It will come as no surprise to training professionals or prospective customers to learn that employers are being inundated with sales calls from colleges and providers about apprenticeships. One of our clients let us know that they'd had five separate calls in a week from five different providers. So, in all this noise, how will employers and, in particular, new employers (by which I mean new to apprenticeships) select their preferred partner?
Quality, service and price
Levy-paying customers, by virtue of their size and success, will be no stranger to the concept of quality service and price. Some will select primarily on quality and service and others will go for price. To any employer who invests in apprenticeships based upon the cheapest wins, I say: good luck. However, for those employers who are seeking quality in apprenticeships, I have produced a simple guide. I have listed five categories that I believe help define a quality apprenticeship provider. These are my personal views based on over 17 years' experience in the sector and I know that others will have different ideas. However, with all the talk of employers negotiating prices I thought it would be helpful to also talk about employers negotiating quality too.
- Apprentice achievement rates
I'll make the assumption that an employer invests in apprenticeships with the expectation that a high percentage will complete their programme. Nationally published and verified achievement rates are an easy way to compare and contrast providers. There is a national average currently of 71.7 per cent, which (in my opinion) is depressingly low. Ask your provider about their achievement rates to be certain they aren't peddling dross. However, employers should be warned: taking a single year in isolation can be misleading. Therefore, wherever possible, ask for the last three years data to identify any trend. Is the provider steady, on the way up or in decline?
- Apprentice progression rates
Employers sometimes worry that they'll train staff only for them to leave. In apprenticeships any good provider will track their students to determine what happens at the end of a programme. How many apprentices stay with their employer? What percentage go on to secure promotion, added responsibility or undertake higher learning. Again, it is my opinion, but anything below 66 per cent progression suggests that the impact of the apprenticeship provider is limited and you're not getting a great return on investment.
- Employer satisfaction survey
This is an annual and verified survey of all existing employers with apprentices. It is a massive sample in which colleges and providers are ranked in relation to an average national score. If a provider has a low satisfaction among their employers....why would you use them?
- Learner satisfaction surveys
As with the employer survey a vast number of apprentices are surveyed. Happy apprentices tend to achieve their qualification and progress, plus their 'happiness' is symptomatic of a great employer-provider partnership to offer excellent training. Once again why would you contract with a college or provider has a low level of satisfaction among learners.
- Ofsted grade
The more recent the grade, the more relevance it has. Don't be confused by colleges or providers still dining out on Ofsted grades that are two or more years old. Ofsted after all is a snapshot in time and should be viewed as such. Yet, a recent inspection report will offer clear insights into that provider's capacity to meet an employer's needs.
- Measurable and comparable
I've taken five measures that in combination are a pretty good descriptor of quality. More importantly they can be compared and contrasted across the network. This will make life easier for inexperienced buyers such as new customers looking at apprenticeships for the first time. The current Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers in my mind is far from as robust as I would have liked. It is not inconceivable that poor quality provision will make it through to become approved providers. As evidence of this I believe it is a profound mistake to allow any college or provider with a grading of 'inadequate' for overall effectiveness to be able to apply for approval. With this in mind may advice to an employer, for each call you take from a prospective provider, is to ask them for data on the five measures listed above.
- Softer measures of quality
As I have said, these are my personal preferences of measures of quality and service. I wouldn't exclude others such as quality of training facilities, staff experience, location, longevity or client testimonials. These can be added into the mix to provide a rich illustration of any high quality provider.
- Buyer beware
It would be easy for any new buyer of apprenticeships to be lured in by glamorous websites, corporate marketing or indeed the charm of an employer engagement adviser. Apprenticeships are not a transactional service and they are not cheap. Getting it wrong can have dramatic consequences for the people involved. If you're an employer, perhaps paying the apprentice levy, new to apprenticeships and looking for quality then take the time to get hard evidence from those prospecting for your business. You get what you pay for in this sector, but then again you know that already.
Matt Garvey is managing director of the West Berkshire Training Consortium. He tweets at @WBTCNewbury
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