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Pool of help for work trainers

Wales could pilot a new type of apprenticeship, in which the smallest companies pool their resources to train new recruits.

Courses could also start with a probationary period, allowing students to swap to other training programmes or employers if they are unhappy with their initial choice, reducing drop-out rates.

The proposals are among a raft of measures aimed at improving the quality of work-based learning, and presented to Welsh Assembly members last week.

The quality of work-based learning was slated by chief inspector Susan Lewis in her annual report, published last month. She said one-third of work venues inspected failed to provide adequate training, particularly in basic skills, and warned the shortcomings threatened the viability of reforms of the 14-19 curriculum.

The Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways proposals envisage students being offered a wider range of vocational and work-based, as well as academic courses, allowing them to develop their own pathways to suitable qualifications.

Sheila Drury, chair of post-16 education funding agency ELWa, told the Assembly's education, lifelong learning and skills committee that Estyn's findings suggested a sector "deeply in trouble". Too much current provision is not acceptable, and completion rates on modern apprenticeships need to improve significantly.

But she also said some of the learning frameworks needed updating to keep up with changes in the skills needed by employers.

Also, learners who gain important qualifications but do not complete every element of their modern apprenticeship programme are marked as failures, she added.

And while retention rates are low (only 1 per cent for retail and customer service), half of the drop-outs from modern apprenticeships stay with the company that supported their training. Advisers to ELWa have suggested that, in many cases, little value is attached to the full apprenticeship.

Both England (33 per cent) and Scotland (54 per cent) have higher retention rates for their equivalents of the modern apprenticeship than Wales (21 per cent). "Our plan proposes initiatives to improve the quality, relevance and success of work-based programmes," Mrs Drury told the committee in a foreword to the report.

"We will work to update apprenticeship frameworks so that they are fit for purpose, improve guidance on vocational opportunities so that fewer people make a wrong choice and drop out altogether, and help providers to improve their performance."

Peter McGowan, the Assembly government's vocational skills champion, said a key reason for non-completion was that most youngsters go on work-based programmes "to get a job, not a qualification".

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