Funding or quality of delivery: what has been holding apprenticeship training providers back?

For anyone in the apprenticeship ecosystem, the news cycle in 2023 has been anything but quiet. The excitement around the ‘closing gap’ between degrees and apprenticeships has been mixed with uncertainty about the ever-changing political landscape that influences the sector.

For anyone in the apprenticeship ecosystem, the news cycle in 2023 has been anything but quiet. The excitement around the ‘closing gap’ between degrees and apprenticeships has been mixed with uncertainty about the ever-changing political landscape that influences the sector.

However, for training providers, the situation has been even more turbulent: not least of all because a number of high-profile, long-serving training providers have gone into liquidation – putting thousands of apprentice, employer and staff livelihoods on hold.

We will explore what has been happening and why, as well as what training providers can do in order to support their apprentices and boost the quality of their apprenticeship delivery.

What has been happening?

2023 has seen a number of training providers go into liquidation. Among them, a large, London-based provider, a provider of UK-wide programmes from Bradford, and another Northeastern provider that shut its doors after 50 years of trading.

The training providers have ranged from large to small, multi-disciplinary and specialised – but what they all had in common were very sudden, unexpected exits from the market.

Combined, their disappearances left thousands of apprentices, employers and staff in limbo, even as they made efforts to move apprentices to other providers.

Why has this been happening?

The reasons for which different training providers have gone into liquidation cannot be neatly packaged up – but the most significant one in these cases is funding.

For example, the London-based provider lost a £4.2 million allocation for traineeships in December 2022 (due to the government scrapping the programme as a result of low start rates). At the start of July 2023, it missed out on the ESFA’s adult education budget (AEB) tender, and by the end of that month, it had filed for bankruptcy.

The Bradford-based provider quoted “increased competition, challenges regarding stagnant funding bands, uncertainty around the AEB contracts and expected expiry of… traineeship contracts” as the reasons for it ceasing operations.

In simple terms, a cocktail of factors (from the effects of inflation and a struggling job market to squeezed skills training budgets) have created a ‘perfect storm’ for some training providers who simply couldn’t manage the funding gap.

However, this isn’t the only issue.

To what extent is apprenticeship delivery the problem?

The quality of apprenticeship delivery might not cause an apprenticeship provider to shut as dramatically as in some of the examples above. However, it certainly contributes. Logically:

  • Apprenticeship programmes where dissatisfaction is high are more likely to have a greater drop-out rate.
  • Poor apprenticeship delivery (from lack of training provider support to poor management) will see more apprentices fail their EPA.
  • The more apprentices drop out or fail a programme, the less likely employers will be to choose that training provider (which has a direct impact on the funding they receive and the programmes they can offer).

Bear in mind, where Ofsted decides that providers are ‘inadequate’, ‘at-risk’ or with ‘room for improvement’, they can be ‘frozen’. While this doesn’t stop the flow of funding (even ‘struggling’ providers can be awarded AEB tenders) it will stop them from expanding their offer and may force them to close apprentice programmes.

In that context, subpar delivery has a direct impact on a training provider’s ability to operate – even if it’s not the dramatic bankruptcy-inducing loss in funding as happened in the cases above.

What can training providers take away from this situation?

The obvious point is that training providers can’t control top-down funding shortfalls or political changes (even if they can make their voices heard).

However, what they can control is the quality of their programme delivery. What’s more: a rapid, cost-effective, and significant improvement to this comes from good EPA management.

As you may already know, Ofsted will intervene if they deem the quality of education to be insufficient – but they will also intervene if they see evidence of training providers:

  • Missing learner records or off-the-job training records
  • Not having oversight or a timeline of their apprentice’s learner journey
  • Failing to provide resources or a point of contact between learners, assessors and themselves.

Many training providers manage this excellently, and those that do control these factors don’t just streamline their operations – they give apprentices, employers, assessors and EPAOs even more confidence in their ability to train apprentices to the standard they need to pass their EPA.

How can epaPRO help training providers to support their apprentices?

Whether they are national or local, specialist or multi-disciplinary, training providers need oversight of their apprentice’s journeys to best support them up to and through EPA.

That central, streamlined hub for EPA management is epaPRO.

For training providers, it lets them:

  1. Have a clear view of their apprentice’s journeys from registration to certification.
  2. Streamline their communication with apprentices, preparing them for key milestones such as uploading evidence, remote training, meetings with assessors and initiating gateway.
  3. Use a single, unified platform for administering apprentice data and working alongside employers and EPAOs to provide support where needed in the journey.

Lastly, the updated apprentice dashboard will give apprentices confidence that they are more in control of their learning journey. They will have a clearer view of their progress, be able to upload their own evidence and have access to up-to-date support materials – all of which reduce the admin burden on training providers, too.

For training providers looking to grow and improve their apprenticeship delivery, using EPA management tools such as epaPRO helps give everyone invested in the apprentice’s success the tools and information they need to make it happen.

Are you a training provider looking to improve your apprenticeship delivery or streamline your admin? Why not book a demo to learn more about what epaPRO can do for you?

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