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Vroom to improve

BMW gets just two cheers for engineering apprentice training at its Swindon plant, home of the British-built new Mini

APPRENTICES TRAINING at a factory producing BMW's popular Mini car are receiving sub-standard training, according to inspectors.

The German-owned Swindon plant, which produces panels for the updated version of the iconic small car, was given the lowest possible rating for effectiveness, capacity to improve, trainee achievement, quality of provision and leadership.

Only on equality of opportunity did the factory, where 15 engineering apprentices train alongside 1,160 experienced staff, receive a satisfactory grade from Ofsted.

The criticism of the apprenticeship is an embarrassment for BMW, which prides itself on engineering the "ultimate driving machine". Germany is a country long-admired for its commitment to apprenticeships.

A spokeswoman said: "We take the findings of the inspectors' report very seriously.

"There are regrettable weaknesses in the management of our apprenticeship programme at the Swindon plant. We are obviously disappointed not to have made satisfactory progress since the last inspection.

"But given that, we will obviously continue to work with Ofsted to identify all the opportunities there are for improvement and ensure that our apprentices get the learning experience they should expect from the BMW group."

The Swindon plant is one of three factories used in the production of the new Mini, which first went on sale in 2001 after BMW kept hold of the marque in the wake of its sale of the Rover-MG Group.

Success rates have been falling at the plant, inspectors found, with just 22 per cent of those starting an apprenticeship making the grade, and only 6 per cent finishing on time.

"BMW group plant Swindon has demonstrated it has a poor capacity to improve. Since it was last inspected, learners' success rates have declined and apprenticeship frameworks were not completed by their planned date," the inspectors said. They rejected the company's own assessment of its training, saying it was not thorough and that recommendations from the previous inspection had not been completed.

BMW's assessors and internal verifiers do not understand the requirements of level two NVQs in engineering, Ofsted said.

Apprentices are given little support and have to rely on each other to understand the requirements of the qualification. Those in their third year are completing work that should have been done in their first year, the report said.

Students said they enjoy gaining experience of all parts of the business and being part of a high-profile company, along with perks such as health care, pension and car benefits.

But they criticised the planning and organisation of the level 2 NVQ, the lack of information for trainees and delays in marking their work and returning it to them.

Nevertheless, Ofsted noted that the opportunities for on-the-job training were good, with world-leading technology in steel pressing. Apprentices gain a wide range of skills after their first year of training. Aspects of the equal opportunities measures were praised by inspectors: one student diagnosed with dyspraxia had his job changed to accommodate his needs. But they pointed out that there were no women on the programme and no targets set to rectify this.

Opportunities for additional qualifications, in everything from fork-lift truck driving to information technology, were also praised in the Ofsted report.

* According to Warranty Direct's reliability index, the British-built Mini is more reliable than BMWs built in Germany despite the alleged deficiencies of the Swindon apprenticeships.

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