Further education colleges should be the only provider of apprenticeships

Back to all Motions

2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that the government drive to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships in the UK is failing.

In 2017 the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced – a charge of 0.5% of the salary bill of large employers which must then be claimed back to fund apprenticeship provision – simply isn’t being used by enough employers. This lack of take-up has had huge implications for those colleges who made financial plans based on high numbers of apprenticeships, causing some colleges to need emergency financial assistance to remain viable. Conference notes that the introduction of the insolvency regime in April 2019 means that colleges can be allowed to go into administration in future. This will have devastating consequences for both college staff and the communities they serve.

Employers who want to deliver apprenticeships need to find an appropriate training provider to deliver the 20% off-the-job training requirement. This can be a private provider or a college. Conference, UNISON believes that our college sector are best placed to deliver the high quality training that employers want. Commenting on the 18% failure rate of private providers inspected in 2018, the head of Ofsted warned that history tells us that the “…large injection of training money is bound to encourage the creation of providers more concerned about taking a share of the available cash than providing high quality….”.

Colleges have years of experience of delivering high-quality vocational learning and are able to provide highly-trained staff, who can deliver robust quality standards. Conference notes that colleges will be delivering the huge changes afoot in vocation provision, namely T-Levels. T-Levels and apprenticeships are closely linked, both through the 15 vocational pathways available and through the requirement to work closely with employers. Colleges can build on these synergies to deliver high quality apprenticeships.

Equalities are at the heart of everything UNISON does and it is fair to say that colleges will be more equality-aware than most private providers. Colleges can ensure that groups who may be marginalised by the private sector will have their needs met. Young people with special educational needs and disabilities and care leavers attract extra funding and it is important that this funding is used to help these groups. Colleges know how to do this.

The proliferation of private sector providers in the apprenticeship market is yet another example of the creeping privatisation of our public services. This not only directs funds away from those who need them into the hands of profiteers but undermines the union movement as a whole. College workers are unionised workers. Coupled with this, employers and apprentices have been left high and dry by a large number of high-profile failures of private-sector providers. Figures published in October 2018 from Department for Education data showed that 16 private providers had been barred in 2018 due to the poor quality of their provision.

Much has been said about the skills-deficit in the UK. Well-funded colleges, at the heart of their communities, delivering high quality vocational training are the answer. Apprenticeships have so much potential to improve the lives of young people and adults who need to retrain as the economy changes.

Conference therefore calls upon the local government service group to work with the further education committee to:

1)Work with the Institute for Apprenticeships in raising the profile of the need for high quality apprenticeships;

2) Run a prominent campaign on the benefits of apprenticeships;

3) Promote UNISON’s apprenticeship charter in negotiations with employers;

4) Work with the Association of Colleges to promote colleges as the first choice of apprenticeship provider;

5) Raise awareness of poor quality provision of apprenticeships in private providers.