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Empey must act to improve take-up of apprenticeships

10 June, 2008


Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA and Chairperson of the Assembly Employment and Learning Committee has said that Minster Reg Empey must take on board the committee recommendations to address the serious failures of the Training for Success scheme.

These included:

  • Action to improve take-up of apprenticeships (particularly in engineering and manufacturing)
  • Comprehensive engagement with employers
  • A consistent message to young people about the value of apprenticeships
  • Examination of paying apprentices at least £80 per week
  • Extension of the Educational Maintenance Allowance to unwaged trainees in the JobReady strand

Speaking during a debate on the report, Ms Ramsey said:

"While Training for Success will take time to become established, recent the Public Accounts Committee's criticisms of the Department's previous Jobskills programme, required early scrutiny of Training for Success. We wanted to concentrate on policy and operational aspects of Training for Success. However from the start many stakeholders raised important concerns with procurement and contracting.

"There was the difficulty of suppliers facing capacity problems. The ultimate contract failure of Cater and Carter Group plc highlighted this issue and there was disappointment at the time taken to intervene.

"There are serious concerns about the current level of take-up within Training for Success and with just under 5,900 young people accessing the programme and it is unlikely that the target of 10,000 apprentices by 2010 will be met. There is not sufficient dialogue with local key employers. Reg Empey needs to addresses the apparent low levels of take-up via a comprehensive programme of employer engagement.

"7% of those in apprenticeships are at Level 3 and 93% at Level 2. While Level 2 apprenticeships work well and are appropriate for sectors such as food and drink and hospitality, they are not appropriate for key sectors such as manufacturing and technology - only 16 apprentices registered within the engineering and manufacturing technologies sector.

"There also needs to be consistent messages delivered to young persons throughout all of their schooling to promote the value of apprenticeship training as a path equal in quality to a more academic route. Employers need to also be part of this.

"One of the damning criticisms of the Jobskills programme was the potential for exploitation of young people. Training for Success goes a long way to eradicating this. However, there is still evidence that some apprentices are being poorly paid. The Department must look at the model of apprenticeship payment in England where suppliers are contracted to pay apprentices at least £80 per week.

"With regard to unwaged trainees in the JobReady strand, there should be equality of treatment with those continuing in more mainstream education. The extension of the Educational Maintenance Allowance appears to be the best method of achieving this."

Other issues

  • The lack of flexibility of Training for Success to allow for adult (apprenticeships for people aged 25 and over) and part- time apprenticeships. For some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, part - time working is the main work pattern, particularly for female employees.
  • Re-skilling and conversion type training as being able to be reactive to investment opportunities.
  • How Training for Success is working for young persons with a disability is a particular area of concern.

Note to Editors

Training for Success is divided into two main strands. Firstly, the JobReady strand that has currently four separate components. These are aimed at delivering a range of services for young trainees. Secondly, the apprenticeship strand delivering Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships.

Carter and Carter had been successful in the contract to deliver automotive training. With a more rigorous assessment at the procurement stage, the Committee considers that weaknesses in the company's capacity to deliver could have been identified. As this company's contract progressed, it became clear to the Committee that significant problems were emerging. The Committee was surprised that the Department did not intervene at an earlier stage to assess if there had been a breach of contract.

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