Challenging time for work based learning in Wales
The work based learning network in Wales is going through one of the most challenging periods in its history.
Last summer, the Welsh Assembly Government, as part of its Transformation Agenda, invited companies involved in the network to tender to deliver work-based learning programmes between August 2011 and July 2014. The outcome of this fair, open and competitive tender process, which was announced on March 14, is that 24 work based learning contracts have been awarded to deliver apprenticeships, traineeships and steps to employment programmes.
This outcome has certainly transformed the National Training Federation Wales (NTfW) work based learning network. Our 90 members have links with more than 35,000 employers across Wales and all involved in this high quality, high performing network recognise the importance of working collectively to limit the disruption for not only displaced learners but also displaced training providers and their staff.
At NTfW we have fought hard to secure a protected budget for skills, recognising the challenges that we face in turning around the employment opportunities for a large number of 16-24 year olds who are out of work and sometimes hard to reach.
One cannot question the policy to focus support on the traineeships programme in particular, in line with the high priority given by the Welsh Assembly Government to supporting young people into employment. This has resulted in an increase in the proportion of the work based learning funds allocated to traineeships above the historic level of allocation to the Skillbuild Youth programme. The whole NTfW network will work together collaboratively to achieve and exceed the minimum targets for positive progression on employability programmes.
The apprenticeships programme is focused on supporting young people as well as those sectors identified as priorities within the Economic Renewal Programme. This is in line with the priorities agreed between the Minister for Education and the Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills in our Annual Operating Agreement.
This year, a sizeable £2 million has been set aside within the work based learning allocation to support learning in “Anchor” companies, which are defined as major businesses of economic significance to Wales.
Within NTfW, we shall be constantly reviewing the delivery where the focus is to support young people. This will be a challenge across Wales, especially with the introduction, on August 1, of the Apprenticeship Act, which will raise the legal status of apprenticeships. The Act will make it compulsory for all apprentices to be employed with a fixed wage and a signed agreement between them and their employer. Engaging with this age cohort to ensure a successful pathway into the world of work will present another major challenge for learning providers.
Obviously, the changes to the NTfW network, arising from the tender outcome, have the potential to create disruption for some learners currently in learning. Our members, who either did not tender or who have not secured future work through the process, are well aware of their contractual obligations to support the smooth transition of their in-learning learners to new providers.
Likewise, members who have secured contracts must accept their social responsibility not only to the learners but also to their colleagues, some of whom will find themselves out of work. It is very important that this transition for displaced learners and, where appropriate, existing staff undertaking the delivery of learning is handled sensitively and professionally.
There is a long way to go but the NTfW board is committed to securing the best possible outcomes for our members and their learners as a result of this tender announcement.