Riven with inconsistency

13th October 2000 at 01:00
Apprenticeships are popular with employers but the schemes are being compromised. Sue Jones reports.

DISCREPANCIES in funding are compromising modern apprenticeships, the Training Standards Council warns.

Modern apprenticeships, which have been feted by employers, account for nearly half of the young people in training, says a report by the council's inspectors this week. However, their potential is not being fully recognised.

Significant differences in funding must be addressed, says the council. A training provider may be paid anything between pound;3,390 and pound;10,000 by different TECs for apprentices on the same programme in the same workplace.

Employers often regard the system as inflexible, and are failing to make use of its capacity to provide individualised training for their employees.

After looking into training in construction, engineering and hairdressing, the council recommends greater national consistency in funding, initial assessment and performance data. Individual trainee needs and key skills should also be much more carefully integrated into training programmes.

The report praises equal opportunities policies in engineering and hairdressing but finds few in construction.

The report says recruitment should be done by the employer and training provider jointly. It calls for nationally-recognised initial assessments. Employers often choose candidates without considering their ability to follow a specific training programme.

Poor initial assessment of trainees is a common weakness. Some only have their needs identified when they fail an assessment, while others repet work they have already done elsewhere. Colleges often provide good learning support during off-site training, but this is rarely transferred to the workplace.

Too few employers and training providers treat modern apprenticeships as a flexible system which should move at the pace of the learner. Age restrictions are a barrier to participation and should be lifted, allowing suitable mature candidates to be fast-tracked where appropriate.

Training breaks should also be available to allow skills to be consolidated, especially between levels 2 and 3.

"The low level of key skills attained by many young people is a major concern in many European countries," say the inspectors. But they describe the introduction of key skills as "problematic".

There is confusion over their meaning and how they can be recorded, and "a lack of staff expertise to integrate (them) effectively with occupational training and assessment".

They are often taught and assessed separately from the rest of the training programme after the NVQ level 3 has been awarded. This can discourage completion of the full modern apprenticeship programme, especially by trainees who respond poorly to formal schooling.

Completion rates and key skills are also jeopardised by TECs which pay for the completion of level 3 rather than the full framework.

On the question of funding, TSC chief inspector David Sherlock said: "The creation of a new funding body, when the Learning and Skills Council starts work in 2001, offers a golden opportunity to iron out discrepancies and make things better for both learner and employer."

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