Cash shortage hits apprentice pledge

Fears that Brown is failing to deliver on over-19 promise. Steve Hook reports

Training firms claim funding is failing to meet employers' demand for more over-19s on apprenticeship programmes.

The Association of Learning Providers says it has seen no evidence that recruitment outside the 16 to 18 age group, which has priority, is increasing, despite pledges by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

In May Mr Brown said: "We are committed to spending more this year, next year and in the years after that on apprenticeship training for those who want to take up that opportunity."

For over-19 recruits, the budget has been increased by 1.5 per cent above inflation and the ALP's members across the country say that the popularity of apprenticeships outstrips the cash available to fund them.

An association spokesman said: "We don't get the impression that there's an increase in provision for over-19s. In some areas, for the over-22s, it is virtually nonexistent. That is quite frustrating.

"We recognise that there's a major funding issue for the LSC and we have got to be realistic.

"However, it does pose a major challenge when you are trying to carry out a demand-led skills strategy because employers are expressing a demand for training which can't be met because of funding problems."

In Hertfordshire, the ALP has been in talks with the Learning an Skills Council after reports that some trainers have been refused money for further recruitment of over-19s in the county.

Hertfordshire LSC says it is trying to recover funding from under-performing training firms so it can re-direct the cash towards those which are successful in recruiting and training apprentices.

But it stressed overall recruitment at 19-plus, including other forms of work-based learning and in colleges, is going well.

Roy Bain, executive director, said "It looks like some providers have been exceeding the targets we have agreed to pay for.

"The pressure is there because the LSC has been very successful."

The Chancellor made his comments when he spoke at the re-launch of Apprenticeships, previously known as Modern Apprenticeships, which was backed by a national advertising and marketing campaign.

The LSC has since decided the emphasis should be on retaining existing apprentices so they complete their training, rather than on recruiting more.

An internal LSC memo seen by FE Focus warns regional directors: "We will not have the funds for a further phase of the national marketing campaign for apprenticeships.

"We will focus on identifying and marketing skills needs at all levels in the LSC, building on the campaign to recruit more and more people onto apprenticeships."

Rob Wye, director of the LSC's chair and chief executives group, says Hertfordshire's problems are not unique.

He said the county may find it possible be find more money for apprenticeships from other areas which are performing less well and therefore not attracting as much funding as anticipated.

But, he added: "There is the potential to move money around but we are being successful overall so that is not so much the case any more."

The Apprenticeship Task Force, of which ALP chief executive Graham Hoyle is a member, has called for apprenticeships to be made available to degree level. He says that the Level 3 (A-level equivalent) is not enough to meet the demands of some industries.

There is a record number of 255,000 apprentices.

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