The government’s commitment to increasing apprenticeships, against the background news of more and more public spending cuts, has been almost universally welcomed. Young people gain an opportunity to be paid while learning skills that help secure long-term job prospects, while employers can improve their productivity and be more competitive in a cost-effective way. And, as apprenticeship schemes help plug the looming skills shortage, the increased focus could well result in a boost to the UK’s financial recovery,
FE colleges and other providers are pivotal in facilitating the disparate elements of apprenticeships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 49% of those questioned in a survey we recently conducted intended to increase their apprenticeship offering to fall in line with the current government focus and maximise available funding. Yet the day-to-day administration involved in providing apprenticeships may well bring challenges to those who are unprepared.
Put simply, there is a lot to consider. Providers need to monitor classroom learning, on the job training, funding from government, subsidies from employers, functional skills programme, excellent employer relationships and student retention – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many providers will be running a huge variety of different apprenticeship frameworks to demonstrate their flexibility to employers. Certainly all will need systems in place to ensure smooth running partnerships with local and national businesses, the backbone of all successful apprenticeship schemes.
To stay on top of all these obligations and expectations, colleges are increasingly asking more from their management information systems. Without having all the relevant information in one easily accessible place, providers are unable to effectively track the progress of their students. A lack of regular monitoring means any warning signs of disillusionment or potential failure will be missed, and staff will not have enough time to intervene or reduce negative outcomes.
On the other hand, those colleges that already have a strong MIS structure in place, and are confident of its capabilities, will reap the rewards in the future as this reliance on ICT is set to continue. The government want to introduce lengthier Level 4 and 5 frameworks and will probably end up putting more emphasis on getting the student or employer to pay.
We’re also likely to see an increase in the link between funding and outcomes. At the moment just 2.5% of government funding for vocational training is linked to the outcome, but all the signs are there that this percentage will grow as apprenticeships swell in popularity. FE colleges and other providers who want to cement their reputation for the future need to start exploring now how best to monitor and track students even after their apprenticeships have come to an end.