David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (Niace), writes:
There’s something missing in the apprenticeship funding consultation
There has been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of channelling funding directly to employers.
The current BIS consultation on apprenticeship funding and the Employer Ownership Pilots represent big shifts in the way government invests in training and supports workforce development, so you would expect the attention; training providers and colleges rightly worry about the impact on their business models. Government is rightly pursuing more purchase on the system for employers.
What is slightly baffling, though, is the lack of attention to the success measures which are used to judge the programmes. For as long as I can remember the main measure has been the qualification success rate (QSR), in part because of its simplicity and ease of measure.
To say this is inadequate in measuring the quality and impact of learning and skills is an understatement, but to use that measure for ‘employer-owned’ and government subsidised training and apprenticeships is truly baffling.
As someone who led national reviews of the further education funding system twice I do appreciate how complex this is. I also know that there are three fundamental rules about setting success measures for government programmes – keep them simple, cheap and easy to collect and closely related to what you are trying to buy.
I want to propose that for the apprenticeship programme there has to be a new measure of a sustained job outcome as well as the qualification output. This would ensure the funding system incentivises the sustainment of an apprentice’s job beyond their apprenticeship. I say this despite knowing that progression into a sustained job is not always easy to collect nor to define because a sustained job is a key outcome the programme should be buying.
For the apprenticeship programme the true outcome we all want is a skilled and expert worker in a job with the prospects of a successful career; that means we should measure that in some way rather than just measuring the process or the qualification achievement, because both are means to an end, namely a real job with real prospects.
My argument is even stronger when the government funding is going straight to the employer. Having some part of the payment dependent on a sustained job outcome would incentivise the behaviours we want, with employers honestly taking on apprentices because they want to attract and train skilled workers who will stay working for them for some time.
Alongside a payment element dependent on the apprentice’s job being sustained, we should also enhance data collection to enable us to assess the full impact of the apprenticeship programme. The government subsidy could be assessed against social mobility as well as productivity impacts; the employer subsidy against productivity and business success and prospective apprentices would be able to judge which employer apprenticeship scheme would give them the best chance of a job as well as a qualification.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? So why is it not part of the funding consultation or the Employer Ownership Pilots? Simple, cheap, measuring the outcome and impact we want – a great recipe for any government funded scheme.