It's great news that the Association of Employers and Learning Providers (AELP) has a new chief executive in the shape of Mark Dawe, and in the nick of time, too. The skills agenda has myriad challenges that need meeting and questions that need answering. So, if I were AELP chair, I’d probably draft a to-do list for Mark. Here's what I've come up with:
- Clarify the contracting arrangements for 2016-17. Are providers going to have a full year contract or one that runs only until April 2017? We’re told that the apprentice levy will be in place for April next year. However, there are still so many unanswered questions and so many missed deadlines that I’m not sure anyone is confident that April is achievable. The worst scenario would be for contracts that are planned on a levy date of April, with the latter date being missed resulting in a disastrous hiatus of funding.
- Set the funding methodology for non-levy payers. Employers are slowly switching on to the fact that the funding will change. However, we are unable to clarify exactly what that will look like. We need 12 months of communication and preparation to transit smaller employers to the new regime.
- Get the government to make a decision about subcontracting. This topic is like ITV 2’s longest and most tedious mystery drama. Primes and subcontractors must be given clear guidance so that we can get their house in order. At the present moment, other than for loans, we have no idea if subcontracting is necessary, desirable or even permitted for apprenticeships next year.
- Determine if skills devolution is for all or just some. There are rumours that some local enterprise partnership (LEP) areas don’t want it, while others are embracing it. It is creating confusion on the ground and uncertainty. Devolution is not a universally great idea. It suits big cities and larger coherent areas that have sound and integrated political structures. Elsewhere, for example in rural or disparate communities, a more centralised approach still works. We need to know: do we get devolution whether we want it or not?
- Discover what meaningful role, if any, independent training providers (ITPs) have in area reviews given that many work across local, regional and national boundaries. ITPs are part of the mix of provision but despite delivering millions of apprenticeships appear to be a bit part in the review process. Furthermore, the government will be investing once again in the infrastructure of colleges and sixth-forms as a consequence of these reviews. When is it the turn of ITPs or does it remain one rule for FE and other for everyone else?
One thing is certain: there’s a fog over our industry and we are all trying our best to navigate through it. With rocks on one side and pirates on the other, these waters are treacherous enough without government clouding the immediate horizon. Employers need clarity, they need detail and they need a timescale. I hope that Mark Dawe can be both robust in our defence and persuasive in our cause with a government that scores A+ on vision but C- on delivery. The AELP, and indeed Association of Colleges, could be the stiff breeze that blows away the mist and enables providers, employers and learners to see a clear route ahead.
Good luck Mark, rather you than me.
Matt Garvey is managing director of West Berkshire Training Consortium. He tweets at @WBTCNewbury