Can work-based training in colleges constant under-cutting by private industry? Martin Whittaker reports.
DAVE left his job with a private training provider to become a postman - because delivering the mail pays better. The 41-year-old qualified training adviser earned pound;13,000 for a 40-hour week working with disaffected teenagers. He will now earn up to pound;15,000.
His job with the charitable trust YMCA Training - one of the UK's biggest training organisations - was to find young people placements with local employers. He said: "I would put 20 trainees out on a Monday. By Wednesday 12 had walked out, four had stolen something and three had thumped somebody.
I packed it in for some quality of life. With overtime I can earn more as a postman than I can as a training adviser.
"At one point I was in charge of 70 trainees. It was impossible to get around and see everyone."
He said working conditions were left to the discretion of management. "The better the manager, the better the working terms and conditions. We had a new manager who abolished breaks."
Dave - not his real name - has a City amp; Guilds youth training qualification. Two years ago YMCA Training made him redundant from his job teaching art and graphic design for pound;15,000 a year. Then the trust re-appointed him on a lower salary.
Nonetheless, he says, YMCA Training pays more than other private training providers in his home town in South Yorkshire.
A spokeswoman for YMCA Training said: "As a charity and voluntary organisation, one of our challenges is to ensure the highest quality training to our clients within the tight financial frameworks in which we find ourselves. Whilst resources are carefully managed - a requirement for any government-funded body - we strive to ensure our terms and conditions are fair and competitive.
"The feedback we receive, from our staff and external agencies suggests that more often than not we do get the balance right."
Lecturers' union NATFHE says stories like Dave's are common among private training providers.
There are an estimated 1,900 private training organisations holding contracts with training and enterprise councils in England and Wales. These are divided into those working with colleges and the public sector, those in the voluntary sector, and those working soley in the private sector.
Qualty of training is causing concern. In his latest annual report, David Sherlock, chief inspector of the Training Standards Council, which is becoming the new Adult Learning Inspectorate, criticised low standards among some private providers.
He warned that providers and funding bodies would have to work together if the sector is to meet government requirements.
Many of the best training schemes are in partnership with colleges. Preston College has teamed with the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and with Laing, the construction company - with cash from the Government's Union Learning Fund - to improve standards in the building industry. Up to 1,000 workers building the Commonwealth Games Stadium in Manchester are now being trained to NVQ level 2.
The partnership made a successful pound;600,000 bid to the European Social Fund to create a learning centre for the industry.
NATFHE's general secretary, Paul Mackney, believes that the Government cannot afford to ignore poor pay and conditions in the private sector. He fears that under the new Learning and Skills Council, arbitrary pay awards by private training companies may help them to undercut the 224 colleges that provide work-based training.
"Most colleges can relate to a national pay scale. We have discussed recommended rates with the Association of Colleges and we would be seeking to get those to apply in the private sector as well.
"Otherwise there's a danger that learning and skills councils, which are business-dominated, may put contracts to private training outfits which claim they can do something cheaper than the college. We would have large numbers entering courses - whether we have them qualifying at the end is another matter."
But Hugh Pitman, chairman of the Association of Learning Providers which represents private organisations, believes parity of pay between the FE and private sectors is not achievable. "Unlike colleges, where you have pay scales, training providers in the private sector have to pay whatever the market demands - and it will vary a tremendous amount."
Mr Pitman chairman of private training company JHP Group. "We aim to pay our staff very well and be ahead of the market to attract and retain good quality people. In the private sector more people are paid by results. That's the fundamental difference."