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The factors affecting the quality of the ‘off-the-job’ element of apprenticeships in the West Midlands region

How do training providers put together and deliver the off-the-job element as part of high quality apprenticeship programmes? This research aimed to critically review the factors affecting off the job training in apprenticeships, which  can be described as essential training that is required to complete the apprenticeship but is not part of day-to-day work.

Apprenticeships training large

Researchers

Research background

Off the job training is an essential requirement for any apprenticeship scheme. Every employer is required to provide essential training and enrichment activities that develop apprentices' skills for 20% of their contracted hours. This can include opportunities such as mentoring, shadowing, industry visits, training programmes and more. The effectiveness of this training depends on a number of factors, which this research will evaluate and provide recommendations for a framework designed to lead to effective off the job training. 

Research aims

The research aimed to explore the challenges of putting together and delivering successful apprenticeship programmes that:

i) address the needs of the businesses / employers;

ii) provide accessible and manageable frameworks for the development of staff of different ages including mid-career;

iii) provide an understanding of the role of provider / employer relationships in creating the right conditions for successful apprenticeships;

iv) address the broad needs of learners; for example, having relevance beyond a single employment context.

Research methods 

This study was conducted in two phases. In Phase One, data was gathered in two case study providers in the West Midlands region. Within this sample the research team endeavoured to cover a range of different subject specialisms (nursery nursing and advanced manufacturing) extending beyond those traditionally associated with apprenticeships such as construction and engineering (see Lahiff & Guile 2015). Phase Two involved further interviews with a range of training providers, employers and relevant local authority representatives. The aim was to develop a situated understanding of the delivery of the OffJE that is beneficial and sustainable in the local skills and labour market while addressing the needs of different stakeholders, this requires the inclusion of multiple perspectives. Thus in both phases of this study we gathered evidence through interviews with organisational leaders, curriculum managers, teachers, students, employers and other staff with significant roles connected to providers’ apprenticeship programmes.

Results and recommendations 

The key findings underscore the importance of viewing the OffJE as an integral aspect of apprenticeships and, how in many cases the quality of the OffJE is shaped by the quality of the relationship between the different stakeholders. A range of factors influenced the quality of the OffJE. A key influence was the stakeholders’ shared understanding of the institution of the apprenticeship. The most influential determining element in this was the orientation of the employer.

According to our data, an invested employer anchored the apprenticeship through ongoing interactions with providers about the OffJE and supplemented this with in-work training. Underpinning the partnership between employer and provider was an ethic of care for the apprentice.

Recommendations

1. Connect the notion of the ‘invested employer’ to the RoATP & promote the importance of an ethic of care

The uninvested employer does serious damage to young people’s view of work and education. An ethic of care is crucial. The institution of apprenticeship needs in every case to be connected to a company’s (realistic) prospects of growth. Apprenticeships have to be articulated as an aspect of expansion and employers’ long term planning. A mechanism for accountability of employers in relation to these areas would ensure quality.

2. Apprenticeships are a future-orientated training programme

The 20% OffJE should be presented as complementing existing in-work training. Rather than encouraging providers to persuade employers that through a clever use of on-line tasks and distance learning that it doesn’t really mean one day per week, employers need to be convinced that 20% of apprentices’ work time may reduce productivity in the short term but will provide benefits in the long term. If they can’t accept this, then providers shouldn’t recruit them.

3. Space matters: the OffJE requires appropriate space

While the OffJE can be provided in the work place, at the very least, there should be an appropriate space for this to occur. Whether on or off-site needs to be justified by employers / providers and the benefits for apprentices clearly articulated. Like other learners, apprentices benefit from learning as part of a peer group from a broader range of workplace environments. Teaching 1-1 on site denies the apprentice the benefits of this collective learning and less likely to familiarise her/him with broader contextual understandings.

4. Spreading the administrative burden

The burden of ‘red-tape’ associated with apprenticeships means that many employers and most SMEs will only consider them if the administrative burden is shouldered by providers. Providers are carrying an unacceptably high proportion of the accountability workload while the OffJE is only 20% of the apprenticeship. There appears to be little if any accountability for the 80% of in-work training. Accountability for this element would connect with Recommendation 1 and ensure the employer is ‘invested’.

5. Fund existing vocational qualifications comparatively. Otherwise, apprenticeship becomes the catch-all vocational qualification.

The funding system in further education and training appears to be governed by a ‘kick and run’ approach to policy: wherever the government boots funding, providers all follow. The incentivisation of favoured pathways and qualifications here endangers the viability of other, existing qualifications which in some occupational areas, would be more suitable pathways. If funding for other vocational courses doesn’t match apprenticeships funding, then providers are incentivised to switch provision. An apprenticeship is one among other vocational qualifications. A policy emphasis that suggests otherwise may cause serious reputational damage in the qualification marketplace.

Funding

Funders: The Gatsby Foundation

Funding: £29,000