental and training agenda. In extreme cases, an SSC working with employer groups and with specific training providers can potentially create a ‘closed shop’.

23. Colleges believe that employer-led managing agents need to take a regional perspective in the provision of apprenticeships while balancing the yearly demands from employers. For example in the North West, the Electrical Training Trust finds it difficult to provide apprenticeships in that area because of limited local employer support. Colleges believe that there is scope to look at different models for developing skills provision in important areas such as electrical across Northern Ireland.

Directions for future

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

24. There is a need to increase the flow of people through the STEM artery in general and to apprentices in particular and a need for improved Careers Advice Information and Guidance in schools about the demands and career opportunities for technical apprentices.

Widen intake

25. There is a need to increase the flow of people through the STEM artery in general and to Apprenticeships in particular. In addition the economy needs more females to consider traditionally male occupations – often their skills are as well or better matched. Grammar schools now take in a much wider ability range and therefore it is imperative that their current offer takes in the needs of this wider range of pupils. A mix of technical apprenticeship modules could be considered along with academic GCSEs and A Levels.

Funding

26. Colleges are aware that the funding model for Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland is different from that in England and Wales. Indeed, this point has also been emphasised by employers. It would be useful for the Committee to consider investment in Apprenticeships across the United Kingdom.

27. In addition, the current College based Pre-Apprenticeship provision, and any new parallel Level 3 provision, has a requirement of 50% more teaching with no additional income to cover this from the Department.

Putting the person at the heart of the training experience

28. Colleges cover the Entitlement Framework with schools, Training, Higher Education and Further Education and this provides access for the Apprentice and Pre-Apprentice to a range of value-added services to enhance his or her learning experience. This includes pastoral care, careers, whole College services. Colleges have had extensive capital investment and this is assisting the ongoing cross-cutting nature of learning where, for example, SERC hairdressing students undertake science and engineering learning as part of their understanding of hairdressing products and prototyping in the College.

29. There may be a need for different Apprenticeship models for different sectors – “a one size fits all approach" may not be the most appropriate. New developments such as Adult Apprenticeships and employer-specified ones such as the Polymer Processing Apprenticeship show the scope for unique solutions.

Summary

30. Colleges are committed to playing a pivotal role in the development of skills across Northern Ireland to improve its economic and social infrastructure. Colleges work actively with employers directly as well as through Sector Skills Councils, Workforce Development Forums, Trade Associations and Representative Groups to ensure that training provision meets the needs of employers and students alike.

31. There are many strengths to the existing Apprenticeship model – however, there are ways, identified in the main text, in which the system can be improved, particularly at this time of economic challenge.

32. Colleges hope that this paper and the visit to the Bangor Campus of the South Eastern Regional College assist the Committee in its investigation. For further information or clarification, please contact John D’Arcy, Chief Executive, Association of Northern Ireland Colleges at The Millennium Community Outreach Centre, 400 Springfield Road, Belfast, BT12 7DU (Tel: 028 9090 0060; email john.darcy@anic.ac.uk)

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
- 25 March 2009

Background Briefing Notes

The FSB values the importance of apprenticeships to the Northern Ireland economy, particularly in these difficult economic conditions. We recognise the importance of skills provision and skills development for the current and future workforce.

However, there are particular difficulties for small businesses engaging with apprenticeship programmes – money, time, red tape.

The importance of the SME sector in Northern Ireland

Despite the recent economic slowdown, small businesses remain Northern Ireland’s key job creators. Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of SMEs (small and medium sizes enterprises with fewer than 250 employees) of all the regions in the UK. 98% of the private sector in Northern Ireland consists of micro-businesses, that is, businesses that have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 95% employ fewer than 10 people.

Small businesses employ 65% of the private sector workforce in Northern Ireland, and contribute 60% of all private sector turnover.

The FSB believes that the current economic downturn actually provides an opportunity to establish the right environment for job retention and creation. Furthermore, focusing on employment in the small business sector will be create good quality jobs2 and bring into employment those people who might otherwise struggle in the jobs market, or are more likely to be out of work for longer.

FSB survey on Apprenticeships

The FSB conducted a survey of over 1000 members last year (2008) on the issue of apprenticeships. Only 26% said they employed apprentices on a recognised apprenticeship training programme. 20% use their own training schemes, but nearly a third said they were concerned that there was too much bureaucracy, it was too time consuming and that it was too costly. In addition, 21% (over a fifth) said they had concerns about the quality of trainees – hiring and retaining good quality apprentices is perceived as a problem.

Only 6% said that apprenticeships would not be appropriate to their business.

78% said they would employ apprentices if financial support was available from the government.

The FSB supports the Apprenticeship programme in Northern Ireland. To improve its success, and increase its accessibility to small and micro businesses, the FSB makes the following recommendations:

Group Training Associations:

The FSB recommends greater recognition and use of Group Training Associations (GTAs) to make it simpler for small businesses to employ Apprentices and remove the burdens of bureaucracy involved in taking on an apprentice. A GTA is a non-profit organisation providing training and related services on behalf of local employers, funded by a variety of sources including Government grants. For the GTA to be truly successful and relevant to the needs of the hardest to reach smaller businesses, each one must be made up of those with experience of small businesses.

Ways that the GTA can cut the burdens on small businesses:

  • The GTA can design and maintain each apprentice’s training programme to fit the training needs of the small business which are traditionally short in nature, affordable, and based within the workplace. A micro business does not have the time or the resources to source the relevant training.
  • Most small businesses do not have their own in house training facilities and human resources departments, thus, can treat the GTA staff as their training manager and even human resources manager
  • The GTA will be able to cut the employment risk and broaden the learning available by sharing the apprentices between a number of SMEs.

The GTAs would also manage the “bureaucracy" involved and access the most effective funding relevant to the employee’s training and the employer’s needs. It is important that:

  • GTAs remain wholly independent and managed by those with business experience and;
  • Apprentices should still be employed by the business using the services of the GTAs and not the other way around.

Consideration could be given to the role of Sector Skills Councils and current Learning Providers to act as Group Training Associations.

Greater take-up and completion of an apprenticeship

The FSB believes a fully functioning tripartite structure of employers, employees and Government working together can raise the level of apprentices during the economic downturn.

Employers should provide high quality apprenticeships and a sufficient wage package as an incentive for completion. Equally, government should provide financial assistance to encourage a small business to take on an apprentice and employees must endeavour to complete their apprenticeships to ensure that the investment goes back into the business and the economy.

New Apprenticeship levels

Action is needed now as in our biennial survey of FSB members in Northern Ireland in 2008, conducted before the impact of the current economic downturn, only one-fifth of respondents (21.2%) indicated that they were expecting to increase actual expenditure on skills development and training over the next two years (though this was higher than the UK average of 17.1%).

At the same time, NI respondents were more likely to consider a lack of available trained staff as a barrier to expanding their business – this was classed a “very important" by nearly 30% of NI respondents, compared to an average of 19% of respondents in the whole of the UK.

In our recent survey on Apprenticeships, 78% of all businesses said they would employ an apprentice if financial support was available.

Recommendation: Small businesses must be given a financial incentive for taking on a new apprentice. This will ensure an adequate wage and training structure for the apprentice which will improve apprenticeship completion levels, and increases the likelihood of employing the apprentice full time at the time of completion.

Completion levels

The FSB is concerned about the lack of focus on the completion of apprenticeships. Our members feel that the design and content of training to complete an apprenticeship would benefit with small business involvement.

The following case study outlines the value that small business place on an apprenticeship and how the training needs must be taken into account to ensure that it is relevant to the needs of small businesses.

Case Study

Minett Group

A small businessman in the construction industry, Simon Minett, was concerned that the apprentices he was sending to the local FE College were becoming disillusioned which was leading to reduced completion levels.

When the next keen candidate appeared whose work and attitude were good, Simon decided to visit the college towards the end of the evening class the apprentice attended. He was shocked to overhear the person in charge informing his employee that bricklaying wasn’t for him as he was too messy. As the Minett Group undertake quality bricklaying up to the standards of the new environment build requirements, Simon felt better placed to judge the quality of work than the person from the college.

Based on long term experience Simon decided to set up his own training scheme. Over the first 15 weeks the candidates are taught how to lay bricks up to shoulder height and around the sort of frames they will encounter on site. After this initial phase the apprentice was allowed on site with a qualified bricklayer and was able to earn a decent living whilst gaining valuable experience.

Molton College followed Simon’s activity and provided the Assessment and Certification of his trainees. Subsequently a College in Derby has also become involved.

The Minett Group now have purpose built premises for the initial training.

Bombardier Aerospace
- 6 May 2009

Bombardier Aerospace
Overview of Bombardier Aerospace Belfast
Bombardier Aerospace
Bombardier Aerospace
Bombardier Aerospace
Bombardier Aerospace
Bombardier Aerospace
Bombardier Aerospace
Appendix 4

Research Papers

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Research Papers
29th January 2009

Research Briefing on Bombardier Apprenticeship
Programme in Northern Ireland

Yan Liu
Research Officer

The aim of this research study was to address Bombardier’s Modern Apprenticeship programme in the Centre of Excellence.

Library Research Papers are compiled for the benefit of Members of The Assembly and their personal staff.
Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot
advise members of the general public.

Bombardier’s
Modern Apprenticeships Programme

Bombardier Aerospace in Belfast is one of the largest aerospace companies in the UK, and is a centre of excellence for the design and manufacture of aircraft fuselages, engine nacelle systems, wing components, flight control surfaces, and for processes such as advanced composites and computer-aided design/manufacture.

There is a 3 year apprenticeship training programme in Bombardier’s ‘Centre of Excellence’ in conjunction with Belfast Metropolitan College. This includes one-day per week classroom based learning at Belfast Metropolitan College on day release.

This year, Bombardier recruits 80 young people onto its apprentice programme. They are all ages and are trained in groups of 20. It leads to an NVQ Level 3. The apprentices spend a good part of their first year at Bombardier’s dedicated training facility at Interpoint in the centre of Belfast, where they develop key engineering foundation skills.

During their second and third years, they get practical hands-on experience in a range of different operational areas within the company to ensure a wide range of skills is acquired.

Apprenticeship Pay

There is a wage restriction of £120 per week, so first year apprentices tend to be young.

Apprenticeship Year 1

Apprenticeships begin in September for one year leading to NVQ Level 2. (There are no longer Technical Colleges providing part-trained Apprentices so they are non-skilled when they start their apprenticeship).

Apprenticeship Years 2 & 3

During the 2nd and 3rd year Apprentices move round the 5 main Bombardier sites.

Selection

All Apprentices start at the same level and after the first year internal selection takes place.

  • Craft Apprentices – gain City and Guilds qualifications.
  • Technical Apprentices – those who are selected as Technical Apprentices must gain a B TECH qualification.

There are currently 80 Apprentices and 45 Technicians are required by the Company. It is unlikely that many will be up to that grade.

All Apprentices who pass the requisite tests will be employed at Bombardier and are subject to ongoing assessment when they continue their training outside of the ‘Centre of Excellence’

Retention rates for Apprentices are high with an approximate ratio of 150/60 employees to Apprentices.

Employees

Bombardier brings in approximately 50 agency workers every few weeks. These consist of migrant aircraft workers through Philippines manpower and recruitment agencies. Some local people also who are ex-Shorts employees or qualified motor mechanics who spend time in training.

The combined labour force of Bombardier and agency staff is run as a parallel workforce, the only difference in their terms and conditions being pension entitlement. There is very little recruitment from outside with employees either recruited through Bombardier’s Apprenticeship scheme or through Manpower who provide skilled staff from abroad. (Airbus in Wales operates the same employment regime). All middle managers currently employed at Bombardier are ex-Apprentices.

School Programmes

In conjunction with the apprentice scheme, Bombardier has an extensive outreach programme where it works closely with schools and young people to highlight the opportunities available through an aerospace apprenticeship. This includes interactive workshops, talks by engineers and current apprentices to young people, school competitions, and work experience placements for more than 200 students each year.

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Research Papers
19th Feb 2009

Report on Centres of Excellence:
Study visit to the Fashion Retail Academy
in London

Yan Liu
Research Officer

Introduction

The fashion retail industry is the second biggest industry in the UK, and the UK’s largest private sector employer. The Fashion Retail Academy was founded in 2005. It is the first ‘National Skills Academy’ across a variety of industries to train and prepare the next generation of young people for the work place by teaching and developing the fundamental skills required in the Retail Industry[1]. It is located just off London’s Oxford Street in the heart of London’s fashion retail district.

Arcadia Group- the UK’s largest private owned clothing retailer[2] is one of the founding supporters of the Academy, having joined forces with Marks and Spencer, Next, Tesco and Home Stores Ltd to fund £10 million of its start-up costs with the other £10 million coming from the Department for Education and Skills.

This briefing paper is based on the findings from a study visit to the Fashion Retail Academy which took place on 16 February 2009. The aims of this study visit were to address:

  • The Fashion Retail Academy Curriculum and Qualifications
  • The Fashion Retail Academy Student Selection
  • The Fashion Retail Academy Operation (teaching methods)
  • What does not work?

The Curriculum and Qualifications

The Fashion Retail Diploma offers a unique one year intensive programme in retail with a fashion context as follows:

  • 1 Year NVQ Level 2
  • 1 Year NVQ Level 3
  • 1 Year NVQ Level 4 in Visual Merchandising
  • 1 Year NVQ Level 4 in Buying and Merchandising

A two year foundation course starts in October 2009 and is currently being validated. There will be 25 places each year on this new programme which links with the University of Arts in London.

The curriculum is fully accredited by ABC Awards which is one of the UK’s largest vocational awarding organizations. The course is tightly controlled by the Academy. Each student must complete all core units to achieve the qualification. (e.g. Store Operations, Management Skills, Buying & Merchandising, Visual Merchandising, Fashion Promotion, Style Advising for Retail and Pixel Based Image Manipulation).

The work experience is an integral part of the course which is organised by the Retail Liaison Team. In addition, a list of retailers offering work placement opportunities are continually growing including retailers such as Karen Millen, New Look, Warehouse, Principles, Harvey Nichols, Jaegar, Selfridges, Matches, Kurt Geiger, Reiss, Coast and Oasis.

Academy Student Selection

There is no fixed entry-level qualification for the Level 2 course in the Academy, although existing retail experience is obviously a good starting point. But for Level 3 & 4 Diploma courses, applicants generally have a higher level of basic education. Intake decisions are made after a formal interview.

There are simply not enough places to give an offer to every candidate who wish to study in the Fashion Retail Academy. The Academy is looking for young people who have 5 GCSEs (including Maths and English) with grades at least C or above, aged 17, display aptitude and enthusiasm for fashion retail and who possess literacy, Maths & ICT Skills (e.g. year 2007 saw 650 applications for the 220 available places & year 2008 saw over 600 applications for the 200 available places).

The Academy Operation

After initial set-up expense, the Fashion Retail Academy is run and funded in the same way as Further Education Colleges in England with three academic terms. Students have to take 8 modules for the first two terms (including numeracy). There are currently a total of 450 full time students who study in the Academy (95% female and 5% male). 80% of those students are from London and the rest are from Scotland and overseas.

Local students who are aged 16-18 do not pay any fees & receive £30 per week EMA Allowance. Those aged 19 or above pay a £1000 subsidy and receive Adult Learning Grants. 70%-80% of Level 3 students find employment (usually through the company where they had their work placement) and approx 15% graduate and go on to University for higher education.

Facilities

The fantastic building has a state of the art lecture space, IT suites, Library, student common room, swipe ID Card & Finger Print check for entrance to the building and even its own mock shop. The mock shop has been set up to mimic a typical retail outlet that students could find on any high street in the country.

The Academy staff are both qualified lecturers and retailers (28 full-time staff, a total of 46) with inspirational master classes taken by highly regarded industry leaders, e.g. Sir Philip Green (Arcadia), Sir Stuart Rose (M&S) and Belinda Earl (CEO Jaegar) and Terry Green (CEO Tesco Fashion & Homeware). A few photos were taken during the visit - see below:

The Fashion Retail Academy The Fashion Retail Academy The Fashion Retail Academy The Fashion Retail Academy

The Fashion Retail Academy

What does not work?

1. The biggest barrier the Academy’s lecturers have are in relation to the teaching of numeracy.

2. Students cannot choose their favourite store for work placement. The Academy will take charge of locating students as some stores are more popular than others.

3. The Academy does not provide any accommodation for students. It can be a barrier for young people who live in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales due to the travel and accommodation cost.

[1] There will be a total of 35 National Skills Academies, 5 of which are already established.

[2] Arcadia Group is the UK’s largest privately owned clothing retailer with more than 2,500 outlets. They own seven of the high street’s best-known fashion brands as well as the shopping concept Outfit, each with its own distinctive identity and market segment: Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis.

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Research Papers
23rd May 2009

Dual System Apprenticeships in Germany

Yan Liu
Research Officer

Introduction

An apprenticeship in dual vocational education has been an important backbone of the educational system in Germany (shown in Figure 1)[1]. It is composed of on-the-job training with an employer and theoretical education in vocational training schools.

German Education System

Figure 1: German education system

The “dual" character of the training system emerged when the vocational part time schools replaced the continuation schools to accompany apprenticeships and to give young people education “through the vocation". The Federal State Education Acts set up the legal framework which keeps young people undertaking an apprenticeship within the educational system after leaving school at the age of 16 (from the lower secondary school) or 17(from the intermediate secondary school)[2]. The 2005 Vocational Training Act is not only the central legislative instrument for in-company initial training in Germany, but also is essentially a specified labour law. The Acts demands that apprentices must not be merely employed but have to be trained via a course of planned in-company training over a specified period of time. Currently German school leavers can pick up training opportunities in 350 recognised skilled occupations based on training regulations that include the general guidelines for the respective occupation, the order of training contents, the length of apprenticeship as well as the examination requirements at the end of the training period[3]. An apprenticeship is also a very important step for further study in technical universities (such as food technology) or even mandatory for those who wish to apply for marine engineering.

The Federal Government Measures

The Federal Government have made a number of compensating measures to the apprenticeship system as follows:

  • The training policy- such as the introduction of the concept of “training place developers" who help companies with administrative work associated with the provision and delivery of apprenticeship training.
  • Established and improved co-operation between vocational schools and companies.
  • “STARegio" scheme (regional joint training provision) to encourage and guide non-training companies in the process of training. It includes administrative options to externally manage an apprenticeship, the set-up of new joint training partnerships between different companies as well as the establishment and support of regional training networks[4].
  • Introduced the “Act to Secure Provision of Training Places" and announced a training levy for companies with more than ten employees and with a training quota of less than 7 per cent. According to the Act they would have to pay a levy to be redistributed to companies engaged in training or used for the encouragement of non-training companies to enter the Dual System.

In order to prevent the government from implementing the training levy employers agreed on a “National Training Pact for Skills and Training" in which they promised to provide 30,000 additional apprenticeship places per annum for the next three years. At the same time, the government assented to increase the number of training places in the federal administration by 20 per cent and to exert pressure on self-employing institutions within its responsibility to follow suit.

The Chambers of Industry and Commerce in Germany

All the companies registered in Germany, with the exception of handicraft business, the free professions and farms, are required by law to join a chamber. The state has assigned to the chambers certain tasks which would be its own responsibility if those chambers did not exist. As a result, the Chambers issue certificates of origin, set vocational training examinations or, a recent innovation, maintain a register of companies who meet specific environmental standards. They place experts under oath, provide advisory opinions for government departments, and are involved in the appointment of arbitrators and the registration of companies[5].

One of the most important tasks of the Chambers is advising companies that train people on all problems connected with training. Such as the structure of the training, the use of training aids, educational, psychological and legal questions. At the same time the Chambers also give advice to trainees. Any employer wishing to engage trainees must fulfil certain conditions regarding their suitability for this task. The company must be able to offer facilities, production programmes or services to train people.

In addition, the training employer and any training officers must have a specific license called Ausbildung der Ausbilder to employ or to educate apprentices. This license is the only award for masters who have been working several years in his/her profession of field and also have been accepted by the Chambers of Industry and Commerce as a trainer or examiner[6]. The Chambers will ascertain before the start of the training and also will check during the training whether these qualifications are present.

Each trainee must take an interim examination in the course of the training. The examination serves to ascertain the level the trainee has reached. The Chambers establish a boards of examiners to hold these examinations. Every trainee has to take a final examination at the end of the period of training in order to show that they have acquired the necessary professional qualifications. The Chambers will establish boards of examiners consisting of at least three members, employers and employees‘ representatives in equal numbers and at least one vocational school teacher, to hold these examinations. Rules to be observed in connection with final examinations are issued by the Vocational Training Committee of the Chamber, consisting of employers and employees‘ representatives in equal numbers and vocational school teachers as consultant members. These rules make provision for the conditions of admission, the form of the examination, the criteria for marking, the issue of examination certificates and the possibility of repeating the examination. The abilities to be examined are laid down in the training regulations. The practical examination will call for samples of work or test workpieces. The theoretical test is conducted as a written or oral examination. After passing the final examination, the trainee will receive an examination certificate.This certificate is not an authorisation, but only one of the conditions for admission if apprentices want to take the Masters‘ examination and many other further training examinations.

The Chambers hold examinations for persons who have been retrained for a different occupation, setting up the required boards of examiners. Where these examinations are not held for recognised training occupations, the Vocational Training Committees issue the necessary regulations concerning subject matter, purpose, standards, procedures and conditions of admission.

[1] Federal Ministry of Education and Research “Germany’s Vocational Education at a glance" http://www.bmbf.de/pub/germanys_vocational_education_at_a_glance.pdf

[2] Thomas Dissinger (2007) “Making schools practical - Practice firms and their function in the full-time vocational school system in Germany". Journal of Education and Training, Vol.49 No.5, 2007 pp.364-379

[3] Thomas Dissinger (2007) “Making schools practical - Practice firms and their function in the full-time vocational school system in Germany". Journal of Education and Training, Vol.49 No.5, 2007 pp.364-379

[4] Federal Ministry of Education and Research “Report on Vocational Education and Training for the Year 2005" http://www.bmbf.de/pub/bbb_2005__eng.pdf

[5]5 http://www.dihk.de/english/

[6] Vocational Training in Germany – The Dual System

http://www.rhein-neckar.ihk24.de/servicemarken/English/Tasks/voctrain.jsp

Appendix 5

Correspondence

Correspondence from the Minister
- 24 October 2008

Correspondence from the Minister
Correspondence from the Minister

Correspondence to the Minister requesting Committee briefing
- 5 November 2008

Sir Reg Empey MLA
Minister for Employment and Learning
Adelaide House
39/49 Adelaide Street
Belfast
BT2 8FD

5th November 2008

Dear Minister,

Re: Loss of Apprenticeships

Thank you for your letter of 24th October, with regard to contingency arrangements you will consider putting in place for apprentice redundancies. This is an issue which has been raised with a number of Members of the Committee by constituents. With the current economic downturn predicted to worsen as we enter recession, the Committee has sought to reach out to stakeholder groups to ask about their experience of the impact on apprentices.

At its meeting today the Committee had a briefing from the Construction Industry Group (CIG). The CIG representatives shared with the Committee that the situation for apprentices in the construction industry is likely to become much worse, with employers often making the decision to let apprentices go when trading conditions are particularly difficult. The CIG indicated that they are aware of your contingency proposals with regard to apprentice redundancies and suggested that they may not go far enough in what could become over the next few months a critical situation for the continuation of many apprenticeships.

The Committee would like to draw out the detail of your contingency proposals and there are a number of questions Members would like to ask officials. To this end, the committee agreed that I should write to you to request that officials come to brief the Committee on this issue, preferably at the Committee’s next meeting on Wednesday 12th November. I understand that this is short notice, but the Committee feels this is an extremely important issue and would greatly appreciate your co-operation.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Ramsey Signature

Sue Ramsey MLA
Chairperson

Correspondence from the Minister approving Committee briefing
- 10 November 2009

Correspondence from the Minister

Correspondence with Mary Coughlan TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan TD
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Private Office
23 Kildare Street
Dublin 2
Republic of Ireland

22nd January 2009

Dear Minister,

RE: Employment-Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Initiative

At its meeting on 14th January 2009, the Committee for Employment and Learning agreed that I should write to you about the above scheme. The Committee understands that the scheme is to be run by Fas and will include apprentice carpenters, joiners, plumbers, electricians, plasterers and bricklayers.

The Committee has a great interest in the scheme and how it operates and would be grateful if you could forward us some detailed information on it. As you know, the current economic downturn has badly hit the construction and allied industries on both parts of the island; not least the apprentices who have been made redundant. Sir Reg Empey, the Minister for Employment and Learning here, has put in place a number of contingencies for redundant apprentices, such as ‘foster’ employers and a range of college-based options. The Committee is very supportive of his efforts; however, on such a serious issue as this it would be remiss of us not to explore the other solutions that are being applied elsewhere. The Committee is particularly interested in options that will allow apprentices to remain in work, at least for a period that will allow for the completion of their training and any necessary work-based assessments.

I look forward to your response and I am copying this letter to Sir Reg for his information.

Yours sincerely

Sue Ramsey Signature

Sue Ramsey MLA
Chairperson

cc Sir Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning

Letter
Briefing Note
Briefing note
Briefing note

Apprentice Information

Correspondence regarding the
“fostering" of apprentices

Sir Reg Empey MLA
Minister for Employment and Learning
Department for Employment and Learning
Adelaide House
39 - 49 Adelaide Street
Belfast
BT2 8FD

19th March 2009

Dear Reg,

Re: ‘Foster’ employers for redundant apprentices

As you are aware, the Committee has taken considerable interest in the above contingency measure designed to help redundant apprentices during the recession. The Committee is extremely supportive of any measures which help redundant apprentices at this difficult time; however, while taking evidence for the Committee’s Inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships it has been suggested that the fostering scheme has not met with the level of success that we might all have hoped for.

The Committee has agreed that I should write to you to ascertain which companies have been approached to foster redundant apprentices, which have agreed to do so and which have not and how many apprentices have been fostered by particular companies. As you will understand, the Committee is keen to get a clear idea of the success or otherwise of this measure and draw to a close any speculation as to which companies may or may not have agreed to participate.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Ramsey Signature

Sue Ramsey MLA

Chairperson

Letter from the Minister
Letter from the Minister
Appendix 6

Additional Papers

Ministerial Statement to the Assembly by
Sir Reg Empey MLA – 11 November 2008

Contingency arrangements in the event of possible apprenticeship reduncancies

We are all now well aware of the current economic conditions that are affecting each and every one of us in so many different ways. We are all having to make adjustments to how we lead our lives and manage our financial affairs.

It is at times like these that businesses will naturally look to reduce their running costs in order to offset loss in revenue. Usually it is the apparent easy options that are targeted but often these are options, that while perhaps effective and a quick fix in the short term, are not beneficial in the longer term.

Training is one of the easy targets and while cutting this perceived luxury will save money and release staff time for the production line, it can only end up halting the development and improvement of skills that would otherwise improve performance and competitiveness – and at the end of the day that’s why we train staff, to create a better business.

So, a short term fix for cost savings perhaps, but longer term it threatens future growth and when the upturn comes – and it will – those that have not kept up the training investment will be stuck at the starting gate while their competitors, that didn’t take the quick fix, are well ahead, grabbing the opportunities that will be there for the taking.

We need to ensure continuous professional and technical training, so that employers are in a better position to strike when the iron becomes hot again.

However, I’m not so naïve as to think that resisting simple cost cutting exercises will sort all of the current problems. And I can perfectly understand the hesitancy of employers in committing to resources when the future can appear so uncertain.

Unfortunately we are having to witness people losing their jobs as the downturn tightens its grip and this is very evident in the construction sector. While there have been a number of company closures, it is clear that there are also attempts to control costs through staff lay-offs. Sadly, one aspect of this is that apprentices can often be the first to go. They are an easy target.

For a long time, apprenticeships have been recognised as a respected pathway to good training, to a good career, and to good prospects for many people. They have ensured the continuity of the skills needed by our industries, in order to compete and grow within a vibrant and dynamic economy. It is this route to skills development for the future that we can not and dare not lose.

Therefore, today I would like to announce a number of interventions that my Department will put in place to help support, in the first place, those sectors most hard hit at this stage, construction, engineering, motor vehicle and to protect the ethos and value of apprenticeships and to try and preserve the skills pool for the future.

These interventions are, I believe, a measured response, tailored to suit the point in the economic cycle that we have reached. They can be quickly reviewed and built upon if the situation changes significantly.

As a first step, the Department is engaging with the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and other relevant employer bodies, to encourage alternative employers to take on any apprentices who have been made redundant. This will include employers who already have a strong tradition of investing in apprentices, as well as employers who perhaps have not yet engaged with the provision. To support this commitment the Department will contribute a small amount of conditional funding towards the additional wage costs.

This is an opportunity for employers to stand up and be counted in this time of need. It is an opportunity for leading employers to demonstrate why they are leaders. And it is an opportunity for smaller employers to put their heads above the parapet and show both competitors and customers alike what sets them apart.

I am delighted to report that we have already received indications from a number of our major companies that they will be prepared to foster additional apprentices. I know that this is asking a lot of employers, I know that this is a difficult sell, and I know that it will demand certain sacrifices.

But I am already encouraged by the burgeoning sense of partnership, as it demonstrates a clear acceptance of the fact that, whatever affects Northern Ireland as a whole, affects us all on an individual level. I am convinced that the co-operative spirit that has already been demonstrated, and the willingness of industry representatives to try and provide a safety net for apprentices, will go some way to resolving the current difficulties.

For those apprentices who have been made redundant, but are unable to find an alternative employer, the Department is putting in place provisions to permit them to continue training, and work towards the completion of their Apprenticeship Framework.

For those apprentices aged 18 and over within the construction, engineering and motor vehicle sectors, the Department will use the Steps to Work employment initiative to offer Level 2 or Level 3 placements with employers of up to 52 weeks. This will allow these apprentices to continue their NVQ training and assessment under this programme, whilst separate arrangements will be put in place with FE colleges to offer Technical Certificate and Essential Skills training -free of charge - through either evening or weekend classes.

Whilst on Steps to Work, apprentices will be entitled to a benefit-based training allowance and may also qualify for other benefits.

For those apprentices who are aged 16 and 17 and again have been made redundant, the Pre-Apprenticeship component of Training for Success will allow them to return to training, and complete the Technical Certificate and Essential Skills elements of an Apprenticeship Framework. It is anticipated that this training period, and the skills and knowledge that will be developed during it, will make these participants much more employable, thereby allowing them to complete the NVQ qualification once back in employment.

I do recognise that the success of these interventions depends on employer placements and that this seems counter to the cause of the problem we are trying to address.

However, I am appealing to employers to help with these initiatives so that we collectively work together for the solution. A basic tenet of apprenticeships is that apprentices must be in employment to complete their framework and demonstrate competence in the workplace. No full time training option can deliver that.

These options are also relatively low additional cost, in the range of £250,000 for every 100 apprentices either in the fostered employment, or in Steps to Work. The Pre-Apprenticeship intervention would be cost neutral as part of the normal Training for Success provision.

I therefore believe these costs to be reasonable and these interventions appropriately measured at this point in time. We will continue to monitor the economic conditions for change. Should these interventions seem no longer appropriate then I will ask my officials to explore further interventions. I also strongly believe that there is no substitute for real work experience when in training and that should always be a prime consideration in arriving at any solution.

My Department remains committed to the provision of apprenticeship training. We remain committed to the already substantial financial investment that we have put into apprenticeship training. And we will remain committed to ensuring that, despite our current predicament, we can find a resolution and ensure the continuous provision of high quality, skills training.

I call upon all members of this House to work with me and my Department to promote these interventions so that we can make them work.

11 November 2008

Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI)
- 27 February 2009



Apprenticeships NI - Some Examples of Good Practice

Follow-up information from
Northern Ireland Electricity – 9 March 2009

Robin Newton, Deputy Chairperson, asked if DEL had approached NIE in relation to “fostering" of apprentices

Northern Ireland Electricity plc was made aware of DEL’s apprentice ‘fostering’ programme from an ApprenticeshipsNI Memo (DEL ref 08/2008 - dated 27 November 2008). This memo, issued as a general circular, was sent to Pauline McQuillan NIE’s Apprentice and Training Co-ordinator. It addressed “All Suppliers of ApprenticeshipsNI" and is titled

“Contingency Arrangements for Apprentices who have been made redundant – Construction, Motor Vehicle and Engineering".

The memo details DEL’s short term contingency arrangements to help apprentices, made redundant due solely to the economic downturn, continue training with a Training Supplier and for another ‘foster’ Employer to be found with whom the apprentice will continue his/her apprenticeship. The scheme applies solely to the occupational areas listed above and sets out further guidelines on the administrative arrangements for all parties.

NIE understands the principle of the Department’s apprentice fostering scheme, however, due to the specialist nature of its ‘Employer led’ programme and the skills, training provision, tailored NVQ’s and BTEC National Certificate required within the Electricity Supply Industry, it is unlikely that apprentices who have been made redundant from other sectors will have the relevant experience, training and transferable skills necessary to enter our apprentice programme, beyond commencement.


NIA ImageApprenticeships NI Memo
Claiming Subsidy Letter
Claiming Subsidy Letter
Table for training suppliers
Template letter from Training Supplier
Template letter from Training Supplier

Quarry Products Association
Northern Ireland Report

Report to the Employment and Learning Committee on the Development of the National Diploma in Civil Engineering with Extractives Specialism at South West College

Date 27th March 2007

1.0 Introduction:

Founded in Northern Ireland in 1998 the Quarry Products Association NI now represent over 95% of the quarry products industry. Our membership includes major, medium and smaller sized companies directly employing around 4000 people with an annual turnover of over ¾ billion pounds. The Association represents companies engaged in the supply of primary aggregates; the processing of recycled and secondary materials; the production of down stream processed products such as asphalt, lime, mortar, ready-mixed concrete and precast and road surfacing contracting.

The Quarry Products sector is a key essential industry that contributes significantly to the quality of life of every man woman and child in Northern Ireland. The quarry, concrete and asphalt manufacturing industries are some of the oldest industries we have in Northern Ireland. History and current surveys show that when people come into the industry they stay in it. In normal times our industry provides stable and long term employment. A QPANI survey in 2007 showed that 60% of the industry’s workforce was over 40. This was the catalyst for us working with and developing close links with all of our further education colleges, schools and education departments". The course, which was launched by the Minister for the Department of Employment and Learning, Sir Reg Empey, provides a ‘gateway’ for 16-22 year olds to enter the Quarry Products Industry. Gordon Best, Regional Director of QPANI, said “We are delighted and proud to be partnering South West College and Proskills in implementing this innovative Diploma Course.

2.0 Project Inception:

Over the years the quarrying industry has never actually been seriously considered as one of the key starting points for all aspects of the construction industry. Many people in society have yet to realise that everything they do, from getting up in the morning to driving to work, is so dependent on the quarrying/extractive industry that if natural stone was not available it would be very difficult to live the life of luxury to which we have become accustomed.

Everything from toothpaste to the aggregates that make up the flexible pavements on our roads is made up from raw materials that come from quarries. However, this is not appreciated by the general public. The labour and overall costs with regards to extracting natural stone for the purposes of manufacturing sellable by-products is not taken into consideration.

For the people directly involved in quarrying, these things are not so easily disregarded, as they must continue to provide a sustainable supply of raw materials at competitive prices in order to fulfil the increasing demand for the same, particularly in Northern Ireland. With the increasing legislative challenges that the quarrying industry is continually facing, the skills of specialist people are required in order to maintain and grow their business. Such skills include training in Health & Safety, Quarry Management, Cost-Benefit Analysis/Commercial Awareness, Project Management, the list goes on.

South West College, in partnership with Proskills, has been involved in addressing the skills shortages within the Quarrying Industry since 2003. It has been suggested, particularly by the Quarry Products Association NI (QPANI) , that not enough people are coming into the industry in order to maintain the demand for natural stone in Northern Ireland. The QPANI have concerns that this will soon become a concern for all its members (Quarry Products Companies) throughout Northern Ireland, and they have asked the colleges to become more proactive in determining the relevant skills shortages. As a consequence, South West College (and indeed other NI Regional Colleges) has availed of the opportunity to complete the LSDA supported Lecturers into Industry Placement to address the key issues with regards to skills in the Extractive Industry in Northern Ireland. Successful negotiations between Proskills and the LSDA led to the opportunity being opened up to the Extractives Industry. Planning initially between Proskills and South West College explored the feasibility and practicality of Lecturers into the Extractives Industry. Outcomes were planned and QPANI enthusiastically arranged placements from its membership.

3.0 Placement Partners:

Northstone (NI) Ltd.

Cemex Ltd.

P Clarke & Sons Ltd.

Whitemountain Quarries Ltd.

John McQuillan Contracts Ltd.

Kilwaughter Chemical Company Ltd.

4.0 Project: Assessing the Skills Shortages in the Extractive/Quarrying Industries.

4.1 Aims:

  • Add value to the Industry by giving advice and information on issues that may impact on their operations (for example, training in specialist skills such as Environmental Management and Sustainability).
  • Raise the profile of the industry by promoting its role in providing the essential materials for the economic well-being of NI (for example, implementing processes from the extractive industry into specialist units within the National Qualification Framework).
  • The acquisition of new skills and knowledge which can be incorporated into curriculum management, delivery & support.
  • Exposure to cutting edge management, working practices and technologies.
  • Acquisition of additional and improved teaching & learning resources.
  • Enhancement of personal esteem.

4.2 Rationale:

A meeting was held with Northstone Ltd and Cemex Ltd on August 16th 2007 where initial discussions were held in order to determine the best approach towards the LII Placement. Both Companies identified that there are significant issues that could be raised from Directorial to Operative level, especially with regards to issues such as Health & Safety, Commercial Awareness of new graduates and Environmental issues. There were also discussions about the lack of appreciation that the public have towards the industry and are keen to have the FE Sector raise the profile of the same.

Further discussions were carried out with Whitemountain Quarries Ltd in order to include a wholly private company as part of the placement. It was agreed that a reasonable comparison between PLC and private businesses should be considered in order to determine likely variances in business management.

Other smaller family businesses were also interested in becoming involved in having the FE College consider their skills gaps, Clarke Ltd of Lisnaskea and John McQuillan Ltd provided 7-day placement opportunities to facilitate a representative sample of the NI Quarrying Industry.

All Companies were keen to allocate personnel at different levels of responsibility towards assisting me in obtaining as much evidence and information as required to make a sound judgement on the key issues with regards to training shortfalls within the industry.

Communication was also made with Kilwaughter Chemical Company Ltd, a producer of white limestone based rendering for the construction industry. Initial discussions with the company indicate that there are obvious skills gaps/needs that should be addressed and they welcomed the fact that the local FE Sector would be in a position to determine the same via an LII placement.

4.3 Strategic Approach:

Placement within the above six companies were important as it provided myself (the lecturer) with an opportunity to:

  • Gain experience of the type of environment within which the industry functions.
  • Develop an appreciation of how the day to day activities within the extractive industry is managed at all levels.
  • Exposure to the Legislative Issues that affects the industry that may not be appreciated at an academic level.
  • Determine areas where there are skills shortages and training needs.

Exposure to the Extractive industry, and the subsequent manufacturing processes, is the best means of being able to make a sound judgement on all of the above issues. It provided an opportunity to share knowledge and experience, and furthermore provide a basis for addressing the aims of the project as a whole.

4.4 Stakeholder Benefits:

1. Partner Companies:

Each company will be in a position to become proactive in addressing the underlying issues such as training needs and more specific skills shortages.

They will also be in a position to share knowledge with the FE Sector and determine a structured approach towards achieving the objectives outlined in the main aims of the LII Project.

Each company will have an opportunity to establish student work placements and secure appropriately trained potential employees.

The industry will gain a more enriched insight into the lecturer’s role and the challenges that face current students.

2. Southwest College:

The college will be in the position to acquire first hand experience within the extractive industry by working in partnership with the companies under LII, and furthermore ultimately provide the industry with training and expertise by developing curriculum in the areas identified during the 12-week placement.

The benefits to the college will be to attract Government funding for the provision of training, enhance the skills of the lecturing staff involved, gain exposure to cutting edge management and become aware of (and remain up to date with) the relevant Environmental, Health & Safety and all other legislation that affects the industry as a whole.

An additional important benefit is that of expanded and strengthened industrial links in order to remain abreast of developments/changes within the industry in terms of new legislation and technologies.

3. Students:

As a consequence of the curriculum development, the learner will be in a position to attend accredited courses & training activities that will prepare them for a successful career within the quarrying/extractive industry.

The learner will become aware of the exciting opportunities available in the extractive & minerals processing industry. From this awareness, the learner will have the opportunity to seriously consider a career in the same and further seek promotion into managerial positions in an interesting and diverse industry.

Furthermore, it will enhance the efficiency of the existing workforce and provide companies with personnel that will be a sound investment towards the continuing success and future development of their core business.

5.0 Conclusions:

After spending 12 weeks with all of the Project Partner Companies the lecturer gained a significant insight into the extractive industry as a whole. The lecturer was surprised at the level of skill required to run the day to day business along with the management systems that are in place to ensure that the business continued to grow at a sustainable rate. However, he did appreciate that the industry has historically been seen as unattractive and this is due to the lack of knowledge about the true nature of the business. Local colleges should look towards adapting their course content to include the extractive industry in order to initially raise its profile and further address the problems with regards to recruitment difficulties.

At the end of the placement the lecturer completed a comprehensive report and further considered his findings on an individual basis. He determined all skills shortages within the industry (some specific to certain companies) and was able to make the initial recommendations as follows:

  • The Profile of the Quarrying Industry and it subsidiary businesses should be raised in terms of awareness of importance in everyday life. This should be carried out via the implementation of additional modules/units within current Qualification Programmes and the development of direct company sponsorship for potential candidates. Relevant course material should include minerals extraction/processing and environmental management within the extractive industry.
  • Quarry Managers have historically been brought up through the industry from a young age and have developed their skills through experience. Nowadays, this can no longer be the case as the advent of modern systems for management, operations and maintenance has led to the need for quarry managers to be from a more technical background. This is already apparent in some of the companies I visited where the younger managers were from a Civil/Mechanical Engineering background, which helped them perform better with regards to their jobs.
  • Site Engineers involved in the road building sector of the industry are not appropriately skilled in certain areas such as commercial awareness, contractual awareness, contract documentation, highway specifications, Chapter 8 Highway Traffic Management, personnel management and supervision skills. Course material should be developed to promote the importance of such credentials, which makes it easier for the employer to have confidence in their project management capabilities.
  • Plant/Maintenance Managers: With the rising cost of fuel and labour, it has become increasingly important to determine the performance of plant and machinery in all aspects of the construction industry as there will come a time when a capital asset no longer is cost-effective due to high maintenance costs. This is the same for the quarrying industry and I have found that a significant amount of emphasis has been placed on determining other means of production whilst conserving energy costs and ensuring that maintenance costs are also kept to a minimum. Again, this requires specialist engineering skills and a knowledge of new & existing plant production rates, demand for stone with regards to the local market and the application of computerised systems in order to monitor and control performance.

Within some of the companies that the lecturer had visited there were some people already in positions with regards to the development of new plant, organising maintenance etc. There is an increasing demand for such skills to be provided from the FE Sector and the same should also be addressed at a local college level.

  • Laboratory Technicians: Shortages of such personnel was found to be an ongoing issue in some areas as it is a specialist skill that requires specific training in the testing and interpretation of data. One other aspect of carrying out the duties of a laboratory technician is to understand the product performance, maintain quality control in all products and support the employer in situations where material strength/performance becomes the subject of dispute between the company and the client. Courses in Concrete Technology and Asphalt Technology have been suggested by companies.
  • Quarry Fitters: Depending on the company, there are two approaches towards having maintenance carried out. Firstly, there’s the means by which an external sub-contractor is awarded the maintenance contract for all plant and machinery. Secondly, there are existing fitters who have been with the company for many years. With the sub-contracting approach the work is charged on an hourly rate and this arrangement to suit some of the companies; however others were concerned that the cost of the same would be somewhat higher. This is an issue that is currently being considered by CEMEX, where the possibility of saving significant expense could be shown when directly employing a fitter(s). The other concern is that fitters are not trained in areas specific to the quarrying industry, which is something that will require addressing as a matter or urgency.

At this stage, it would be worthwhile to consider offering training for quarry fitters at FE level and the financial support of local industry (and Government) would also be welcome in order to attract people to the profession.

In conclusion, the lecturer found the placement to be invaluable in terms of exposure to the nature of the industry from a technical and commercial perspective. It was clear that there is a multitude of opportunities for young people within the industry and that, with the right training, the number of people entering quarrying could significantly increase in the coming years.

By visiting the quarries, and having lengthy discussions with management, the lecturer became familiar with the detailed processes of batching and mixing of asphalt and concrete. With this knowledge the lecturer further developed his own teaching on construction materials and the relevant testing procedures to ensure Quality Assurance. He also gained experience of how the basic geology of a site is important when determining stone yield, whilst remaining mindful of all the environmental issues surrounding the operation of a quarry.

The lecturer clearly addressed all of the objectives set out in the initial project proposals and remains positive towards developing curriculum that would be beneficial to the extractive Industry as a whole.

6.0 South West College Implementation Plan:

At the inception stage of this project the lecturer had previously knew very little about the extractive industry and subsequently failed to realise its importance to society, despite the fact that he practiced as a civil engineer for over 7 years. As the current Lecturers into Industry Placement developed he became more and more aware of the diversity of skills required, and quickly realised that his contribution would merely be the beginning of a long journey towards supporting the most important natural resource industry in Northern Ireland.

Although all objectives were fulfilled in terms of what the project outcomes were to be, the lecturer was mindful of the fact that skills shortages ranged from operative to senior management level. As a consequence, he considered the technical requirements from junior technician level towards senior management as the main basis of the study. The following is a breakdown of the National Qualification subsequently offered by South West College at Dungannon:

1. BTEC National Award in Construction (with Meeting Local Need Specialisms):

  • Mathematics
  • Construction Technology & Design
  • Science & Materials
  • Highways Construction & Maintenance
  • Health, Safety & Welfare
  • Structural Mechanics

2. EMP Level 3 Diploma in Extractives & Minerals Processing Industries:

  • Concrete Technology.
  • Principles of Mineral Formation, Extraction and Processing in the Extractives and Mineral Processing industries.
  • Principles of Managing Health & Safety in the Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry.
  • Highway Site Management for the Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry.
  • Business Management Practices for the Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry.
  • Manufacture & Testing of Bituminous materials in the Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry.
  • Application of Engineering Principles in the Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry.

3. Additional BTEC Units for entry to HE (Honours Degree) Course in Civil Engineering/Construction:

  • Further Mathematics.
  • Environmental Science.
  • ICT & CAD.

The above courses are currently running on Dungannon campus with a first year intake of 12 students (full-time).

South West College are also in the initial stages of developing a Foundation Degree (FD.Sc) in Civil & Infrastructure Engineering in conjunction with University of Ulster. The benefits of this course are as follows:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study for Level4/5 qualifications related to the industry at a local level.
  • To provide local industry with a stand alone technician level qualification that addresses their skills needs.
  • To provide students with an articulation route to an Honours Degree by studying locally on a part-time basis.

7.0 QPA Perspective.

This diploma course provides an excellent opportunity for young people to enter an exciting industry. QPANI are placing great importance on the course and hope that over the next number of years to roll it out around other Further Education Colleges in Northern Ireland. Despite the serious challenges we are facing at present resulting in the loss in 2008 of 25% of our workforce, our Association and Industry are looking to and planning for the future." The communication, the partnership approach and the “can do will do" attitude by all involved in putting the Diploma Course together in the space of some 6 months is a best practice template for others to follow.

8.0 Proskills Perspective.

  • Skills gaps were identified in the NI Extractives and Mineral Processing Industry during the research part of the Sector Skills Agreement carried out during 2006/2007.
  • There was also a challenge with recruitment of School Leavers due to age restrictions.
  • The development of this course was timely, as in, once the placement had finished the course development, awarding body approval, industry approval and placement onto the QCF only took a matter of months. There were some politics involved but were kept from interfering with course development.
  • Recruitment onto the course was also a matter of concern especially relating to sponsorship, wages, employment, benefits, education maintenance allowances etc.
  • Employers were very co operative as the rationale was fully explained by QPANI.
  • The course development model has been praised and is to be replicated in other sectors.
  • This is an example of how the different roles of SW College, QPANI and Proskills came together to ensure a successful outcome
  • The Lecturer was critical to the success of the whole project. The relationship between QPANI and Industry was also beneficial. The openness and co operation of the placement companies was also crucial.

9.0 Future Plans

QPANI, Proskills and South West College will continue to work closely together to develop the course, look at linking the course to level 3 apprenticeships and develop the foundation degree in Civil Engineering with extractives specialism as a follow on from the course. The industry want to see the diploma course rolled out around at least two other regional Colleges.

Gordon Best, Regional Director QPANI

Donal Ryan, Lecturer South West College

Paul Coffey, Regional Director, Proskills Northern Ireland

Education and Training Inspectorate

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A Summary Report of an Evaluation of Provision for and Quality of the ApprenticeshipsNI Programme

Inspected: November 2008-January 2009

1. THE SURVEY

1.1 The Inspectorate evaluated the effectiveness of the ApprenticeshipsNI training provision in meeting the needs of apprentices, employers and the community, and in supporting social cohesion and economic development across Northern Ireland. The survey focused, in particular, on:

  • the quality of the apprenticeship training provision across ten professional and technical areas, and across a range of supplier organisations;
  • the standards achieved by apprentices, and the effectiveness of the ApprenticeshipsNI provision in meeting the needs of the community and industry;
  • the quality of the leadership and management of the training suppliers in raising achievement and supporting apprentices and employers;
  • the appropriateness of the ApprenticeshipsNI provision in the light of labour market information and national targets provided by Sector Skills Councils and other relevant agencies;
  • the quality of the care, support and guidance, including opportunities for continuing professional development, experienced by apprentices during their programme.

1.2 During the survey, inspectors visited 19 training supplier organisations, which included four area based colleges and 15 private or voluntary supplier organisations across Northern Ireland. The survey also incorporated inspection visits and findings from three focused inspections that took place during this period. The provision for just over 2,950 apprentices was surveyed, which accounts for approximately 45% of the total number of the apprentices registered in November 2008. Twenty-six apprenticeships were surveyed, covering the professional and technical areas of building and construction, child development and well-being, electrical and electronic engineering, health and social care, hospitality and catering, mechanical and manufacturing engineering, retailing and wholesaling, service enterprises (hairdressing and beauty), transportation and maintenance operations (motor vehicle), and warehousing and distribution.

1.3 Apprentices were observed in 100 directed training sessions, and 270 were observed in the workplace. Samples of the apprentices work were inspected. Discussions were held with apprentices, training staff, training managers, and the apprentices’ employers. Just over 60 employers were visited.

1.4 Prior to the inspection, a representative sample of 246 apprentices, across the provision surveyed, completed a pastoral care questionnaire, which afforded them the opportunity to comment on the arrangements for pastoral care provided for them, and on the quality of their learning experiences.

1.5 Discussions were also held with representatives from three Workforce Development Fora, 12 Sector Skills Councils, and the Department for Employment and Learning. In addition, two members of the inspection team visited the Department for Innovation, University and Skills, a further education college and the Learning Skills Council, in England, to compare and benchmark practice.

2. SUMMARY OF MAIN FINDINGS

CONCLUSION

2.1 In the ApprenticeshipsNI provision, the quality of the training provided by the supplier organisations is mostly good or better. There are important strengths in and across most of the provision. The survey has identified key areas for development, which most supplier organisations demonstrate the capacity to address.

MAIN FINDINGS

2.2 The introduction of ApprenticeshipsNI, in September 2007, has led to a significant increase (almost two-fold) in the recruitment of apprentices, mostly at level 2, including a significant increase (three-fold) in the number of 16/17 year olds recruited.

2.3 Almost all of the ApprenticeshipsNI registrations during the period September 2007 to January 2009 follow traditional recruitment patterns in ten professional and technical areas, including the priority skill areas of construction, electrical/electronic and mechanical engineering and hospitality and catering. In the remaining areas, recruitment is low, including the priority skill areas of computing and Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and software engineering.

2.4 There is significant variation in the age profile of the apprentices, recruited during the period September 2008 to January 2009 across the professional and technical areas surveyed. Almost all of the apprentices in building and construction, engineering, motor vehicle and in hairdressing and beauty are under 24 years old on entry to their apprenticeship programme compared to the other professional and technical areas where the majority are over 25.

2.5 The majority of the apprentices hold less than five GCSEs at A* to C, or equivalent, on entry to their apprenticeship programme. A significant minority do not have a level 2 qualification in literacy and/or numeracy on entry.

2.6 The current economic climate has reduced significantly the opportunities for apprentices to continue their training, particularly within the construction, engineering and motor vehicle industries, which the Department has begun to address and provide appropriate contingency for through its other training and employment programmes for these areas.

2.7 In most of the supplier organisations, the quality of the leadership and management is good or better.

2.8 A minority of the supplier organisations, mostly the area based colleges, in collaboration with the Sector Skills Councils and/or Workforce Development Fora, have responded well to the particular training needs of employers, through the provision of customised apprenticeships that meet effectively their requirements both locally and regionally.

2.9 The marketing and promotion of ApprenticeshipsNI by the Department, the Sector Skills Councils and supplier organisations has been effective in improving the uptake of apprenticeships across Northern Ireland. The supplier organisations report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to promote and market apprenticeship programmes within post-primary schools.

2.10 There is inadequate strategic collaboration and planning between most ApprenticeshipsNI level 2 and level 3 suppliers and the respective employers involved, to ensure effective progression from level 2 to level 3 apprenticeships in the same professional and technical area.

2.11 The collation, analysis, and effective use of performance data to set targets for improvement is under-developed by most of the supplier organisations, and is not supported well by the Department’s management information system.

2.12 The standards of work achieved by most of the apprentices are good to excellent. In a small number of the supplier organisations, however, the apprentices achieve inadequate standards of work, particularly at level 3.

2.13 The retention rates across the apprenticeship programmes surveyed, for the period September 2007 to September 2008, range from excellent to poor. They are good or better for the majority of the programmes surveyed.

2.14 The quality of the training and learning provided for the apprentices in most of the supplier organisations surveyed is good or better; it is very good to excellent in just under half. In the remainder it is satisfactory to inadequate; a small number of the organisations do not provide sufficient time for good quality directed training;

2.15 The quality of the planning for the development of the apprentices’ literacy and numeracy skills is variable across the supplier organisations surveyed. The majority do not plan well for the development, integration and consolidation of apprentices’ literacy and numeracy skills within their professional and technical programmes.

2.16 Most of the supplier organisations make limited use of information and learning technologies (ILT) to support the apprentices’ independent learning through virtual learning environments (VLEs) and on-line resources.

2.17 The apprentices are well-cared for and supported, and nearly all enjoy their apprenticeship programme and feel safe and secure. The quality of the careers education, information, advice and guidance provided for the apprentices on progression pathways to higher level training and education programmes is variable.


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Education and Training Inspectorate Main Findings
Education and Training Inspectorate - Overall Quality Provision
Education and Training Inspectorate - Age Profile of Apprentices
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