Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 27 February 2008

Training for Success

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

Mr Raymond Crilly ) Automotive Skills
Mr Terence Donnelly )
Mr Martin Hutchinson )
Mr Geoff Lamb ) Improve Ltd
Mr John D’Arcy ) Association of Northern Ireland Colleges
Mr Brian Doran )
Ms Maura Lavery )
Mr Seamus Murphy )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome Mr Martin Hutchinson, Mr Raymond Crilly and Mr Terence Donnelly from Automotive Skills, which is the sector skills council for the automotive industry. Not long after the Committee was established, Jimmy Spratt and I met Martin Hutchison. He was a lecturer then, before moving to head up Automotive Skills. The Committee is well aware of the many issues for discussion around the Training for Success programme, and I thank you for your attendance. I shall hand over to you to give your presentation, after which will be a question-and-answer session.

Mr Martin Hutchinson (Automotive Skills):
We thank the Committee for giving us the time to speak to it, and we welcome the opportunity to do so.

I have represented the sector skills council for the automotive industry for four months. Before that, I was a lecturer in motor-vehicle studies at the North East Institute of Further and Higher Education in Ballymena. I also spent 20 years in the retail motor industry.

Mr Raymond Crilly (Automotive Skills):
I am the financial director for TBF Thompson (Garvagh) Ltd. I am also the chairperson of the employer forum on the sector skills council.

TBF Thompson has four sites in Northern Ireland and a couple in the Republic of Ireland. We employ 250 people, and our business is commercial vehicles and heavy construction plant. We employ 25 apprentices, who are at various stages of their apprenticeships. That is why I have an interest in speaking to the Committee.

Mr Terence Donnelly (Automotive Skills):
I am from the Donnelly Group, which is involved in the retail motor industry. We employ approximately 500 people, including between 60 and 70 apprentices. We shall need 100 extra apprentices in future when the system is right for developing them. I am glad to be here, and I thank the Committee for taking the time to listen to us.

Mr Spratt:
Chairperson, I wish to declare an interest. I had a business association with Terence Donnelly in a previous life.

Mr Hutchinson:
Our submission will form the basis for a discussion. Automotive Skills’ main interest is to bring together automotive-sector employers to meet training needs, and to match those needs to training provision across the Province. Our submission contains recommendations about training in our sector in Northern Ireland, including issues that relate to Training for Success, and are based on responses from employers in Northern Ireland, some of whom are members of the employer forum. Members of that forum are listed in our submission.

Our submission also lists the current options for school-leavers who wish to enter the automotive industry. Without going into too much detail, the number of options available causes confusion among careers advisers, and young people and their parents.

One gap in the options is provision of training for those lower-ability school-leavers who do not meet the standard required to qualify for a full apprenticeship but who do meet the necessary standard to obtain a job. That gap exists because, in order to gain a place on the Skills for Work programme, young people must give up their job. The options are so confusing that the programme that I described in the submission as “Job Ready” is actually called “employability skills”. Moreover, I have not mentioned another strand, which is known as “personal development”. I want to highlight the fact that the current options are much too complex.

Training providers are struggling to deliver all those different options. Various colleges use different patterns of delivery: some offer two days at college and others offer three days. The training providers also offer different qualifications: some offer a fast-fit qualification, which is obtained before the start of an apprenticeship and others use the pre-apprenticeship course as the first year of an apprenticeship, even though those young people are not yet employed. We also believe that much of the training provision that is available is not up to date with the advanced technologies in the industry.

The consensus among employers is to have good-quality training across the Province. We have made a number of recommendations, which, we are confident, would help to achieve that. First, the level-3 employed-apprentice contract should be awarded to a range of high-quality training providers in Northern Ireland, including, perhaps, employers who opt to set up their own professional in-house training provision. The rationale behind that is that, with no competition, we feel that a single supplier is unlikely to have an incentive to deliver high-quality training. The outcome of the tendering process, which was to have only one supplier for level-3 apprenticeships, is that significant local investment in facilities is in jeopardy. In our submission, we mention that the investment that Transport Training Service Ltd (TTS Ltd) has made at Nutts Corner, and that Toyota has made in Ballymena, are in jeopardy.

There is some disappointment and surprise that, to date, the level-3 contract holder seems to have done little to link with existing good-quality provision or to invest in the training provider from which they purchased. We visited the contract holder yesterday to obtain up-to-date information and were told that it is investing significantly in the facilities at Mallusk, and that is good news.

However, that investment addresses provision only in that area, and we cannot see how that will help provision across the Province. The current situation has led many employers to consider setting up their own training provision, and an effective option would be to allow those employers direct access to funding for apprentices. After spending time investigating the matter, Terence has a particular view on training provision.

Mr Donnelly:
My view is born out of some frustration. When something does not work in a business environment such as ours, we have to dig down to check for any underlying problems. Over the past two years, I spent a good deal of time trying to visualise a future in which Government have the appetite to investigate problems in order to find their root. When the root of a problem has been identified, it is possible to build a firm foundation for the future.

We went to Scotland to visualise what the future could be like, where we visited a large company in the motor industry that had used Government grants and funding that was available for training students in order to generate £12 million of investment. On our return, we assessed how the technical colleges operate now and the level that they need to reach. The past is perfect and cannot be changed, so there is no need to examine what happened previously. I go to colleges to talk to students about what they have to offer, and I ask my branch managers what they think are our company’s requirements. Serious discrepancies exist between the two, and much must be done to change that.

The long and the short of it is that companies must take on suitable students. As has been put to me, the wrong student leads to the wrong result. The system of introducing students to our industry is outside our control. As employers, we have a difficulty with that, because we are asked to take on students on the back of someone else’s decision, and, therefore, there is a high rate of rejection. Often, much of the effort that we put into the first year’s training is wasted, although I am not saying that our efforts are totally wasted, because the work of the technical colleges is to be admired to a certain extent. The colleges can use only the deck of cards that they have been dealt.

As an employer, one difficulty is the lack of a system that enables students to receive a proper standard of introduction to the business. The technology in motor vehicles today is sophisticated. Therefore, students coming into the industry must, as a minimum requirement, have GCSEs in maths and English, and IT skills. Even the colleges accept that. The grants system sustains technical colleges, so their main aim is to stay afloat. Weak students are enrolling in technical colleges because careers-guidance officers have pushed them in that direction, even though those students have no connection with the job.

First, students’ appropriate educational level must be identified. Subsequently, some of those students must decide that they want to pursue a career in the automotive industry. They then require employers to take them on and train them for the first three years, during which time the students must have an expectation of a salary that will fund the future lifestyle that they desire. It is a matter of identifying the career path that students want to take. I will give the Committee a simple example that sums up how successful training can be.

The father of a 24-year-old asked me whether I could do him a turn and get his son a car for £2,000. When I investigated his request further, I realised that the man did not want to buy his son a dear car, because the son wanted to go to America to get a job. The lad had just finished university and had no notion of the job that he wanted to do. I asked him what his brother and sister did, and it turned out that they were successful businesspeople. I told him that he needed to find somebody to teach him how a business works. At the end of the process, he would have the same as what his brother and sister have. That fellow has been though our business, from one end to the other, and he will be a manager in four years.

My point is that, if we do not start it turning, the wheel will not go around. At present, the wheel goes only partly around. We often get the wrong student, and sometimes we even get the wrong student through to his third year of training. By the time the student comes to us as a finished product, we must start to train him. Therefore, we have wasted at least a year and a half of his time. Training provision could be left in our own hands. If we had control of the purse strings, it would assist us in directly training the students in the skills that we need for the future.

As a company, we are prepared to invest money in a pilot system such as the one that has been established in Scotland. Such a pilot might demonstrate to the Assembly that a better approach exists. We can talk until the cows came home about 40 different ways to approach the matter, but the system in Scotland is already in place, and it will give us an idea of how a new system could work. We have all been to Scotland to see how that system operates, so it is not a case of reinventing the wheel, because, at this stage, we could simply copy the Scottish model. Someone in the industry who knows how it works could do work for at least three years that had a strict set of measurable criteria. After that, we could identify a new system. The current system does not have the appropriate links, and there is not much likelihood of those links being established, given that the technical colleges are in disarray as a result of the tendering process that was used. As some Committee members may know, my name was linked to the successful tender, when, in fact, I was never any part of it.

Thus, the current system is in difficulty, and, as far as I am concerned, the technical colleges are not sure of their future existence. It is essential to concentrate on the industry and its training needs. Non-franchised training is necessary for people who will work on a lower level, on less-modernised cars. However, 80% of the industry needs top-level training. We really need to go to the root of the problem and design a way forward that will take us out the other side. The student who is leaving college will be asked by his mother and father what salary he will be earning when he turns 20 and again when he turns 25. We must be able to demonstrate to students and their families what they will earn at the end of the process.

Mr Hutchinson:
The second recommendation in the paper is to:

“Initiate a single, full time Training & Education programme which would allow progression from induction, (L1 for those that need it)”—

the low-level intake —

“L2 and upward (As per the full time FE option). Most importantly these students would be a source of recruits who could transfer, at any time, to employed apprenticeships.”

That programme would be for young people who have not yet secured employment as an apprentice, the rationale being that:

“The skills and knowledge studied on this course would be almost the same as employed Apprentices making transfer to employment at any time feasible”.

At present, the Skills for Work and pre-apprenticeship courses mostly offer a lower-level fast-fit qualification, which does not easily allow a young person to transfer to an apprenticeship.

The second recommendation continues:

“ These students would be a source of recruits for employed apprenticeships, bringing information on attendance and achievement to interview.”

That would really concern the not-yet-employed young people who are on a full-time course. A local employer who wants an apprentice would contact the training provider and invite some of those students along for interview.

Our submission goes on to say:

“School leavers are going into workshops with little or no induction training. Some full time basic training beforehand would make these apprentices safer and more productive when they go into the workplace. Starting a full time course could facilitate this type of training. The mode of delivery of this option would be much simpler. The phased in work experience of the SfW & Pre App is too complex, confusing and inconsistent across the Province”, as I mentioned earlier.

Moreover, no clear progression exists for young people from the Skills for Work, pre-apprenticeship and Job Ready options. If they complete their 52-week training but have not secured employment, it is not clear where they will go and what qualification they will have.

Local employer representatives must have an input into what the programme should contain, especially in the induction phase, to ensure that young people going into employment will be safe and productive. We propose that employers have a strong input to the content of such a course.

The third recommendation relates to numeracy and literacy. To deliver essential skills, young people are spending significant periods in classrooms with maths and English teachers. We know from research that young people improve their numeracy and literacy skills more effectively when those skills are fully integrated into vocational training. To facilitate that, vocational tutors could deliver numeracy and literacy with appropriate training and high-quality teaching resources.

I have a personal interest, having come from that background. For instance, I spoke to an apprentice a couple of months ago and asked him what he had learnt on his day in college last week. He said that he had been studying maths. I said that he could not have been studying maths all day to which he replied that it had felt like all day.

We are dealing with young people who, if they have come out of school with less than a grade C at GCSE, will generally not have had very good experience of school. We bring them on to a training programme, but we take chunks of time out of that to put them in a classroom with a maths or English teacher. Young people see that as being like school, and they switch off. It is a question of motivating them to learn. The best teaching in the world will not achieve much when the learner is not motivated. Although this is not a panacea, integrating maths and English in vocational training is more effective than putting those young people in a classroom with a maths or English teacher. That is the nature of the young people with whom we are dealing.

Those are our three recommendations: we are happy to take questions.

Mr Crilly:
I will add one further point. Everyone present probably had breakfast this morning, which will have included milk and bread. Those are delivered to shops by the commercial vehicles that we service. It happened, not that many years ago, that we did not train apprentices. If we do not have the people to look after those vehicles, we must employ overseas workers. I must admit —we hold our hands up — that we currently employ overseas workers, and we have nothing against employing them. We have had to employ them because of a lack of local workers who would become involved in the business.

Apprentice training is critical to our business because the technology is changing so much. As Martin has said, in the past, we took on those young fellows who had come through the education system, dropped out, but were strong. Perhaps they had mechanical backgrounds or worked on their fathers’ farms, or whatever, and, therefore, they came to work for us. However, that is no longer sufficient for the businesses that Terence and I represent. The products that we now look after are sophisticated. The computer equipment in a modern-day truck is equivalent to that which put a man on the moon in 1969. That gives one an appreciation of what is involved.

We need an apprentice-training system that will give us the technicians of the future, in order to keep the country rolling. We have no other means of delivering goods — they must travel by road. We must keep the trucks on the road, and we need people to look after the trucks to keep them on the road.

The Chairperson:
I thank you for your presentation. The Committee has a genuine interest in Training for Success, in apprenticeships, and in how numeracy and literacy might be tied into the package.

We want to ensure that Training for Success is the right programme and that we hear a broad range of presentations from people who are directly or indirectly involved in the industry. Therefore, I appreciate your attendance today and your informing us of some of the issues that you see either as being problems or as requiring adjustments to be made in order to make a major difference.

The Committee hopes to sign off on its report as quickly as possible after the Easter recess. We want to ensure that any recommendations that we make be implemented as quickly as possible — we are not compiling a report for the sake of it. If at all possible, we want to try to make any necessary changes.

Mr Spratt:
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Committee members are concerned about the issue of level-3 apprenticeships. Your submission states that without any competition, a single supplier is unlikely to have any incentive to deliver good-quality training locally. Your submission also expresses disappointment that the level-3 contract holder has, to date, done little to link with existing good-quality provision or invest in the small training provider that it purchased. Will you beef up that information a bit more for us?

As I said, that is an issue that concerns us. Level-3 apprenticeships are important. Terence Donnelly said that trainees must have maths and English GCSEs, and, in particular, good IT skills, which is now an important aspect of the motor-trade industry. Can we get some more information about that so that we are fully aware of the situation?

The Committee now has the opportunity to hear, from the horse’s mouth, exactly what is happening. The Department has told us that the level-3 apprenticeships with Carter and Carter Group plc are working. However, I am not sure that that is the case. I want to hear your views on that. I ask you to be frank with us.

Mr Donnelly:
One criterion that was outlined in the contract after Carter and Carter was appointed was the link with the manufacturers. It is important to understand that today’s vehicles are complex. Mechanics can no longer simply lift up the bonnet and have a look at the engine in order to see what is wrong with it. They are now required to use a piece of equipment — similar to a laptop — that is unique to each vehicle and that must be linked to a computer system.

An apprentice should have the skills necessary to use such a system by the end of their three-year course. Technical colleges can take apprentices through the old spark system and tell them how engines work. However, apprentices no longer need to know how to take an engine apart — it simply is replaced.

One of the greatest difficulties in training for level-3 apprenticeships concerns fact finding. Cars now have a multitude of lights, which play a large role in how vehicles are controlled. Many people have experienced the niggling problem of car lights coming on for seemingly no reason. A serious investment in equipment is required in order to teach apprentices how to diagnose, report and fix the fault.

Martin Hutchinson lobbied a Toyota manufacturing firm to invest £500,000 in Ballymena. Toyota is training students in how to fix a specific car and is showing them how to use the necessary equipment to do so. That is a direct link.

We visited Carter and Carter’s training operation at Blackwater House yesterday for the first time. People there talked about a new carpet’s being fitted and about all sorts of new investments, which are valued at £6,000.

They are specialising in body repairs.

However, I did not hear about that manufacturing link, or the necessity for a skills set and a training mechanism for third-year apprentices that would be based on the needs that we see demonstrated in workshops.

Training is required in the electronics systems of cars. Apprentices learn about the sparks systems during their first month at training college. The diagnosis times in respect of modern cars are important. As Raymond said, the technology in modern lorries is similar to similar to that which took man to the moon. We live in a changing world, and new technology is coming at us so fast that the students of today are ill-equipped to go into the industry.

Mr Spratt:
The issues that have been raised about level-3 apprenticeships are important, and a lot of money is spent on training for those apprentices. Mr Donnelly, are you saying that your garage, TBF Thompson and the Toyota garage in Ballymena have invested a lot of money in IT, for example, for the benefit of training?

Mr Donnelly:

Mr Spratt:
Are you suggesting that it would be better if the Department provided grant aid to employers to provide level-3 training, because the required equipment is not available in the places where the level-3 apprentices are being sent for training? Are you saying that the necessary investment is not being made?

Mr Donnelly:
There is a massive training gap. There is a great difference between our workshops and the training colleges. Students are shell-shocked when they come to our workshops; it is like a different world to them. The students come to our workshops as part of day-release programmes, so we must provide adequate facilities. In college, they are being taught what we taught them six months previously. The students are, therefore, frustrated, because they are being taught things that they already know.

Training is not available in the aspects of the job in which it is required. In the past month, I visited three colleges and asked tutors how they felt about the training that was being provided. The colleges that provide training for first-year and second-year apprentices are frustrated, because they do not have the power to progress the training. I asked one trainer where he received his training. The only people who can train the trainers are the manufacturers, because it is they who build the cars, the technology and the equipment to run them.

One trainer at a college told me that he went on a week-long course in Germany last year for BMW. That was provided to him as a perk, because there were no BMWs in the vicinity of the college, and did not teach BMW technology. Ours is a business in which 500 salaries a year are paid to produce the expertise of the future. However, the Government are spending money to the left when it needs to go in the right. Money is being spent, but it is going in the wrong direction, and that is frustrating.

Portuguese people — and people of other nationalities — are moving here, but we do not necessarily want to spend money on training them, because they will move away in a year’s time. We would, therefore, be training them to work in Portugal or some other country. We provide apprenticeships through the Master Technician programme, the Licensed Technician, or some of the franchises, and it costs between £15,000 and £20,000 to do so. There is a limit to how many of those apprentices we can bring through those courses. None of the investment that is being made is coming to us, and, therefore, fully qualified technicians are at a premium.

Therefore, in order to achieve a more balanced workforce, more people must be trained appropriately.

As far as I am concerned, Carter and Carter are on the margins of the training industry in Northern Ireland, and not in the main arena — its actions do not correspond to current industry norms.

Mr Crilly:
I do not want this to sound like a slanging match about Carter and Carter. However, it is fair to say that we are disappointed. I was surprised because, when Carter and Carter was awarded the contract as a result of its tender, it did not have facilities in Northern Ireland. Subsequently, in August 2007, it bought the Blackwater House training operation. However, it had tendered for the contract at the end of May 2007.

Although Carter and Carter Group plc is a huge organisation, it did not publish its accounts in July 2007 because the auditors refused to sign off on them. There are questions about doubtful trading and, because it over-claimed grants, it was required to repay £4 million to one of the skills councils in England. We were shocked and surprised to learn that the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) had chosen Carter and Carter.

I represent DAF Trucks in Northern Ireland, which, last year, stopped using Carter and Carter because it was not happy with the quality of its provision, and I am aware that other manufacturers, including Renault, have also stopped using it.

Moreover, its acquisition of Blackwater House as its local provider also surprised us. Although I do not wish to dwell on history, in 1999, I was involved in the buyout of TBF Thompson and, having come into the business, I realised that there was no quality training provision. I asked other Northern Ireland truck dealers whether they were having problems with apprentice training, and they confirmed that they were. We appointed Sx3, which was then part of Viridian Group, to provide training. However, after a year, due to internal politics, it pulled out and passed the responsibility to Blackwater House, which promised that it would invest significantly in equipment. We struggled along with Blackwater House for about a year and a half, and, to the best of my knowledge, no truck dealers are currently using it to provide training.

DAF in Northern Ireland sends 18 apprentices a year to Bristol, who attend college for 10 weeks in year 1, 10 weeks in year 2 and six weeks in year 3. Consequently, because we cannot source the required quality of training in Northern Ireland, we fly young people from Northern Ireland and pay for their accommodation in Bristol so that they can attend college. I would love Northern Ireland to have a centre of excellence about which we could be proud and in which we could train our young people in order to keep them here and produce good-quality technicians. Unfortunately, the decisions that have been taken will not help to achieve that.

The Chairperson:
Although several specific issues are emerging, I remind members that we are dealing with, and should focus on, the Training for Success programme.

Ms Lo:
I thank the witnesses for attending, and the Committee will find it useful to consider their information. I hear what you are saying, Terence. Does your company wish to conduct its training in house?

Mr Donnelly:
Although I am frustrated, it is not frustration alone that has caused me to decide to conduct in-house training. We require professional training, and that is not available elsewhere. If I cannot find an organisation that will attend to my business, I create such an operation. Our chairman is also associated with Arnold Clark and, therefore, we have a good insight into how apprentice-training programmes have worked previously. I use that example to illustrate the fact that we need not reinvent the wheel.

In common with Raymond Crilly’s company, we must send people to England to have them trained consistently. I am keen to address that matter because we must train the trainers. In order to be the best in the industry, the right teachers and students must be trained to the highest level. We must therefore employ the right students and, at the end of each year’s training, we must ensure that they want to continue and are making the grade — as in any college — and that we are not running a training college merely to obtain Government funding and to keep going.

That is not what this is about. This is about training people in the industry and expanding that smaller model to the whole industry. Everyone in the industry is in the same position. We are employing foreign workers. I am not saying that we should not do that, but we cannot invest in their training because they will leave as soon as they have made enough money. We will invest our own money and try to get financial assistance. Money that is being spent elsewhere could be freed up and invested in the main arena where it is needed, and then we will have apprentices with a future.

Apprentices have to be nurtured in order to have a future. We desperately need apprentices today; otherwise we will not have them in three years. Our company must take serious steps, as we cannot work without apprentices. The system is disjointed, and the more we try to pull the joints together, the more difficulties we will have. If matters worsen, I will lose interest, because we are already struggling to link to the technical colleges.

There are also questions about the method of tendering that was used to award the training contract to Carter and Carter Group, but I will come back to that. Organisations are going back to the technical colleges to ask them to do their work, but that system did not work in the past, so we should not go back to it.

We are still using 1999-2000 standards, but we need to get up to 2008 standards. The cars that are used for training in colleges are at least six years old, but our company uses computers these days. There are some great guys doing good work in the colleges, but they are dealing with older cars. The college in Ballymena is the only one with a modern car, which was provided by Toyota. We are in dire straits when we pay for the training, but it is the manufacturer who tries to provide the training.

Mr Hutchinson:
Major investment is necessary. We do not know whether there is an obligation or commitment on the level-3 contract-holder to make that investment.

Mr Newton:
I thank the delegation for attending this meeting. What was the level of consultation between the Department and the Sector Skills Council on the Training for Success programme? Who sets or agrees the apprenticeship framework and the standards? Presumably, companies do not qualify unless they meet the framework standard. Under the sector skills agreement that you have signed off with the Department, what is the strategy for the provision of apprenticeship training? What is the impediment to employers recruiting apprentices?

Mr Hutchinson:
I was not with the Sector Skills Council at the beginning of 2007 when the tendering exercise took place, so I do not know the answer to that question.

The Chairperson:
Will you find out that information? That may be helpful.

Mr Hutchinson:
I will find out what consultation took place. The sector skills agreement is a comprehensive list of actions dealing with all sorts of issues, such as careers and management, and so on. There is a lot of activity on the apprenticeship side. We are participating in initiatives such as lectures into industry, and that keeps the training providers and the guys who deliver the training up to date.

Danny Gormley is one of the lecturers in Omagh College, which Committee members visited last week. Over a year ago, he spent 10 to 12 weeks working in the industry. We are keen to encourage more of that type of activity. Since I took up my appointment, we have had two meetings with the training providers — the quality improvement group. It is part of our sector skills agreement to maintain that group to improve the quality of training provision across the Province.

The next question was about frameworks. We are conducting a big research project called the sector qualification strategy. From that, we are receiving lots of opinions on what constitutes appropriate qualifications and frameworks from employers, management, and employees on the workshop floor and in the showrooms. A clear message that is coming from our industry is that the NVQ is a damaged brand. We must closely examine whether the NVQ is an appropriate badge of competence for future technicians, whether it is up to date and whether it is respected.

Mr Newton:
From what Mr Crilly and Mr Donnelly have said, it seems that the aim is to create a centre of excellence. Is that part of your agreement with the Department?

Mr Hutchinson:
I will have to check on that. It is certainly on our radar to have centres of excellence strategically placed around the Province for specialist areas of the sector such as the trucks sector, which is associated with a smaller volume of provision, bodywork, paintwork and mechanics. Coming from that background in training provision, I am keen that lower-level training provision — possibly up to level 2 — is available locally. As level-3 training requires more expensive and specialised equipment, and training staff who are more knowledgeable, a strategic placement around the Province, which depends on the volume of business, is required.

Mr Attwood:
Despite what you have said, Chairperson, I want to return to the issue of Carter and Carter Group, because it represents a failure in the tendering process and, now, a failure of contract. One way or another, the Department will be called to account about the financing of that situation.

The Chairperson:
I just ask that Members do not focus on one specific issue related to Training for Success. I am not a cheerleader for Carter and Carter.

Mr Attwood:
I know that. I suspect that such people are a dying breed.

The Chairperson:
Cheerleaders? [Laughter.]

Mr Attwood:
No, I meant supporters of Carter and Carter Group plc. The image of you as a cheerleader —

The Chairperson:
Carter and Carter does apprenticeships in cheerleading now. [Laughter.]

Mr Attwood:
It would be useful if the witnesses sent two written submissions to the Committee: one that explains why you think that the Scottish model is relevant, and one on the poor performance of Carter and Carter, which Raymond Crilly mentioned.

On the basis of yesterday’s visit, and given that it is the level-3 contract-holder across the North, is Carter and Carter Group capable of providing level-3 contracts? Is it capable of doing what you require it to do for level-3 trainees?

Mr Donnelly:
Absolutely not.

Mr Hutchinson:
If Carter and Carter Group teamed up with good-quality providers in the Province, it could be capable.

Mr Attwood:
From speaking to people in the business, I know that Carter and Carter approaches good-quality providers, but then does not follow up those approaches. That has been happening for months. Would you send any trainee to Carter and Carter?

Mr Donnelly:
No; I would train them myself. Sending a trainee to Carter and Carter would be a waste of money. It is not easy to be so blunt in the public arena, but, as a businessman, it would be a waste of time if I came here and did not tell it as I see it.

Mr Crilly:
I spoke to DAF Trucks, because I represent them, and they switched from Carter and Carter Group in the middle of last year to Skillnet Automotive Academy. DAF carried out a tendering process, and I asked one of the members of the tendering committee what he thought of Carter and Carter. At the risk of sounding derogatory, he said that he would not have allowed them to sweep his yard. He did not rate them.

On its website, Carter and Carter has a report of its extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on 15 February this year, and if you read between the lines of even their summary of the meeting, there is something seriously wrong with that organisation. It has had to repay moneys, and there is clearly a problem somewhere in that organisation. However, Committee members will have to read for themselves.

Mr Attwood:
The Committee has been very much aware of all the developments leading up to the EGM on 15 February. We received evidence a couple of weeks ago from the Construction Employers Federation, which was working with DEL to rework Training for Success, potentially for the start of the next training year, so that it would be suitable for the construction employers, who have taken a view that is similarly critical of Training for Success as the one that you have expressed.

The Construction Employers Federation thought that it might be making some progress in its conversations with DEL officials in that regard. Are you having talks at present with DEL officials to rework Training for Success in the way that you would like; and, if you are having such conversations, is there any indication that the programme will be reworked in a way that you would like?

Mr Hutchinson:
There are no such discussions at this stage. I have the sector skills agreement here, and I was looking at what it includes on quality improvement. There is a whole page about matters such as a quality improvement strategy to improve the training programmes offered and the expertise of teaching staff. The quality improvement group has been formed, and will meet four times a year. It has met twice so far. There is a continuing personal-development training event for training providers on 3 March. We are working with the Learning Skills Development Agency on getting lecturers into industry. We are speaking to employers about getting lecturers out into the industry. TBF Thompson and Donnelly Brothers have agreed to have lecturers work alongside their staff to update their knowledge. There are, therefore, quite a lot of activities outlined in that document.

Mr Crilly:
If I might return to the point made by Mr Attwood — it is not that we would not talk to DEL officials, we would be delighted to talk to them. They have not asked us yet. We have an employer forum, of which I am the chairman, and if they would like to talk to us, we would be more than happy to do so.

Mr Donnelly:
I made some enquiries about the possibility of setting up a discussion, and they wanted to come and talk to me. However, after the appointment process and the redirection of the training, I decided to leave it at that point because I did not feel that my input would have had an ear after the recent tender and change.

From our point of view, the appetite for dialogue exists. We have had discussions with training councils and the industry to make sure that we can continue to have an input into helping everyone to move forward. Therefore, we are open to any dialogue and assistance in that area because there is a need for communication and help in both directions.

Mrs McGill:
I declare an interest because I have a vehicle that was supplied by Donnelly Brothers.

The Chairperson:
Did you get a good deal? [Laughter.]

Mrs McGill:
I come from the west. Mr Donnelly’s vision of providing in-house training seems a sensible approach, as Anna Lo has said. Could young people in the west and north-west access training in establishments located close to them, or would you envisage them using a centrally based centre of excellence, as outlined by Mr Crilly? I am in favour of the former.

Mr Donnelly:
We need to examine two models. The Scottish model uses centres of excellence that are linked exclusively to the manufacturers. However, the scale of the change process requires discussion. I do not currently have a plan in mind that encompasses considerations for specific areas, but I am glad to assume that role in the future, because the industry needs someone to lead the training.

The Assembly, through a survey that was sent out soon after restoration, asked employers for their views. We need to put in place an arrangement whereby we consider input from the Government, manufacturers, and the motor industry itself when making a decision on how to proceed with training.

I think that the Donnelly Group was linked to the tender due to its location in Campsie. Centres of excellence should be spread across the country, and should deal with different aspects of training. I support the idea of establishing a centre of excellence because it is efficient and ensures top-level training. I would be a willing and active participant in any future round-table discussions on that subject.

It is not only technicians and those in the workshops who require training, and to replace the current system with in-house training would require planning. Initially, our training operation was a satellite to see whether we could deliver the top band of training. We know that we can. Across Northern Ireland, the industry must consider the non-franchised motor trade, and those who will be employed by smaller garages, whose required level of training would not necessarily be the same as ours.

Although the situation is complex, I do not fear it, and nor should the Assembly. Through detailed investigation, devising a plan to suit the needs of the industry will be simple. The Donnelly Group participates in work-experience schemes, and, indeed, accepts such students on a daily basis. As we hold 60% of the motor trade in the north-west, we could establish a college that can take responsibility for training that 60%. We can extend that to the remaining 40% if necessary.

We are glad to have an open discussion about the overall approach. We need to consider areas such as apprentice programmes, computer skills, and work undertaken in the offices. All of those areas are unique to the motor industry and require training that is provided by those with knowledge in that industry.

Mrs McGill:
Last week, during a presentation at the Omagh campus of the South West College, it was mentioned that apprentices from the west and north-west, and places such as Omagh, should not have to travel miles from home, if possible.

Those of us from that area will be promoting that idea. Would a centre for excellence be custom-built?

Mr Crilly:
I must declare an interest: I live in Enniskillen.

Mr Donnelly:
Omagh was one of the centres that I visited. Do we focus on those centres that currently exist, in order to enable them to reach a certain level and at least uplift the basic training that they provide? At present, there are, I think, 18 providers — everything is too disjointed. I said in the survey that we would participate absolutely and would invest our own company money in training for the future. It is part of what we want to do, and we would be glad to have a serious discussion about that.

However, the system has so many legs that it is unfair for me to say that, tomorrow, I will take on everyone’s training, because colleges and other providers are in place for that. The problem is that there is such a scattering of training that someone must get a grip on the current system and redesign it.

The Chairperson:
I must bring this session to a close.

Mr Hutchinson:
May I make some very quick points?

The Chairperson:
I am in a good mood, Martin, so you may.

Mr Hutchinson:
In our sector skills agreement, we shall, later this year, produce a piece of research to identify the extent of demand for training, and its current provision, across the Province. That research will ascertain whether a need for rationalisation exists.

Someone from our head office will visit DEL later this month to talk about apprenticeship frameworks. The issue will undoubtedly arise, even though those are not directly related to Training for Success. On Friday 29 February, we shall have an employer forum meeting, at which Training for Success will be on the agenda. No doubt we shall be inviting representatives from DEL to attend the next meeting after that.

The Chairperson:
I want to thank you for being upfront and honest on Training for Success. If you find that any more information is available that the Committee should be receiving, feel free to pass on that information. Thank you very much.

Mr Spratt:
Madam Chairperson, in the light of what I have heard, and in the light of the meeting that you and I had with the Minister just a few days ago, I am keen to have departmental officials along again to the Committee to discuss Carter and Carter’s role. What we have just heard, from leading businesspeople, who are at the coalface and are the providers, is, to say the least, absolutely damning. I am not convinced, and I am sure that other Committee members are not convinced, that the Department has been made fully aware of the concerns over the training that Carter and Carter is providing. Such training is important, and it appears that people who need it, as well as those people who have already received level-3 training, have no confidence whatsoever in that training. That is a problem. As far as I am concerned, public money is being used to provide training that I am convinced is not even taking place properly.

Alex Attwood has asked for further information to be provided about the Scottish model. I am keen that Research Services produce a paper on that, because I feel that it is important to examine that model. Several leading businessmen have taken time to look at the model that is used in Scotland. I imagine that that model has been in existence for a number of years, and those businessmen certainly consider it to have major merits. We may wish to have a look at it at some point

The Chairperson:
You are probably right. How Training for Success is moved forward is an issue to which we shall return. We have another two presentations to hear; therefore, I am keen to move on. I appeal to Committee members that we take careful stock of our status and how we proceed, because there may be an issue with John Dowdall’s review of the issue and how it relates to our set-up, the meeting we had with the procurement section and the assurance that the Minister gave us at our meeting last week.The Committee must consider its next steps. We have an Assembly researcher present today who will take on board the points that have been made and come back to us with a paper on the issues that have been raised.

Our next evidence session is from Improve NI, the food and drink industry’s sector skills council. I welcome Geoff Lamb and apologise for keeping him waiting.

Mr Geoff Lamb (Improve Ltd):
I have listened to an interesting conversation while waiting to speak.

The Chairperson:
There is a great deal of interest in Training for Success. The food and drink industry is an important sector, given the growth in the catering industry. Moreover, it is an integral part of the plan for the tourism and hospitality sector. I shall hand over to you for a short presentation, before opening up the discussion to Committee members for a question-and-answer session.

Mr Lamb:
We may make up some time; I do not intend to hold anybody back. I was asked to prepare a brief, so mine is a very brief brief, so to speak. I represent Improve Ltd in Northern Ireland, which is the sector skills council for the food and drink processing and manufacturing sector. Improve Ltd are represented locally by the Food and Drink Training Council, a full partner with which we share directors, and so on, on our various boards. It is important that we have a local input into what is a national-themed issue.

I shall speak about some high-level, and globally important, matters concerning the agrifood sector. I will then focus on my views on Training for Success. Given what I have heard already today, my positivity may come as an absolute shock, so I am glad that everyone is sitting down. [Laughter]. It is not all positive, but it is certainly not all negative.

The local agrifood sector has a variety of sub-sectors. We are responsible for the supply chain from farm to fork, dealing with bakeries, meat processors, the grain industry, dairies, poultry processors, and so on. Approximately 19,000 people are directly employed in the agrifood industry, and as many again are engaged indirectly along the supply chain. For example, transport and wholesale distribution — already mentioned here today — is an example of what is considered part of that supply chain.

The industry’s annual turnover is approximately £2·5 billion. I mention those statistics because there is not a great deal of awareness of the sector’s actual contribution to the local economy. Many people are aware of the relevant issues from a farming perspective — through listening to the likes of ‘Farm Gate’ on the radio — but there is not the same level of interest in food processing. At 18·5%, we are the largest contributor to overall sales, and we employ 23% of the total local manufacturing sector.

The agrifood industry is split into two groups: large enterprises; and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The 10 largest companies are responsible for 44% of the gross turnover and employ 40% of all employees in the industry. A key point is that the average profit level across the industry is 3·1% of sales. If one assesses the big companies’ accounts, it will be noted that they do not seem able to rise above 3% average profit, regardless of turnover figures. That indicates that impactors, such as the global grain price increase, have a dramatic effect on profit. I shall return to that point later.

Today, I am representing those people who are involved in training and apprenticeship delivery in the industry, including companies and suppliers, so I will have to answer all the Committee’s questions.

A range of issues currently faces the global food industry, and economic development disparity is one of those issues. Whatever one’s views on the World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs and EU legislation, there is undoubtedly an increasing disparity between the developed and developing worlds. Good work is being undertaken around the world in an effort to remove that discrepancy, but it still exists and, unfortunately, it will probably increase further.

The current buzzword in food safety here is bluetongue, and how we can keep it out of the country. Unless somebody can invent a really good bug spray, we shall never be able to keep bluetongue at bay completely. However, we should be able to minimise its impact. Locally, we have experienced BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, and we also have the Codex Alimentarius, the primary piece of European food-safety legislation. Those all impact on cost around the world.

The nutritional content of food is another issue that the global food industry faces. Notwithstanding the television programme that some of you may have seen last night, in which it was reported that no difference exists among certain food varieties, interest abounds in probiotics, nutraceuticals, and so on.

Convenience food is important to time-starved customers. People are starved of time because they choose to be. If they were to take the time to buy proper food and prepare it properly, they would probably be OK. However, convenience food is a major component of the world market at present. Many such ideas originate in the United States of America, and everyone else rides the wave, as though on a surfboard.

The buying of local and organic food has an important local impact, and the new campaign of Food Promotion Northern Ireland (FPNI) has “Good Food is in our Nature” as its strapline. That will be important for promoting local food. However, we should remember that the local food-processing industry exports 80% of its produce. If we were to rely solely on selling local food in a local market, we would have a big problem.

Environmental issues and sustainability affect the global food industry. Much has been said about carbon footprints, biofuels, and so on. Biofuels are a classic example of something that seemed like a good idea at the time, but they turned out not to be. As for the impact of technology, the market continues to move on.

Another issue is market segmentation and SME survival. The question is whether small companies can survive in a large market, especially as we are on a small island on the edge of Europe. There are many economies of scale in South America that we cannot hope to match. Furthermore, the market is constantly changing; who knows where we will be in two years, five years or 10 years?

That is an overview of the high-level global issues. I shall move on to the part of my presentation that I may be able to tie in with Training for Success, which is what the Committee wants to discuss. I hope that you will ask me easy questions at the end.

The local impact of global issues, such as the cost of production and logistics, is an issue for us. Our distance from markets means that we have to cross one or two seas — depending on the route that we take — to distribute our product, and that adds to the cost.

A trend has emerged for manufacturing to move to low-cost economies. The beauty of the food industry is the fact that its goods are perishable; therefore, we will always have some sort of workable food-processing industry. It will go from strength to strength as a manufacturing sector.

Generally, the food industry is seen as having a low-skilled workforce. I am sure that everybody here will have heard of children being told that, if they do not do their homework, they will end up in such-and-such factory. I will not name any names — Committee members can insert the name of their local factory. The skills of the workforce are important at all levels, from processing to supervisory and technical levels — where jobs become more complicated — and even at the middle- and senior-management levels. Skills gaps are hard to fill at all levels around the country, and I will say more about that later.

It is important that we attract the best recruits to the agrifood sector and that we pull people into the sector rather than push them into it. Food businesses cluster in certain areas around the country, such as mid-Ulster or Craigavon. However, we cannot push youngsters into the industry. Rather than trying to compel them to take jobs, we must attract them to the industry. The approach that is being taken in Great Britain at present suggests pushing, rather than pulling. That is not a long-term solution to the problem.

The impact of translating EU legislation into local laws tends to be the addition of ongoing costs associated with compliance rather than added value.

Furthermore, we rely heavily on overseas employees, who have benefited the food and drink industries immensely. Issues do arise, but I will certainly not discuss them here. Overseas employees have rescued the industry in the short term. Their middle- to long-term impact is arguable. Three years ago, we did some UK-wide work that suggested that a high percentage of overseas nationals would stay in the country in which they had taken up residence. However, I am not sure that that will remain the case. It depends entirely on the level of jobs that they have and their career prospects. If they come over to work for 12 months on one job, they may get bored. We must recognise the importance of foreign nationals in the industry and try to interest them in training.

Improve’s task is to ensure that we, as the food and drink industry’s sector skills council, attract the best people, and that those who are currently employed in the industry are given the opportunity to develop their career to the utmost of their potential. The Committee will notice that I am slowly getting around to talking about Training for Success. The key for Improve is to work towards a situation in which employers’ needs are better matched to the availability of training supply. In other words, we must ensure that a balance exists between demand and supply, and Improve is working with a variety of training providers, colleges and employers to try to ensure that that happens. Much good work is already being done on the supply side and the delivery side to try to match the needs of employers with the training available, and that work should be recognised. It is important that we work towards an ideal, to which, although we may never reach it, we should definitely aspire.

I am sure that the Committee is sick to death of hearing sector skills councils talking about their great sector skills agreements (SSAs). I am aware that one of your colleagues mentioned that a mile-length of paperwork was produced in the Assembly, so I will not supply the Committee with a full SSA. Instead, a document is available on our website that can be accessed at any time and worked on as a soft copy, without wasting paper and burning down forests.

Eight key actions are contained in the SSA. Those key actions are quite focused; however, we are in the process of creating action plans that will explain how they will be achieved. The key actions include: careers development in the industry; promoting productivity; flexible qualifications; training, learning and development; and our good old friend IAG — information, advice, and guidance — which should really be “careers information, advice and guidance”.

Skills as a strategic business driver — a further key action — is a bugbear of mine, because skills development is seen as a cost, and when the going gets tough, costs are pared down and training stops. It is important that we educate companies to understand that skills development must continue, because that is the future of their business.

A future in food is another of the key actions. It is a long-term strategy, which is aimed at enhancing the profile of the food industry — even to primary-school children, who think that Tesco has a big factory behind each of its stores, from where the food comes.

The final key action — networking for success — is about companies working together, working with training-delivery mechanisms such as the Workforce Development Forum and organisations such as Improve, and working with colleges.

Therefore, the SSA will inform our future actions, just as it has been informed by various strategies that have been developed with DEL. I am aware that Training for Success is the focus of this evidence session, but I felt it important to discuss matters such as the careers strategy and the skills strategy, and how each will be locally implemented, because Improve is also interested in those.

Having bored the Committee for 10 minutes, I shall now briefly discuss Training for Success. The food and drink industry believes that the development of the level-2 apprenticeship is a bonus. Previously, only level-3 apprenticeships existed, around which there was a variety of issues, because of complicated frameworks and labour sharing in the industry, and we were not very successful in getting people to complete those. A further issue is the food industry’s demographics. The industry is not seen as being a first port of call for many people, and young people seem almost to fall into it.

Therefore, as representatives of the industry, we strongly believe that a level-2 apprenticeship is a better starting point, or first rung on the ladder, for young people, rather than their trying to jump up to level 3. The way in which our friends in DEL have set the Training for Success frameworks means that the level-2 apprenticeship can be completed, and people can then move seamlessly on to level 3. Therefore, we are now taking on apprentices at level 2 in order to move them on to level 3. At least, that is our intention.

Although not everybody will be available to move on to level 3, the level-2 apprenticeship will give them a very strong qualification nonetheless, given that it leads to an NVQ, which is equivalent to a GCSE. The Committee discussed earlier, among other issues, whether the NVQ is damaged as a brand. The NVQ also raises the question of whether we are creating a competent industry instead of an excellent industry. Generally, NVQs have had a bad press over the years. We may now have an opportunity to focus on the fact that they are a useful measure of how people are performing.

We are not proud when it comes to how we operate; we use a variety of models. Crude people might call them something else, but I call those models “hybrids”. We are keen to promote hybrid models, because they involve on-site delivery. The larger companies that we work with will deliver either the entire framework or the majority of it on site.

We are also interested in working with the colleges. Southern Regional College has a good meat centre at its Portadown campus. Belfast Metropolitan College has an excellent bakery-college structure, and we are helping it to promote its apprenticeships. As well as delivering apprenticeships, we are interested in promoting them in other areas.

We deliver the training to suit the employers’ needs. The level-2 apprenticeship has presented the opportunity to sign up butchery apprentices for the first time, and that is an exciting development. That model has not been available before, and we are in the process of signing up 45 apprentices to work in butchers’ shops around the country. We had a slow start because we work to a roll-on, roll-off system, which means that apprentices can be signed up at any time in the year, although I do like to take Christmas Day off. That system has been a slow burn for us, but it is now starting to move forward and develop. Almost 100 apprentices are currently signed on with us. We are a small organisation, so that involves a great deal of work. It also means much driving around the country, so my carbon footprint must be heavy.

We aim for a mixture of private- and public-sector delivery through effective partnerships with colleges and private providers. I am happy to say that Improve has a good working relationship with the colleges. Belfast Metropolitan College has always delivered the bakery apprenticeship, even at level 3. We will continue to work with that college. We are also interested in working with our friends at Southern Regional College to promote its meat centre, which is a viable opportunity for development. We are also working with the Loughry campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Cookstown. It has excellent facilities for training, and if we were to move to having a centre of excellence, CAFRE could run it in the west of the Province. A great deal of training is Belfast-centred, but it is important not to forget the west, especially as much of the food industry is located outside Belfast.

Flexible start times and delivery methods are important — I have already mentioned that we work to a roll-on, roll-off system. Anyone from the European Community is entitled to participate in Training for Success, and the meat industry in particular is strongly represented by a mixture of nationalities. The male and female split among our apprentices, at around 70% male and 30% female, reflects the split in the processing side of the food industry. We hope to increase female numbers in the industry. On Monday morning, I gave a careers talk at Queen’s University, which has 29 students on its food quality and safety nutrition course, 28 of whom are female. There is no problem with one sex’s being represented more than the other in training in the food sector.

I now come to the issues that Improve has with Training for Success. I suppose that everyone is looking to this part of my presentation for a kick. It is too early to say that many areas must be revisited. Improve, with the help of employers in the food industry and other deliverers who are interested in, or already run, apprenticeships, has significantly amended the Training for Success framework to make it more user-friendly. Instead of having separate NVQs, one NVQ with different pathways will enable the employee to become more flexible in the industry. Level-1 apprenticeships are too low for us, but level-2 apprenticeships provide a good access point to training and development, and to career development. We seek long-term gains. We understand that, demographically, the country is getting older: 75% of 2020’s workforce is currently in employment, according to statistics, and that must be taken into account.

We must attract the best people to the food sector. We take people from within the sector — we train them and give them a start — so that is only the beginning of their training careers. Improve Ltd hopes that they will develop from level 2 to level 3, and perhaps to levels 4 and 5, or higher.

The agrifood sector needs a provision for people who are over 25 years of age. Currently, there is only a provision for 16-year-olds to 24-year-olds. The industry is not seen as the first port of call for many people, and that is a problem for both the industries and us. We are trying to promote the industry. Improve Ltd is working very hard to attract younger people, and the best people, to the industry.

At present, I speak to employers daily. Anyone who delivers apprenticeships, or is interested in doing so, would be in favour of the notion of an adult apprenticeship. I strongly believe that we should move towards having that provision in place — even if it is initially done as a pilot, the like of which is currently being trialled in GB.

Agrifood should still be counted as a priority sector. The new funding bands that were implemented as part of the Training for Success programme do not recognise agrifood as one of the top-priority sectors. I am not looking to put my hands into the kitty jar. Moreover, I am not arguing that the food sector should be graded as high as the engineering or transport sectors, because they require a higher level of mechanical and computerised aids for training. However, we should be higher in the funding bands.

What is needed is a new, simplified system that meets the needs of stakeholders. There appears to be problems with the way in which the system is managed between the quality performance branch and the Education and Training Inspectorate. The Education and Training Inspectorate does a fantastically rigorous job, but the quality performance branch does one that is very similar. Those bodies should streamline the work that they do, because there seems to be a crossover at present.

The trainee’s learning and development is crucial. It is easy to sit here and talk about training and development issues, yet forget that the most important person in all of this is the learner. The system must be made easy for the learner. If we make the system easier for the employer, a corollary will be that the system will become easier for the learner.

The reason why capacity enhancement is an issue is that Improve Ltd believes that Training for Success will work. At present, I must balance a number of plates, but we are in the process of employing a full-time worker to look after the apprenticeships for Improve Ltd, because the Training for Success option has provided a really good opportunity for the industry. The industry has been calling for that opportunity for a long time. It is not the industry’s final chance, but it remains a critical issue.

Improve Ltd has been successful before: one of our apprentices was named “apprentice of the year” three years ago; and another won the national food and drink apprenticeship award in London two years ago. We are not afraid to work with colleges and private providers. We have a partnership agreement with — if I dare say it — another mainland organisation, but our experiences of that organisation are not the same as those other witnesses present. Improve Ltd is keen to collaborate with whoever is involved in training and development. We understand that issues arise with capacity — particularly in the west and the north-west of the country — and we will try to address them. Although some potential problems exist, it is very early to sit back and criticise Training for Success.

I do not want to criticise Training for Success at this stage. It is too early, and the programme has yet to bed in. It has only been running since last September. I have heard about all the issues surrounding the scheme — they are well rehearsed, and the Committee knows more about them than I do. However, in general, I believe that the programme gives the food industry a good basis for progress. I will be interested in talking to any and all of you and the Department about how we might amend and streamline matters. I would like to say that if I came back here in a year’s time or 18 months from now, I would still have a positive message.

The Chairperson:
Before opening up the session for questions, I wish to thank Mr Laurence Downey for assisting the Committee in arranging the presentations from the Sector Skills Council.

The issue of over-25 training provision has been raised by a number of organisations. I take on board your point that, from your perspective, it is too early to criticise Training for Success. The Committee is keen to ensure that Training for Success is a success. We are not hoping that it is not a success; we simply want to hear representations from people who are directly or indirectly affected by it in a positive or negative way so that we can work closely with the Department and the Minister. We are not taking a negative view.

Mr McCausland:
You were present for the previous evidence session. Why is it that you have made a positive response, but the response of the representatives of the other sector was a negative one? What is it that makes the difference?

Mr Lamb:
Certain sectors are keener on level-3 qualifications than level-2 ones. The difference lies in the start level. I have always argued firmly — and companies agree with me — that level 2 is a fairer starting point for those in the food industry, who, for one reason or another, did not wish to pursue an academic career or were not that capable in that area. With the exception of bakery and butchery, the food industry is a non-traditional apprenticeship sector.

Even butcher’s shops have enough facilities to deliver on-site training, whereas employers in other sectors do not. I would not want one of my major companies to deliver all the apprenticeships for all the other employers in the area, because that leads to other issues. That is possibly the difference between the two.

Mr McCausland:
You talked about partnerships with colleges and private providers. Can you give me a sense of who the private providers are?

Mr Lamb:
The private providers are consultants who are associates of ours in the food and drink industries. We present our training framework to a company, and if that company wished to take on an apprenticeship programme but did not want to source the delivery of that programme itself, we can deliver it through our associates.

In the butchery sector, we have had to go to Scottish Meat Training, which has employed someone locally to deliver the training for them. We did that because we found it difficult to find trainers whom the butchers respected, for want of a better phrase. Butchers are quite difficult people to deal with; they do not like sending people to —

Mr McCausland:
Both my father and brother were butchers. It obviously runs in the family. [Laughter.]

Mr Lamb:
I shall rephrase that. Butchers are interesting people to deal with. They are rather opinionated, and, because of that, they have always liked the idea of talking to the master butchers — sorry: the artisan and the elite butchers. They have always wanted on-site delivery of training rather than sending their people to the colleges. We can deliver on-site training for them, and increase provision.

The great thing about that is that we are now training butchery apprentices throughout the country, in places such as Limavady, Enniskillen, Strabane, Newry and Armagh. It is slightly different in Portadown because employers there to tend to gravitate towards the Southern Regional College, which has always had the facilities to deliver such training, and it is excellent. In the past, I have tried to persuade the butchers to move towards that training facility, but there are issues about a lack of flexibility and about transport.

Mr Attwood:
I agree with the Chairperson. It is useful to hear evidence across sectors that are affected by the same issues, such as the provision for over-25-year-olds. We heard input on that from the retail sector as well. Those witnesses also flagged up the needs of the part-time sector, and training for that. In your area, there are many people who work part-time.

The Minister has said that he is reviewing Training for Success. If things are wrong, let us not wait before we correct them. Please talk us through enhanced funding levels for food-related apprenticeships. That might be relevant.

Mr Lamb:
The part-time matter is an issue for us, in that many students are employed in our sector. Many people who cannot work during the week are employed at weekends — many carers are employed on that basis. The impact on our sector is not as big as it would be in the retail sector. There are companies that would be interested in delivering more trainees through the programme.

However, we need to be careful about who those part-time people are. If the part-time people are full-time carers, who care for someone during the week but have the weekend to work, and they need a qualification, that is fine. However, we do not want to employ a lot of students and end up double-training them. That issue has cropped up previously, but it is not something I take particular issue with.

Mr Newton:
Presumably, the company provides the student with the training necessary to operate, not the qualification.

Mr Lamb:
Yes. All companies in the food sector must provide training in the compliance-based nature of the sector. Therefore, everyone who comes into a factory will be inducted in health and safety, and food hygiene. Otherwise, we would have real problems. That is all compliance-based training. The training that I referred to goes beyond that, and relates to skills and career development.

Food and drink was recognised as a priority sector for funding under the old system. Under the new system, there are six funding bands. Meat processing falls into level 3, whereas food service is recognised as level 4. I bring up the issue of funding because employers often look at funding and think that it is quite good, but they do not realise that there is a lot of replacement costs in training. When people are taken off the line, they must be replaced.

It is important for me to say that we have redrawn the frameworks with the help of local employers and providers. We have now removed all the different NVQs — we now have a single NVQ in food manufacturing, which has different pathways. We hope to broaden out those pathways. Our next target is development of a dairy pathway. Dale Farm and Fivemiletown Creamery are working towards that. We also want to develop pathways in the fish sector, the confectionery sector, and whatever suits the market. At the moment, there is a crossover whereby meat processing — and processing generally — is in the third funding band, and food services is in the fourth. We think it important that the whole industry be in the one band, and at that higher level. That would provide more opportunities, particularly for a small or medium-sized business (SME), to deliver training. The replacement costs are significant for an SME.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation, Geoff. That was very useful, and it helps the Committee to hear a broad spectrum of ideas, suggestions and information relating to Training for Success.

Mr Lamb:
Thank you very much.

The Chairperson:
We turn to the briefing from the Association of NI Colleges (ANIC) on Training for Success. Before we formally start, I want to take the opportunity to thank John D’Arcy and his team for their work in organising the study visit to Omagh College last week. I also apologise for keeping you waiting. This is a heavy meeting, but it is useful for us to try to pull everything together. We need to conclude our review of Training for Success, so I ask members and witnesses for their continued co-operation.

As part of our ongoing monitoring of Training for Success, it was agreed that we would invite ANIC to the meeting to hear its view on the programme, in order to gain a perspective from the further-education sector.

The Committee has received several briefings from the Education and Training Inspectorate and training providers, but this briefing will allow members to hear the views of one of the critical stakeholders in the sector on Training for Success.

I alert the witnesses that members may ask questions about the FE colleges’ macro dispute. The Committee will return to that subject later in the meeting, because Jimmy Spratt and I met the Minister to discuss the issue. I apologise for keeping you waiting and thank you for attending.

Mr John D’Arcy (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges):
On behalf of the association and our member colleges, we welcome the opportunity to brief the Committee on the colleges’ experiences of Training for Success. I am joined by Seamus Murphy, who is the director of the North West Regional College; Maura Lavery, the deputy director of Belfast Metropolitan College; and Brian Doran, the director of the Southern Regional College. It is pure coincidence that Geoff Lamb referred, in glowing terms, to two of those colleges during his presentation.

Today’s briefing is timely, because, last week, Committee members took the opportunity to visit the Omagh campus of the South West College, where they saw a modern college in action, addressing the needs of the community and, in particular, developing the Training for Success programme. Members had an opportunity to talk to the principal and staff of the college about their experiences.

I am wary of taking up too much of the Committee’s time, but, over the next few minutes, we want to provide the perspective of all six colleges. The Committee received a paper in advance of today’s meeting. I have a fresh version with me today, because I left some of my trademark typographical errors in the original, for which I apologise.

The college sector views Training for Success as having particular potential to make a significant contribution to the economic development and social cohesion of Northern Ireland. To borrow your words, Chairperson, we want Training for Success to be a success. The tone of our presentation is aimed at ensuring that the programme can deliver its full potential for the participants, employers, economy and the entire society in Northern Ireland.

It is worthwhile bearing in mind that, in the wake of the report of the Westminster Public Accounts Committee, the Department worked under great time pressure to deliver a new scheme. The pace with which they met the challenge must be commended. However, the short timescale contributed to several operational errors and problems on the ground, with which colleges, participants and employers must cope.

As we identify what some of those problems are from our perspective, we will also identify solutions because we are not here to score points, but to contribute to the debate. Training for Success is a fundamentally important programme for Northern Ireland. It affects a large proportion of young people and, as we look forward to a more economically stable society, the programme has an important role to play.

We structured our paper according to several high-level themes. I shall outline a couple of those before handing over to colleagues to detail the experiences of the colleges.

We raised the issue of procurement, which the Committee has already discussed at length. However, colleges continue to have concerns about the procurement process — for example, the implied, but not substantiated, collaborative arrangements indicated in the bids of some private-sector companies. The feedback from the Central Procurement Directorate to colleges is that they are still at odds with some of the scoring mechanisms that are being employed. We welcome the Committee’s focus on that issue, and we are aware that the Department is taking steps to consider future procurement processes.

I mentioned that there was a tight timescale for constructing the programme, which naturally impacted on the time available for planning. It should be noted that all providers, not only the colleges, have been concerned about the limited time frame for the planning and development of the programme. It is one thing to implement a programme; it is another to enrol and appropriately place students.

The timescale for development did not lend itself to the full range of marketing and promotional activities with schools and careers advisors across the Province that we would have wanted. That has given colleges and providers some difficulties with placing people appropriately and with the number of people who are enrolling on the programme.

Maura Lavery and Brian Doran will talk about the performance of Training for Success. Seamus Murphy will then talk about its economic and wider aspects.

Training for Success is not a single programme; it is multi-faceted and cuts across sectors, which makes it complex. Committee members have already asked questions about performances across different sectors. Complexity is also added by the fact that many young people who enter the scheme have different characteristics. The literacy and numeracy issues serve as an example of some of those complexities.

Ms Maura Lavery (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges):
Established training organisations have been a part of each of the college’s frameworks for many years. Therefore, the colleges implemented Training for Success with a commitment that was built on many years of experience of delivering training.

An advantage for the college training organisations is the clear pathways that can be established from our school partnership work with young people aged 14, right through to their progression when they have completed level-3 training. That is clearly needed in Northern Ireland to enable people to progress to become supervisors, managers and technicians in the relevant industries.

Training for Success is not simply concerned with apprentice training — it caters for everyone, from 16-year-old school leavers to highly motivated adults up to the age of 25. As the Committee is aware, the profile of school leavers at 16 is varied. It ranges from those who are well motivated with a clear vocational focus, to those who have significant learning deficiencies and low levels of maturity.

When reviewing how we have implemented Training for Success, we want to ensure that the Committee is aware of the different strands of the programme and the audiences that we cater for. We welcome the fact that the Department for Employment and Learning is entering into dialogue with providers to consider how some of those issues can be addressed.

The apprenticeship strand, which is the one that has been focused on, requires participants to enter at level 2 and then to progress to level-3 training as an employee of a company. Although we were concerned at the level of employers’ uptake and their buy-in to the programme, the instances in which employers have engaged have worked fairly well.

It is difficult, though, for a scheme such as Training for Success to suit all industries. Often, the one-size-fits-all approach does not work. For example, it would have been possible, and acceptable, for a young person to become a level-1 apprentice in the retail industry. However, it is not possible to do that through Training for Success.

We are also aware that the opportunity for young people and adults to secure apprenticeships depends on fluctuations in the labour market and the job opportunities that exist. Therefore, although we have recruited some 793 apprentices across the entire Northern Ireland college sector this year, we cannot be sure that that volume of employment opportunities exists. Any downturn in the construction industry, or, indeed, in any of the industry sectors, will mean that such opportunities do not exist. We are aware that such downturns are occurring.

One of the flaws of Training for Success, which particularly affects older apprentices, is that participants are required to have gained at least a grade C in GCSE maths and English, or equivalent, within the past five years. That is an unnecessary barrier, and it means that employers are required to release individuals who already have those qualifications for a minimum of 40 hours per subject.

Through working on the apprenticeship strand, we have also identified problems with some of the procurement issues — which have already been discussed. The Committee is aware that some private training providers have a monopoly on level-3 training in some areas.

College training organisations find themselves delivering the level-2 training and passing the level-2-qualified entrants on to private training organisations, and the split of funding does not reflect that. The vast majority of practical training has to be done at level 2 and not at level 3, which is more concerned with building on previous knowledge. We felt that that arrangement allowed for a little bit of cherry-picking of the more profitable elements by the private training organisations, and left the harder work with the colleges.

Another strand of Training for Success, with which the Committee will be familiar, is the “Job Ready” strand, which consists of four further strands: “pre-apprenticeship”, “skills for work”, “personal development”, and “employability”. Although we have 793 apprenticeships or young people who are employed, we also have 748 pre-apprentices, who could benefit from an apprenticeship and who are eligible to enter level-2 training. However, because of labour-market fluctuations and demand, those young people have not been able to secure employment. The Committee must recognise that that is a very important constituent group, which represents young people who can meet the future skills needs of Northern Ireland, but who have not been able to secure employment. Those young people are keen to work in a practical environment. We are catering for many of those young people, and they will fill the emerging labour markets.

It is important that the funding that is allocated to training in the “Job Ready” strand reflects the high levels of directed training required in the operational guidelines. Operational guidelines for “Job Ready” pre-apprenticeships involve high levels of in-house directed training, and yet the funding does not reflect the investment that must be made. Young people can access work placement later in the year after 13 weeks. At that stage, however, it will be in the run-up to Christmas, making it quite difficult to place those young people. Some of them are disadvantaged and still unplaced.

We have not found the young people as motivated in the “Job Ready” strand as they were when they were able to access real work experiences earlier in the programme. Their final year of school prepared them for work experience, but they found themselves in a very directed training environment, which was not motivating.

“Skills for work” is the level-1 strand. It is worth remembering that many young people who leave school now can have specific learning needs and be socially and economically disadvantaged. The young people in that strand are faced with high levels of directed training that is not motivating them, and they have fewer opportunities to access real work environments. Some have been awarded training credits that were not appropriate. Those young people need to be trained in small groups and need high-level support. We found that that aspect of Training for Success has been less successful.

The “personal development” strand has positive features. However, many young people who found themselves in the “skills for work” level-1 strand would have done better in the “personal development” strand. We have had feedback that the name of that strand has not been attractive. The funding, given the high levels of directed training, has not been adequate.

For members’ reference, we represent 508 young people across training organisations who are engaged in the “skills for work” level-1 programme, and only 10 of those young people have a “personal development” training credit. Therefore, that training credit was not widely awarded.

Mr Brian Doran (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges):
I shall pick up on a few points relating to the “skills for work” and “personal development” strands. I want to reiterate the point about issuing training credits. The colleges feel that a more flexible approach is needed for both of those strands, so that, during the introductory phase of training, when there is a diagnostic assessment and appropriate engagement with the relevant bodies, that we be given additional time to assess the individual needs of the young person with a view to determining the training credit after a period — possibly up to one month.

That would provide a more effective way of identifying an individual’s needs, and, therefore, trainees would be put into the most appropriate strand of the “Job Ready” programme.

Maura stated that many of the young people who are in the wrong strand — particularly those in the “personal development” and the “skills for work” strands — suffer from disabilities and learning difficulties. There is a need for a greater multi-agency approach to ensure that transition from the schools sector — including special schools — is more effective and that colleges and training organisations are engaged in that process from as early a stage as possible.

Colleges engage with the schools sector, in particular, early in an academic year to market Training for Success and the opportunities that exist under its strands. A multi-agency approach should also be implemented in that regard, because increased engagement between the schools sector and training organisations is required to ensure that the transition arrangements are effective.

It is also important that the parents of students are aware of what the programme entails and what progression opportunities exist in the strands.

Some colleges are concerned about transportation funding, but that problem relates to the hinterland from which a college recruits it trainees and young people. I am from the Southern Regional College, and we span four council areas. There is a disparity in the levels of funding that are available to cover the costs of transportation. For instance, in the Newry and Mourne area, trainees come to the Newry campus from as far away as Kilkeel or Crossmaglen, and they are travelling 20-plus miles to the campus every day. As a result, the Newry campus is losing an average of approximately £800 a week in transportation costs.

There is a variation in that, which is a result of the different bands of transportation funding that are available to colleges and training organisations. That matter has been raised with the Department for Employment and Learning, and, I hope, it will be reviewed in the coming weeks.

Mr Seamus Murphy (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges):
I will look at training in the context of the business cycle and the wider Programme for Government, and I do so as a training economist and as a director of a college and a training organisation.

The current scheme is based on the premise that an employer-led scheme should be the only option for apprenticeship training, and that it is the best mechanism for delivering the skills training contained in the Programme for Government. In real terms, that means that the number of employers and apprentices of an industry will increase when an industry is buoyant. However, given the timescales, that increased number of apprentices will not come out as skilled workers for, perhaps, two or three years. During the period of increased training, it is likely that there will be a rise in wages that will have been passed on by inflation.

When an industry contracts, the apprenticeship opportunities also contract, and fewer skilled staff are produced. That produces a skills shortage in the next cycle for growth. The few apprentices that we managed to get placed at level 2 in the north-west’s construction businesses are returning to us to join a “Job Ready” strand of the Training for Success programme, because they have been laid off by their employers. Apprentices are the first to be laid off in an economic recession.

If one looks at a training cycle against a business cycle, the traditional, classic economic model is that the training cycle runs like a contraflow to the business cycle: training is increased during a recession so that skilled labour is available to expand in times of growth. However, if one works purely on an employer-led model, that cannot happen, because the apprenticeship option will flow in the same direction as the business option. Those cycles differ in the retail trade, the construction trade and the engineering trade.

I would argue that that classic model cannot be delivered through an employer-led scheme. I would also question whether it is a suitable model for skills development in the twenty-first century. Given the information available from DEL — through the Workforce Development Forum — on the labour market, it should be possible to chart, through the Programme for Government, how many apprentices are needed at different levels in each industry on a longitudinal base over a five- to 10-year period. One would then have an annual allocation of people and an idea of the skill level to which they need to be trained.

In doing that, one is changing the cycle. We need to examine what is happening in England and Wales. I am not suggesting that such provision should be removed, but, in England and Wales, the employer-led provision is supplemented by a programme-led provision, which colleges and training organisations deliver. As a result, at the end of each year, a set number of apprentices comes out at the levels that were agreed at the start. Therefore, there is a steady flow, which creates a sense of stability in the industry.

Such an approach would benefit not only industry but wider society and the Programme for Government, because it would allow councils, Invest Northern Ireland and various Government agencies to point to the trained pool of labour available in each locality as part of the attraction when seeking inward investment.

Geography and rurality, which are directly linked to social exclusion, also cannot be addressed through employer-led provision. At present, a young person’s being able to enter an apprenticeship is dependent on the availability of an employer. More importantly, that employer has to be prepared to offer an apprenticeship, which is something that many employers are not prepared to do. My own brother is a subcontractor, and he does not want to be involved in any training schemes, because of the associated administrative issues. People may say that he is just an awkward country builder, but that is his view nonetheless.

Therefore, a young person’s ability, if it is dependent on the employer base, will mean that, in the medium term and onwards, young people’s opportunities will be restricted by the number of employers in their area. Social-inclusion and skills-development agendas make no sense whatsoever. Young people’s ability to be trained should depend, first, on their aptitude and, secondly, on the training programmes being available.

Another issue in the medium term is new areas of industrial development; for example, development of biomedicals and biochemicals. The current programme will, by and large, train people for traditional areas of employment but not necessarily for new areas of industry. If we do not get involved in those industries and markets, our economy will fall behind, and it will remain behind.

If we were to have a purely employer-led scheme, are the sector skills councils capable of defining the skills levels that are necessary for today? I suggest that they are. However, are they capable of developing the skills levels necessary for 10 or 15 years down the road? For a young person between the ages of 16 and 25, training should be looked at as a longitudinal programme and take into account the national and global economies. At present, using current standards, I question whether those skills levels are being developed.

The structure of industry will create an economic blockage for young people if the employer-led scheme is considered to be the only option. The electrical industry serves as a good example. In certain parts of Northern Ireland it has a significant numbers of large employers and throughout the rest of the Province it has many small employers. That directly affects the type of young people who come on to the scheme.

I shall briefly summarise what I mean, in case the Committee wishes to return to the point. For contracting and tendering purposes, a major electrical contractor can charge for a final-year apprentice at full labour cost. If and when that young person has been trained and wants to set up on his own, he is in no danger of competing with the company that trained him. He will get his white van and start out in the domestic market.

However, SMEs west of the Bann, particularly in the north-west, are involved in subcontracting or domestic work and cannot afford to charge the full labour cost for a final year apprentice, because they will overprice their contracts. More importantly, they will also trail their competitors in two year’s time, because, once the apprentice is trained, his start-up costs will be minimal and he becomes a real competitor in that market. SMEs in many areas often look after their own interests and are not particularly interested in supporting training. The Belfastcentric and Ballymenacentric electrical industry is a very good example of how apprenticeships are affected, but it is not the only industry that follows that pattern.

In the colleges’ view, any scheme that envisages centralised training — some did envisage that at level 3 — is a bit of a nonsense. It is a fair challenge for a young person from Strabane, Belcoo, Crossmaglen or Kilkeel to get to Mallusk for 8.00 am for his training, particularly when the buses are not running. Even if the bus is available, it may mean a 5.30 am start and an 8.30 pm finish.

Local training rather than centralised provision is necessary if we are to make apprenticeships attractive. I also reiterate what Brian Doran said about travel costs. I service the Strabane and Limavady council areas, and we are losing money to travel costs in both those localities.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation. It was useful and summed up the questions that were raised in presentations made in the previous two evidence sessions. Your submission provides the combined views of the six colleges that ANIC represents. That we have all those views in one submission is a great achievement in itself.

Several issues were raised on the subjects of tendering and procurement. The Committee is examining those issues, even though technically they fall outside its remit. We want to adopt an holistic approach to Training for Success, and we have approached other Committees to allow us to do that. The issue of travel was mentioned during last week’s meeting in Omagh. You may not have the information to hand, but it may be useful for the Committee to be made aware of the impact that that issue is having on the six colleges.

Your submission states:
“Colleges welcome the fact that the Department for Employment and Learning has entered into dialogue to address areas requiring amendment.”

It goes on to state:

“Colleges do not have a difficulty in engaging with employers to develop and deliver training.”

Is that only up to level 2?

Mr D’Arcy:
No. It would be beyond that, and beyond Training for Success. Over the past number of years, the degree of engagement between colleges and employers has reached an unprecedented level. In many ways, that has been facilitated by the Workforce Development Forum. Each of the six colleges takes forward its work. There has been increased dialogue with the Department during the course of the Training for Success programme, and we ask that there be more.

In his presentation, Geoff Lamb said that it might be too early to make changes. However, our concern is that young people are already on the programme, and if we know that changes could be made that would help their progress and help employers, we should be talking openly to the Department about that now. We are aware that the Department is convening focus groups and is engaged with colleges, but that should be happening much more frequently, and it should definitely be done in partnership.

The Chairperson:
Will you provide the Committee with information about the travel issue?

Mr D’Arcy:
I shall obtain that for you, Chairperson.

Mr McCausland:
We have heard three very different perspectives in today’s evidence sessions. When Training for Success was being set up, what level of engagement took place between the Department and colleges? Were your concerns not taken on board?

Mr S Murphy:
As the only director present, I can feel everyone’s eyes turning to me.

We met departmental officials in Newry last year, and they outlined what they intended to do about tendering and contracting. We raised several major issues with the officials about how we viewed the scheme and what might happen if they went ahead with the process. We have been discussing issues with the Department since then. I hope that some time in the near future we will reach an agreement on what is happening.

Following on from John’s earlier comment, planning was an issue in the sense that the guidelines were often issued after the tender stage had closed. It was a rushed programme. However, many of the operational issues that have arisen we drew to the Department’s attention in January 2007.

Mr McCausland:
Representatives from the motor-vehicle sector told us that the training equipment in colleges might not be as hi-tech as the equipment that is required for some of the most up-to-date cars. Do colleges have difficulty in ensuring that the equipment that is used to train young people is of the high specification that is required in some of those very technical areas?

Mr S Murphy:
I cannot speak for all six colleges, but my college has been completely re-equipped to industry standard in its new facility. The Northern Regional College is a centre of excellence in training for Toyota GB ; Belfast Metropolitan College had a similar contract, although I am not certain whether it still has. The facilities are available across the sector. Employers may not be as aware as they should be in some cases, and that may be because the colleges have not been as good in informing the employers as they might have been. However, there is no issue with the quality of the facilities or the trainers — but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Mr Newton:
I want to pick up on a few points. I think it was Maura who used the expression “multi-faceted programme”. “Training for success” is used as a catch-all phrase, but it is probably not the best phrase to use. Indeed, the Department must do something to take level-3 apprentices out of the scheme and give them another pathway. I would appreciate some comment on that.

Paragraph 14 states that:

  • “For Level 2 provision, colleges would suggest that employer-led programmes might not be the best pathway for all students.”

As Seamus said, you would say that, wouldn’t you?

Seamus outlined a very simplistic way of identifying the labour force for the future. The Department aims to create a demand-led strategy. Do you agree with that?

Mr S Murphy:

Mr Newton:
The Minister agreed that in the House. Your submission says that, with input from employers, sector skills councils and work-force development fora, demand-led strategy could be put in place. I have not seen evidence of that.

Mr S Murphy:
Labour-market intelligence is one of the most difficult areas to deal with, particularly over the medium term. One of the reasons for setting up the workforce development forums and the skills expert group in the Department was to get a better handle on what demand-led means and to ensure that demand and supply form an equation that can be used to meet skills requirements. In other words, there is the capacity to assess needs over three to five years and work out the number of people that will be required. The problem with focusing solely on the demand-led aspect in the short term is that industry may say that it needs 300 people now because a certain area is in boom.

However, it will take two or three years to train enough people to meet that demand. The prediction should have been made two years before the boom so that people could be trained to meet that peak period. As secretary of the north-west workforce development forum, I know that we have made progress in ending some of the preconceptions on both sides, and we are getting a better model to define what the industry requires in areas such as construction. There will always be areas, such as software development and new technologies, where it is exceedingly difficult to look three, four or five years ahead because of technological change. However, if it is recognised that technological change will happen, the existing workforce must be trained so that they can adapt. We can put a demand-led strategy in place.

Mr Newton:
But you have not.

Mr S Murphy:
No, we have not. However, a short-term response to employer demand is not a coherent way to build a skills base.

Mr Newton:
I agree, but I have not seen the evidence to confirm it.

Ms Lavery:
Seamus covered Mr Newton’s question about paragraph 14 of the submission. Many young people are ready to go into level-2 training but are prevented from accessing the training that they want because of a lack of jobs. Therefore making the process employer-driven disadvantages many young people, who are also disadvantaged because of where they live and who they know — getting a job on the apprenticeship strand is influenced by where someone lives and their connections, including family connections. Two equally capable young people who sit beside each other in school could find themselves in different scenarios because one has a job and the other does not. Equally, the needs of some industry sectors are different. That is what we were stressing.

Ms Lo:
Do we have unrealistic expectations of Training for Success? The programme accommodates students of varying ability — some are at the lowest end of achievers. Do we expect too much of those people by training them to a level-3 standard that they may never reach? Certain sectors, such the motor-vehicle industry, do not want apprentices or employees who are trained to level-1 or level-2 standard — they want people from level 3 and upwards. Should employers in those sectors employ people who have completed training courses in colleges over two or three years, for example in mechanics, instead of relying on Training for Success?

Mr S Murphy:
It depends on the industry. I accept that the motor-vehicle industry wants people trained to level-3 and, in some cases, level-4 standard, which we can do. However, other industries do not require that standard; I have not seen a level-3 trainee in brickwork for a decade because the industry, by and large, only wants trainees of level-2 standard, and the trainee can get a job immediately. Every industry will have a different demand pattern for the trainees that it seeks. However, there is enough flexibility in the training sector to meet that demand.

We need a clearer picture of what is required. I do not want a system that deals only with level-3 training because that does not help young people to develop; the level-1 and level-2 base must be there to allow progression. Some trainees will progress and some may not be capable, but they all deserve the opportunity to maximise their potential.

Mr Doran:
I want to make a point about the personal development strand and Skills for Work. As Anna said, many people with personal difficulties and disabilities may not be capable of achieving even level 2. Level 1 may be a realistic target for many of those young people who, I hope, may gain employment from it. There is an onus on us to ensure that they are progressing beyond level 1 but that they are not pushed into programmes at level 2 in which they will not achieve.

Mrs McGill:
Is electrical training delivered in the north-west?

Mr S Murphy:
Yes. There is one cohort in Limavady. Between Coleraine and Castlederg, there are 10 electrical trainees in total; in Ballymena there are 45 to 60. That is a reflection of the industrial base in those areas and the position of small to medium-sized enterprises vis-à-vis the large employer, which we talked about earlier. It is not a question of provision: the provision is there across campuses; it is, rather, a question of uptake and of young people being able to get the employer and the placement.

Mrs McGill:
Will no employers in the northwest take on anyone for electrical training apprenticeships? Is that the case?

Mr S Murphy:
Very few. ETT has worked valiantly for several years to develop an employer base in Derry City Council and Strabane District Council areas. We facilitate them as far as we can and we work with them. However, they have only had, at best, four young people from the Derry City area in the past two years who are looking for electrical apprenticeships. It is a reflection of how young people see their opportunities. That is why I say that a parallel route can be made available to allow young people to achieve level-3 qualified electrical apprenticeships, which happened in England.

Mrs McGill:
Do you mean that it does not have to be employer-led in this instance and that that will help the situation?

Mr S Murphy:
In England and Wales there are two ways in which a young person can become a fully trained level-3 apprentice. One is through the employer-led scheme, which is what we are talking about here; the other is called “programme-led”, which is developed through training organisations, not just colleges. Each will lead to the same exit-point. They ensure that the flow is steady and that young people can have an aspiration or a route to employment that does not depend on their being able to find an employer. As you know, Claire, in many areas family contacts are necessary to get a start with an employer.

The Chairperson:
On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for both the paper and your presentation.

I must raise another issue. We wrote to you in December 2007 about the concession rates applied by further education colleges.

Mr D’Arcy:
Progress has been made, I am glad to say. The director has been working with the Department and the Minister, and we have an agreed approach that will come into play on 1 September 2008. Seamus, do you want to contribute?

Mr S Murphy:
Is this in relation to age?

The Chairperson:
There were several issues. There were inconsistencies in some areas.

Ms Lo:
Colleges did not have a consistent approach.

Mr S Murphy:
Different colleges may have different fee structures; that is a matter for the boards of governors. Different colleges may charge different concessionary fees. An issue arose last year about age and age legislation; we came to agreement in December with the Department on what we intend to do about that. We meet the Department again on Thursday morning in Antrim, and that is on the agenda. We will have a common position for September. Do not to ask me to give details; I cannot remember it offhand.

The Chairperson:
On behalf of the Committee, thank you very much for attending.

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