Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 23 April 2008

Training for Success

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

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

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome Catherine Bell and Nuala Kerr to the Committee. Training for Success is one of the main substantive issues on today’s agenda. For the record, today’s departmental update on the early stages of the roll-out of the programme will be the last before the Committee produces its report. The meeting is being recorded by Hansard so that any comments can be incorporated in the report, the publication and timing of which will probably relate to the Department for Employment and Learning’s ( DEL) consultation. I will hand over to Catharine and Nuala to make their presentation, after which Members can comment or ask questions.

Mrs Catherine Bell (Department for Employment and Learning):
Nuala will start, and I will then take over.

Ms Nuala Kerr (Department for Employment and Learning):
Good morning, Chairperson. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to give the Committee more information. The Department has submitted to the Committee a paper that sets out some of the information that you requested on the uptake of Training for Success. We have also taken the opportunity to present our proposals for changes to provision of that programme in the light of our experience so far.

The statistics that we have submitted to the Committee show that by 10 April 2008, 5,895 people joined the programme. Compared with the intake for the Jobskills programme in the previous year, that figure represents an overall reduction of 25%. However, the number of people who are training through employment on the apprenticeship programme represents an increase of 12% on the previous year. When the statistics for the Job-Ready strand are grouped together, they show where the main decline has occurred. The details behind the statistics are represented in subsequent tables in our paper, and they show that the geographical, gender and age spread are pretty much what would be expected; there are no startling anomalies. Therefore, in general, the figures are what would be expected at the current stage of the programme.

The reduction in the uptake of traineeships, which is the strand of the Jobskills programme through which young people are trained but not employed, shows a welcome switch between training and employment. There is concern about the overall reduction in uptake of the programme. However, given the stage that we have reached in the programme and from the knowledge that we have gained from others, the Department understands that that concern could be qualified by the fact that at the beginning of such a programme, a drop-off can occur that can be recovered during subsequent years.

Mrs Bell:
It became clear in the early stages of Training for Success that although the training organisations had been able to understand the various strands of it, when the Department re-examined the programme, it discovered that there was a degree of unnecessary complexity.

The programme currently includes a Job-Ready programme that has four strands: personal development; skills for work, which is carried out at the low level that is level 1; employability skills, which is a 13-week programme for people who do not have a job but who are likely to get one and commence an apprenticeship programme; and a pre-apprenticeship programme at level 2. The four-stranded Job-Ready programme is followed by an apprenticeship.

All the apprentices are in employment: all the Job-Ready strands require trainees to be in their training organisation for 35 hours a week. We consulted widely, for example, we ran workshops and focus groups with sector skills councils on apprenticeship programmes and with providers, who examined the specific strands. Although there have been difficulties, the change to Training for Success has been generally welcomed, and most people understood why we made changes.

Under the Jobskills programme, a person on a traineeship had to work for a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), which is really a work-based qualification. The training organisation had no choice in that. One change to the programme that has been universally welcomed is the fact that the new programme allows participants to work for a vocationally related qualification, but not for a specific NVQ. Those qualifications are still on the national framework, and they still have credibility.

The second change that was welcomed is the fact that training is front-ended: we require the trainee to be in the training organisation for a period of time so that they can get to know tutors and the people who will look after them.

Individual training plans were also welcomed. They allowed a focus on the individual, a consideration of their strengths and an identification of how weaknesses might be addressed. The advantage of that is that organisations believed — and believe — that they got to know their young people better.

Naturally, there were problems. One problem is the fact that we issue a training credit in the initial stages of the training programme. Some organisations said to us that that was issued too early, at a time when some people were on the incorrect strand. Early on we discovered that 35 hours a week of directed training was too much for the young people involved and too much for their tutors, who found their patience stretched. Some of the tutors said that it was a challenge for some of the young people on the pre-apprenticeship programme to complete the technical certificate within 52 weeks.

During our consultation on the programme, some of the training organisations asked us to clarify the outcomes that we wanted.

In response to those criticisms, we propose to simplify the strands of the programme for the September intake. The apprenticeship programme will be separated from Training for Success, so we will have an apprenticeship programme that links up with the provision that the Department is developing for people in work. Apprentices will therefore be regarded as people in work, and we will market the programme separately. We want the apprenticeship to be seen as a flagship programme that is on a par with A levels and with other full-time professional and technical programmes that colleges provide. The content of the apprenticeship programme needs little change, given that its framework was established by the Sector Skills Council.

We were asked about the 13-week employability strand, and it was suggested that all trainees should be trained in skills in that area. We are, therefore, integrating training for employability into all programmes.

Front-ended training will be limited to 21 hours a week. In-house training will be reduced from 35 hours in the first 12 weeks to 21 hours a week; however, I will speak about that later. Work placement will be phased in, so that a young person will have a 35-hour week programme as though they were full-time workers. However, those 35 hours will comprise 21 hours of directed training and 14 hours on an employer’s premises. The hours on the employer’s premises may increase to 21, and the directed training will reduce to 14 hours as the young person gains confidence.

The programme will comprise an apprenticeship programme, which will be followed by what we will call Training for Success, because we are getting rid of the Job-Ready programme. In that strand, the individual will receive training to get into work, to go for further training or to progress to an apprenticeship programme. There will be a further three categories, the first of which will be called skills for your life. The Department preferred the term “personal development”, but young people and their tutors found that demeaning. That strand will be available for the young people who suffer as a result of facing serious barriers — such as homelessness, drug addiction and alcohol abuse — that must be addressed before they can be trained for a skill.

The second category will be skills for work, and it will be targeted at level-1 students — those who attained the equivalent of four or five GCSEs at grades D to G. We are, therefore, talking about young people who have left school with nothing. Furthermore, their school profile is of such a low level that they are targeted at level 1; therefore, they will be trained in an occupational area.

The third area will be a pre-apprenticeship programme, which will do what it says on the tin. The trainees will be trained to progress to an apprenticeship programme, and, in most areas, that process can take up to 52 weeks. The Department is working with the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, many of which provide technical certificates that a youngster could achieve in one year, and the sector skills councils will accept those certificates as progression to an apprenticeship programme. It takes 18 months to two years to achieve technical certificates in a few of the sector skills councils, and we suggest that they and the employers consider that situation together and develop a one-year programme that works on the same basis as those in other sectors,. That may in turn lead to a pre-apprenticeship programme.

The programme, therefore, consists of an apprenticeship, Training for Success — which has four strands— skills for your life, skills for work and a pre-apprenticeship, plus one other.

The fourth strand of the Training for Success programme applies to young disabled people. The Committee is aware that we have asked the expert group for its views, and it has established a subgroup that will report to the Department in June with a proposal on how we should deal with young disabled people.

Some apprentices are employed, but an unemployed person receives a training allowance of £40 a week. However, that allowance affects the benefits of their families, for instance, parents will lose some of their benefits.

If young people stay at school or progress to full-time further education and are entitled to an educational maintenance allowance, in most instances, their parents’ benefits are not touched. However, the young people who I mentioned will be doing more hours than they would if they were at school or at college full time. Therefore, we are working to ensure that the £40 a week remains as an educational maintenance allowance, but that the parents’ benefits are not affected.

We are trying to remove barriers to a young person’s progress. In other words, we want to ensure that young people can choose the best possible option for themselves and that their decisions will be based not on money but on other considerations. We are still waiting for the Department of Finance and Personnel to sign off on that matter. We do not think that there is a problem, but we must add that caveat at this point.

We are pleased about the progress that has been made so far. That is where matters stand at the moment, and I am happy to take any questions.

The Chairperson:
Catherine and Nuala, thank you for that presentation and the paper, which were both really useful. The paper, which members have been given a copy of, contains the results of the survey.

It is not often that I abuse my position as Chairperson, but I have several questions to ask at the outset. Your presentation provided an interesting update on the progress of Training for Success and apprenticeships, and the Committee must continue to scrutinise that area. We work closely with those who are involved on the ground, and it is important that we bring information back to the Department, so that any necessary tweaks can be made as quickly as possible.

Your submission mentions that the survey demonstrates that 17·4% of respondents did not have a personal training plan at the time that the survey was carried out. That worries me. How long was it before those in charge realised that those young people did not have a personal training plan? The survey also shows that 13·7% of respondents have a learning difficulty. Although I welcome the fact that such statistics are being gathered, we must be reassured that that situation is changing and that young people are not in a post for eight or nine months before anyone realises that they do not have a personal training plan.

Mrs Bell:
There was a great deal of pressure on the Department after the Public Accounts Committee’s scrutiny of the Jobskills programme. Given that we were trying to respond to that inquiry as much as possible and that requests for changes were made late in the process, we recognise that the training organisations were informed too late to be able to absorb that. The Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) is now working with us on that matter, and a training programme will be run for providers to inform them of any changes before we go live. We will run workshops with the organisations to ensure that they understand any proposed changes. That said, the organisations have been involved with the Department in preparing those final changes, so they are aware of what the alterations will be.

The Chairperson:
Your submission also mentions the expert group for young people with disabilities. It states that the group intends to consult with young people in May and that it compiled a questionnaire to facilitate that consultation. Is that consultation ready?

Mrs Bell:
I will have to come back to you on that. We asked the subgroup of the expert group to deal with that on our behalf.

The Chairperson:
I am just conscious that May is not far off, and that you said that the group must report to the Department in June.

Mrs Bell:
The group is due to report in June, so I hope that the matter is on track. However, I will check that up.

The Chairperson:
The issue of travel costs has been raised with the Committee a few times, particularly during its visit to Omagh College of Further Education. Can you elaborate on travel costs a little?

Mrs Bell:
I cannot, but perhaps Nuala can. I am not closely enough involved with that issue.

We are examining the total funding and the staging of that funding, because we may be able to provide incentives a little earlier in order to help training organisations with cash flow. If travel costs are an issue, we will consider that as well.

Ms Kerr:
There are two aspects to travel costs. The first is the structure of our payments and whether they are sufficient to reflect people’s needs. We are examining that issue. Secondly, when young people were on the Jobskills programme and receiving the £40 training allowance, they were reimbursed for their travel costs. Some employers continued to pay the £40 to those trainees whom they decided to employ, but they did not pay for travel, and, as a result, those young people felt — and were — disadvantaged. We must encourage employers to take a sensible approach to the payments that young people receive. We will have to return to that issue as we consider whether to limit what we think are eligible and reasonable costs for young people on the programme.

Mrs Bell:
The Committee asked whether there should be a minimum rate for apprenticeships. The Department has done some work on that. We do not want to get caught up in the minimum wage debate, nor do we want to put a bureaucratic system in place that would tie up the officials that would have to monitor it. We have been asked to talk to our counterparts in England to determine how they got round any issues that they identified. It is a live issue that we are still working on.

The Chairperson:
I appreciate that. It is an issue that we can try to work through. I also welcome the approach to the £40 training allowance. You may be able to update us on DFP’s position on that, but I am concerned about travel costs. Nuala talked about encouraging employers. We can encourage as much as we like, but it is about ensuring that —

Ms Kerr:
I am sorry, Chairperson; I do not mean to interrupt you. There are two problems. The first is the question of the minimum wage and the amounts that employers are paying those young people in employment. We have agreed to review the funding mechanism for those young people who are not employed and who receive contributions to their travel costs. If it is proved that our current method is unacceptable, we will think about reverting to the old system.

The Chairperson:
I have several other questions, but I will open the debate to members. If my questions are not answered in the meantime, I will return to them.

Mr Spratt:
I thank Catherine and Nuala for their presentation. The Chairperson has covered some of the points that I wanted to make.

I have a question about the 35-hour week and the attitudes of employers to the young people and their training. How will that be regulated? We know that there have been abuses in the past, and I have raised concerns about that on previous occasions. What checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that such abuses are not repeated and that the young people are not being used as cheap labour? How will training fit into the college work plans? What inspections will be carried out to ensure that young people are not out with the employers for up to three days a week?

Mrs Bell:
First, the young people will not be out with an employer for the first 12 weeks of the programme. After that, it is likely that they will start with one day a week. We are talking about young people on the skills for your life programme who have serious difficulties. Consequently, finding them a work placement will be a challenge. The employers who will be used will have to be hand-picked, because those young people have been disenfranchised. They have not been going to school, and they have other major problems. The employer must have a caring and understanding attitude in order to take on those young people and give them a chance.

Skills for work and skills for your life are aimed at level-1 students, which is a low level. When our contracting managers and assistant contracting managers, as well as the Education and Training Inspectorate, visit a training organisation, they go to see the trainees on the employers’ premises. We monitor our returns, and if an organisation is simply turning over trainees, we will ask questions. That is the fine line that we have been walking: we do not want young people to be used. At the same time, however, most of those young people need work experience to prepare them for a job.

Mr Spratt:
One of your tasks is to encourage employers to take on young people, and that is important. How do you intend to encourage and support employers? What initiatives has the Department devised to help employers make the process work?

Mrs Bell:
One benefit of the personal development plan is that it records all aspects of a young person’s training. Therefore, training organisation staff have to go to the employers’ premises and talk through with them exactly what they plan to do with the young person. That information will be recorded and monitored. However, we support the training organisations, so it is their responsibility to support the employers with whom they deal. Employers understand that many of those young people, who are not stupid by any means, have just fallen out of the system and disengaged with school, or they have other problems. The support will come from the relationship that the training organisations have with employers.

Mr Spratt:
There are massive problems for employers where liabilities, for example, are concerned. Has consideration been given to that issue in order to reassure employers?

Mrs Bell:
I hate to use the word “contract”, but I shall. Our contract is with the organisations, and it is for them to manage their relationships so that that contract can be fulfilled.

Mr Spratt:
I am seriously worried by the issue of contracts. I encourage the Department to examine that area, because our experience of contracts shows that some leave much to be desired.

Mrs Bell:
We will consider that point and talk to the LSDA to see whether anything specific can be done for employers.

The Chairperson:
You mentioned level-1 skills for your life, which deals with young people who, for whatever reason, have difficulties. The Committee had a presentation from Include Youth and several impressive young people who had been able to turn their lives around. Will — or can — the community and voluntary sector be involved with that level-1 training?

Mrs Bell:
Include Youth was one of the organisations that we brought in to help us with this matter, along with Opportunity Youth.

Mr Attwood:
The section of your presentation that deals with training for people with disabilities, states:

“Options may include revisiting the current contracts for specialist support or indeed bespoke contracts for specialist suppliers”.

Given that contracts must be tendered in a certain way, how can the Department award bespoke contracts to specialist suppliers? I want to see the briefing and the legal basis on which that can be done, what the cash limits are, what the process entails, and what implication it will have on other matters. I agree with the Chairperson’s point that specialist contracts should be awarded to organisations beyond Training for Success, such as Include Youth, the Ulster People’s College, and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). I would like a general briefing from you on the proposal that is outlined in that section of your paper.

The Minister and the Department said that some of the current Training for Success contracts will be sampled. Does that mean that all the contracts that have been awarded since the withdrawal of Carter and Carter Group will be sampled? When will those contracts be sampled, and when will receive feedback on that process? Your Department investigated the Carter and Carter Group in December but did not identify the serious problems that were identified by the inspectorate only a matter of weeks later in January. Therefore, I am concerned that the Department’s sampling may not be rigorous enough.

The Committee has flagged up the issue of wages on a number of occasions. I am, therefore, surprised that it is only now — at the end of April — that the Department is examining how contracts are awarded in England and how wage requirements are monitored and enforced there. I understand that in England, an organisation’s fulfilment of certain wage requirements is a condition of funding.

Given that Training for Success has been in existence for a while and that the issue has been flagged up by the Committee, among others, why is it only now, at the end of April, that we are considering following England’s example in managing wages? How is your Department monitoring the wage systems of the organisations that have already been awarded contracts? When will the Committee be informed of the conclusions of your investigation into the wage issue? I will raise a couple of other points after you have responded to those questions.

Mrs Bell:
I will come back to the Committee with an answer to your question about contracts, but I will address your query on sampling now.

I assume that you are talking about the fact that it is the Education and Training Inspectorate’s responsibility to sample and that it has a tried and tested process for doing that. We can make requests, but ultimately, it is for the inspectorate to determine whether the sample gives a sufficiently clear picture. I assume — and I am fairly confident — that the inspectorate is doing that currently. If it is not, colleges will close.

Ms Kerr:
Every supplier will be inspected once a year to ensure that the training that it delivers is of a high quality.

A specific sample survey of the automotive training sector is currently being conducted, and that should be completed by June. That is a separate piece of work.

Mrs Bell:
It is not that we have not been working on the issue of wages; we have, and we have the necessary information from England. However, our Minister asked us to conduct more specific work on the matter, which is why I mentioned England. He wants to get the information at ministerial level, so we have supplied it.

The Chairperson:
Several Committee members wish to speak, and I want to give everyone the chance to do so. We can do a round-up at the end of the meeting if necessary. Are you happy with the answers to your first few questions?

Mr Attwood:
It is not good enough to get a report back from the Education and Training Inspectorate after three months. The Department should receive monthly reports advising whether any of the training organisations are failing to deliver their new contracts.

We had the experience of Carter and Carter Group delaying the completion of its assessments; indeed, that scenario ended in collapse. We need to learn from our bitter experience with the automotive contracts by intervening as early as possible to ascertain what may or may not be happening. I am not satisfied, Catherine.

Mrs Bell:
The Education and Training Inspectorate reports to the Department quickly after conducting an inspection. It does not sit on a report and fail to give us verbal feedback. We have requested that the inspectorate investigates the issue across the Province. However, it has limited resources and other priority areas of work.

We can find out after today what stage they are at in the process. I do not want Committee members to think that our colleagues in the inspectorate are dragging their feet, because they are not — we have regular contact with them.

An inspector is seconded to the Department, and we pay for that. Therefore, when an inspection report is received, that inspector can work specifically with the relevant organisation and with the LSDA to ensure that appropriate support is supplied immediately.

I am sorry if I gave the impression that there was a delay; there is not.

Mr Attwood:
I will come back to that later.

The Chairperson:
It would be useful for the Committee to have the information as to what stage the process is at.

Mr B McCrea:
I am concerned about the issue of progression to proper apprenticeships, which is mentioned in your submission. It strikes me that an option to be paid the minimum wage is not particularly attractive to people. Has the Department considered ways to encourage a higher rate of pay for apprenticeships? Furthermore, has the appropriateness of the Department paying top-up fees to employers been considered?

How will the Department give early encouragement to the hand-picked employers who take on quite a challenge for what are not particularly good returns?

Mrs Bell:
The difficulty is that resources are limited. The Department is trying to sustain a training infrastructure. I understand that employers are taking a risk. However, they must strike a balance, because the apprentices are their future employees. The argument has been made to us about why employers should take on apprentices when they can get migrant workers who can be trained immediately and who do not have to go through the apprenticeship process.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that we made a mistake by including apprenticeships in the Jobskills programme at the beginning. I passionately believe that apprenticeships are valuable training programmes for potential employees. Why would an employer not want to train their staff? The Department could consider working with the providers who secure contracts. For example, my understanding is that the Electrical Training Trust subsidises training programmes for employees using money that is provided by the Department, and some other employers may do the same. However, I do not know whether the employer keeps that money or gives it to the apprentice.

Mr B McCrea:
I want to explore that. Employers cannot compete with Tesco, for example, which offers wages of £6 an hour. Employees must earn more than the minimum wage and see that opportunities for progression exist in order to convince them that it is worthwhile. It is unfair to put the burden of the cost on to the industry. That is our job, not the job of the employer. Therefore, funding is a serious issue that we must address in order to limit any potential problems.

Mr Newton:
I thank the departmental officials for attending, and I intend to be more positive than some other members. Based on previous witness evidence, I believe that the Department has listened to our concerns. Perhaps all those concerns have not yet been addressed, but we are a long way from the Jobskills programme, and that progress is a positive step.

I, like Mrs Bell, am passionate about apprenticeships. I welcome the recommendation to remove apprenticeship training from the Training for Success programme and brand it as a flagship programme — that is crucial for the economy.

There is confusion in the retail, legal or business administration sectors about the word “apprenticeship”. Does the Department have any plans to move traditional apprenticeship skills such as construction and engineering to an elite group, rather than deal with each apprenticeship area individually?

The Committee received a presentation from Improve, a food-sector training organisation. The delegates were content with and complimentary about level-2 apprenticeships. However, other sectors believe that level 3 and beyond is the necessary standard. Does the Department have a programme that will enable apprentices to progress from level 3 to level 4 and, perhaps, even to level 5?

The Chairperson referred to our visit to the Omagh campus of the South West College. During that visit, college representatives said that they had experienced difficulty in securing employment places in the automotive sector because of a shortage of large employers in that region. How can the Department address that?

It is encouraging that apprenticeship numbers have increased. However, that increase is based on figures for the Jobskills programme. How do the figures stack up with anticipated economic demands for apprenticeship?

Mrs Bell:
I understand your point about traditional apprenticeships. People understand that engineering and construction apprenticeships are valuable. In fact, several well-known people in industry have come through an apprenticeship programme. Unfortunately, given the desire to have a framework that allows young people to progress through every programme, all programmes have been branded as apprenticeships. We perhaps need to find a way of encouraging the more traditional apprenticeships.

One area that is beginning to bear fruit is the career days for schools that are being conducted by the workforce-development forums. Apprenticeships are explained, and young people are shown what apprenticeships can lead to. The Department would like to increase the number of those events because they are a way for employers to take the lead themselves.

You asked about progression. It is encouraging to see that apprenticeship numbers have increased. One of my concerns is that we currently have several young people at level 2 but fewer at level 3, which is the level at which they should be after leaving school with five GCSEs at grade A* to C.

It is great to see young people getting the opportunity to achieve level 2 and then progress to levels 3 and 4. However, the Department would really like to see a young person completing their GCSEs and then making a conscious choice that an apprenticeship at level 3 is suitable for them. That would allow that young person to achieve a level-3 qualification plus specific skills training that could lead to a foundation degree at level 4 and ultimately a degree or professional qualification if so desired

The means to allow a young person to achieve that has been put in place, but the biggest barrier that the Department faces is that it is not getting sufficient numbers of well-qualified young people thinking about apprenticeships as a viable alternative to school or full-time further education. It is up to the Department to improve on that through its marketing campaign; equally, however, we need the support of employers to show that good opportunities exist.

The lack of placements that are offered by employers is one reason why the Department returned to what we have called the pre-apprenticeship programme. That programme means that all young people can at least begin to train even though they do not have an employer. The Department still has a great deal of work to do with employers to help them realise the benefits of an apprenticeship programme.

Mr Newton:
How do the figures stack up with the forecasts for the economy?

Mrs Bell:
I am sorry; you asked me that question.

Ms Kerr:
If the residual Jobskills programme and the new programme are combined, the occupancy level is around 8,000 in total. Our target is to have 10,000 young people in the programme by 2010. Although the figures are encouraging, they demonstrate that we still have a long way to go. The picture is not completely negative, but more work is required to increase the numbers. Additionally, the Department is considering adult apprenticeships, and I think that that will contribute to the progression opportunity while also contributing to the apprenticeship numbers that we would hope to have by our target date.

Mrs McGill:
Thank you for your presentation. I welcome the fact that you are examining the educational maintenance allowance, which will help those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Will that allowance also help those from disadvantaged backgrounds who live in rural communities and have to travel to their places of work?

Travel was mentioned earlier, and I think that I have discussed it with you previously. Although there has been some improvement — or the potential for improvement — in the maintenance allowance, I see nothing in any of the documentation presented today that shows how the Department is addressing the issue. Ms Kerr said at the beginning of today’s briefing that the Department is looking at it; however, I am disappointed at that.

Travel difficulties have been mentioned as a barrier to young people attending college, and I want the Department to act specifically to address that issue. I read the Department’s survey, but it missed the opportunity to include questions on travel, such as whether participants found it easy or difficult to travel to college. Will the Department act on that now and perhaps inform me in writing of what has been done and how it proposes to progress that issue?

Catherine, you said that you took on board the consultees’ views when you were examining the complex structure of the programme, and you went on to describe the current structure. However, there was no reference to those points in the papers that were sent to the Committee. I would have found it helpful if the structure that you outlined verbally today had been included in your submission.

Mrs Bell:
We can give the Committee details of the old outline and the proposed outline; that is not a problem.

Mrs McGill:
If I may finish what I was saying, Catherine: as you were outlining the four strands of Training for Success, I was desperately trying to jot them down. It would have been helpful if you had provided members with an A4 page that outlined that information.

Ms Kerr:
We listened to what the Committee said about taking on board the issues about travel. We have been considering travel costs and are reviewing the cost to participants. We hope to finish the ongoing review quickly, because the outcome will affect the September intake. Therefore, we want to be able to comment on that before the end of the training year and, if necessary, return to the model that existed under the Jobskills programme.

The Chairperson:
As the Committee is due to publish its report soon, we need that information as quickly as possible, or we at least need an update of the review process.

Mrs McGill:
Given that the survey was on participation and referred to barriers to, and accessibility of, the programme, did the Department miss an opportunity by not including certain issues in the statements?

Mrs Bell:
We will look again at the survey. A specific question may have been asked, but we did not highlight it to the Committee. If not, we will see what we can find out.

Ms Kerr:
Young people had the opportunity to volunteer that information if they so wished, because a section of the survey allowed them to add comments.

Mrs McGill:
Was the word “travel” mentioned?

Ms Kerr:
I do not have that information.

The Chairperson:
I understand your point, Nuala, but considering that 17% of participants did not have a personal plan and that 35% of the 13·7% who have a learning difficulty or disability received no specific support, Claire’s point is valid, and the issue must be addressed. I know that it cannot be done now, but if the Committee and others raise travel issues in future, any survey should include questions about it.

Ms Kerr:
We will take that on board; I was not being dismissive.

Mrs Bell:
This year is effectively over. However, from next year, we want to carry out regular surveys of the participants in all programmes, not only Training for Success.

Ms Lo:
Thank you very much for giving the Committee a third briefing on Training for Success. When any changes are being made, it is important to monitor them and to listen to feedback. I welcome all the proposed changes. We have been hearing all along about the difficulties in maintaining 35 hours a week of training for those attending the Job-Ready courses. I am pleased that that will be changed. In particular, I welcome the split between the Jobskills programme and apprenticeships. We really must put a lot of energy into promoting that strand.

I agree with what Robin Newton and Mrs Bell said about the need to target the right people and the need to encourage schoolchildren to opt for careers in industry, rather than drift into it when they cannot find anything else. It is also important that we have higher expectations of the apprenticeship programme. We must train people beyond level 2. The majority of apprentices seem to be at level 2 at present, whereas we must have people at levels 3, 4 and 5.

Migrant workers were mentioned, and they should be working here on a transitional basis. We need to train our young people and give them the skills that are needed to build our economy permanently. I welcome the changes, and I hope that there will be greater focus on — and more energy put into — promoting the apprenticeship programme. Thank you very much for talking to us.

Mr Attwood:
I note that there has been an overall reduction in the number of people in training compared with the figures for last year, and that marketing and some work with the employers might turn that around. We must monitor that carefully. To go back to a previous question, the number of people who are employed and are in training has increased by 12%. What are the previous and current figures for people in employment and training?

Ms Kerr:
If you look at the statistics in our submission and compare like-for-like figures, and if you add together the level 2 and level-3 apprenticeships, you can compare the total with the figures for modern apprenticeships 1 and 2 on the chart.

Mrs Bell:
There are slightly more than 3,000 people now compared with slightly more than 2,790 people previously.

Mr Attwood:
Are all those people who are at level 2 and level 3 in employment?

Mrs Bell:
Yes.

Mr Attwood:
Following on, is there any evidence, at this stage, that people who are in level-2 and level-3 apprenticeships are losing those apprenticeships due to the downturn in the construction industry? Given that a large proportion of the total apprenticeships are in construction, if a downturn is causing people to lose apprenticeships, that will have an impact on the figures. If that is the case, what happens to apprentices who lose their jobs?

Mrs Bell:
I do not have evidence available on that, although we will look into it. In a couple of cases, MLAs have written to the Minister to tell him about young people who were on apprenticeship programmes but whose employers have ceased to trade due to retirement or other reasons. We have intervened with our careers advisers to try to steer those young people to another organisation or to get them onto a pre-apprenticeship programme so that their training continues. However, I am not aware of widespread job losses, but we will look into that.

Mr Attwood:
I am picking up information from people, in the further education sector who know that a trend is developing. I will say no more than that at the moment.

The Chairperson:
That is an issue that the Committee should have information about, because I have also picked up on that pattern.

Mr Attwood:
I am also mindful of the debate that was held in the Assembly earlier this week.

Ms Kerr:
The important issue is that many young people experience a change of employers, and we must have in our system the capacity to keep them steady and training while they look for another employer. That should be our first priority — to allow them to continue in training in the short term, while they seek another employer.

Mr Attwood:
Adult apprenticeships and apprenticeships for part-time workers are important and must be considered. We have evidence from across a range of sectors about that.

My final question relates to the wage issue. What monitoring is there of what employers are paying?

Mrs Bell:
We do not monitor what employers pay; the only monitoring is carried out on the processes that are in place for the minimum wage. The first year of apprenticeship is not subject to minimum wage.

Mr Attwood:
I am mindful of previous comments. Given that in England it is a condition of a contract that payment should be at the current rate — not the minimum rate — that is a serious gap in the overall monitoring framework.

Mrs Bell:
We are trying to find ways to encourage employers to take apprentices. In our experience, this is the first time that unemployment has been at this level. Until now, employers have had trainees in for four days a week, and trainees spend the remaining day back in the college. We are walking a fine line to encourage employers to get involved. I do not want to see abuse of young people. In the construction industry, there are guidelines that specify that a first-year apprentice should be paid X% of a journeyman’s wages and a second-year apprentice should be paid a higher percentage and so on. That is how traditional industries operated. With respect to monitoring, trainees are, after all, employees. In order to monitor wages, we would have to increase bureaucracy at a time when resources are stretched. We have to consider all those factors with respect to the minimum wage rate for an apprentice. However, I understand what your point.

Mr Attwood:
I do not accept the bureaucracy argument. We are talking about 6,000 apprenticeships across the North in all the sectors. The Department has in place copious reporting requirements from them and from training providers and employers. It does not seem to me that it is beyond your capabilities to monitor wages.

Whereas the North is different from England, and one size does not normally fit all, as I understand it, a one-size approach is working in England. You need to consider that.

Mrs Bell:
We are actively looking at it.

Mr B McCrea:
I have two specific questions that follow on from what has been said. I am concerned about the difference between level 2 and level 3. The term “apprenticeship” has been devalued because it has been extended to cover all sorts. You said that you would look into that. When will you be in a position to tell us what you are planning to do?

Mrs Bell:
If we are going to consider that, we must work with the sector skills councils, because apprenticeship is a national issue. More than anything else, this may be a branding issue. I agree: it is worrying that we are not getting more young people at level 3, when you consider that for that level you need five GCSEs at grades A* to C. A level-2 course amounts to doing what pupils have done in school, although in a specific occupational area. That is the more worrying aspect — that is really worrying. To address that, we are working with the Department of Education on the 14 to 19 age group to allow young people to consider a range of occupational areas while they are still at school. That will have a positive effect. We must convey to young people that there are genuine progression routes and that trainees can earn and learn at the same time. It is up to us to market the programme correctly, but employers also have to get behind that drive. Employers also have to support us in that regard.

We did not have a level-2 modern apprenticeship programme. It might have been possible to pick up a level 2 on the way through, but everyone was placed in a level-3 programme. It is good to have a level-2 award. We can reward young people when they get a qualification. If they left school without receiving a level-2 qualification, it is a positive step. However, I agree with you.

Mr B McCrea:
You and I agree strongly, Catherine. When will we be in a position to do something about the situation? I understand that the sector skills councils have a role to play. The Education Committee received a presentation from Schrader Electronics in Carrick — I will tell the Chairperson about that later. The representatives of that company told the Committee that supply is not meeting demand. The company had doubled its workforce and wanted to double it again, but it could not find the right people.

Mrs Bell:
We know about Schrader Electronics. A young person has to have a good standard of mathematics and a good scientific base in order to pursue a qualification in electronics or engineering. That is why our Department and the Department of Education are reviewing science, technology, engineering and maths, with particular regard to the needs of industry. If you do not grasp the basics of maths, you cannot progress. We must ensure that schools allow pupils to build on the basics of maths and science. That is why the report that the two Ministers will receive from the working group will examine those issues seriously.

Mr B McCrea:
I will leave that with you. However, you made the point earlier that many of those young people are not stupid; they just did not get opportunities. I agree that a good foundation in mathematics is a necessity. There is a huge demand, but you are obviously aware of the situation.

I have one final point, on which we do not have to go into great detail. Is there any evidence of joined-up Government when it comes to examining ways of getting people into training? Many companies are in receipt of significant Government contracts to supply services. Do the tendering processes for those contracts include instructions to such companies about their social obligations?

Ms Kerr:
Our colleagues in DFP are working with the construction sector to agree targets for the apprentices that are associated with the contract, depending on its size. They will set scales within those targets.

Mr B McCrea:
That is interesting. However, we might examine how that could be extended, because there are other issues to consider, such as telecommunications. We are giving out big contracts. I am not trying to unbalance a competitive tender, but everyone should be aware that it would be better if we were working together.

Mrs Bell:
Nuala has just pointed out to me that we are currently training 160 young people for Schrader Electronics under our bridge to employment programme.

Mr B McCrea:
Schrader Electronics says that it is looking for 300 to 400 people. The point is that supply is not meeting demand. We must find a way of dealing with that.

The Chairperson:
We have examined several issues that relate to the Training for Success programme, including contractual arrangements. That is why we took evidence from the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) at one of our meetings.

I remind members that we are due to take evidence from the Northern branch of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and another sector skills council. That should bring us to the end of the Committee’s formal scrutiny of this issue. We hope to produce a report by the end of May. Catherine, can you outline the progress of your own consultation process, bearing in mind that the Committee is due to make its report?

Mrs Bell:
As I said earlier, part of the problem was that we were too late in giving information to training organisations last year.

Our suggested changes are based on the extensive work that we have done with the organisations and focus groups and in workshops. In fact, we feel that we have completed our consultation. Various organisations have told us what they want, and we have taken on board their concerns and amended the structure of the programme accordingly. If we are required to engage in a formal consultation process and not merely change the programme within the existing arrangements, that should be happening now. However, we respect the views of the Committee, and we want to factor in to our report its views and suggestions. We have that conundrum to deal with.

The Chairperson:
I accept that you are under pressure, but our report is due at the end of May. It would therefore be useful if the Department provided a response on the outcome and recommendations of our report. I will be guided by the Committee if any member wants to make a counterproposal to that.

Mrs Bell:
We do not want to produce a review only for the Department to suggest fundamental changes that will mean that the Department has to produce something else. That would be confusing.

The Chairperson:
That is why I am suggesting that you wait until the Committee’s report is published.

Mrs Bell:
Consequently, we would prefer to be able to respond to the Committee’s report.

The Chairperson:
Do members have an opinion on that?

Mr B McCrea:
As Mr Newton said, the Department has been responsive, and people are trying to work well together on this. We do not want to delay things unduly. I think that the Department and the Minister have tried their best to take the issue on board.

The Chairperson:
I agree, and that is why the Committee is committing to producing its report quicker than it first thought.

Thank you for attending this morning’s Committee meeting.

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