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An expert look at the evolving training landscape and its challenges
The training landscape is changing, as training providers try to adapt to increased economic pressures, technical education reforms and shifting learner habits. We take a look at the current landscape and some of the biggest challenges at the moment.
The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom for the training industry. Some apprenticeships have had a much-needed increase in funding this year, with funding for heavy vehicle apprenticeships and two adult care standards increased by 33%.
Apprenticeship participation in England has increased by 1.6% to 703,670 in 2022/23. Higher apprenticeships have also continued to grow, with starts increasing by 6.1% to 93,670.
Despite these positives, training providers continue to face significant challenges. Many are operating on razor-thin margins as funding bands fail to cover delivery costs, and it’s no surprise to see several providers move out of government-funded education and into commercial training.
In our recent webinar, Further Education and Skills Consultant Richard Moore shared insights into the current training landscape and the main challenges ahead. Here are three important takeaways.
High costs are affecting employer recruitment
Inflation fell for the third month in a row to 6.7% in August, but the cost of living crisis is far from over.
In addition to day-to-day running costs, particularly for those operating training centres, Richard highlights recruitment as one of the toughest areas. A lot of providers are struggling to not only attract qualified and experienced trainers into the industry, but match the high salaries in sectors like digital and technology.
Richard also points to recruitment from an employer perspective, which has taken a hit amid economic uncertainty.
“The cost of living crisis and threats of a recession have adversely affected a lot of employers who would otherwise have wanted to create a foundation level of training and skills across their workforce,” he said.
“I think they’re seeing that as a risk. They’re not expanding or growing or looking at succession planning, and that’s affecting the recruitment of young people, particularly those who would be coming into the business with little to no experience.”
The cost of living crisis and threats of a recession have adversely affected a lot of employers who would otherwise have wanted to create a foundation level of training and skills across their workforce.
Richard Moore, Further Education and Skills Consultant
Learner retention is an ongoing issue
Retention continues to be a big area of concern for providers, particularly in the aftermath of Covid.
The pandemic was found to have disproportionately harmed young people’s mental health, creating higher levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness. As a result, there’s a greater risk of learners taking breaks in learning, going past their planned end date and ultimately withdrawing when they feel they’re too far behind.
In addition to personal circumstances, Richard also points to two other areas which are impacting retention.
Failure to give learners time for off-the-job training
Employers failing to give learners time in their working week to complete mandatory off-the-job (OTJ) training is a common issue. It can not only slow their progress through the programme, but create stress and impinge on their personal lives.
“I meet a lot of learners who aren’t released by their employer for the OTJ time that they should be receiving, then they have to do it in their own time. It’s often quite a lot of academic work like reports and assignments, which didn't used to be the case with apprenticeships,” Richard said.
Richard adds that the withdrawal risk is especially high if the learner has already been in employment before signing up for the apprenticeship.
“If they’ve had to be in employment for a number of years before signing up for the apprenticeship, there’s a question of whether it’s really worth all the hard work to gain this standard, which may or may not actually be that recognised in the sector.”
There are also wider trends in the job market. Millennials have been called “the job-hopping generation” and Gen Z is following suit by repeatedly switching jobs, which makes it less likely for learners to be committed to a specific sector or career.
“Young people move jobs much more frequently these days. I know when I talk to my own daughters, they think nothing of moving jobs every couple of years, so there are a lot of withdrawals from apprenticeships for those sorts of reasons,” Richard said.
“The levy system is not fully equipped to cope with this movement. I think the funding perhaps needs to be attached to the learner rather than the employer to make apprenticeships much more portable.”
Skills Bootcamps face Ofsted… and oversaturation
Skills Bootcamps are another big talking point. Bootcamps are now in scope for inspection by Ofsted and, as Richard explains, early inspection reports have largely been positive.
“It’s too early to give an overall summary on Bootcamps, but there are some big positives coming through around the knowledge and skills that learners are developing, particularly if they’ve previously been unemployed,” he said.
“I’ve heard some quite moving stories about how Bootcamps have turned people’s lives around, both with the technical knowledge and skills they've gained, but also with the personal support. I’ve worked with one or two providers who’ve done some great things around careers support, where the learners are almost valuing that more than the technical and vocational input.”
However, there are also potential issues bubbling up. One is oversaturation in areas like digital, where learners are going for job interviews and find themselves facing dozens of other candidates. As a result, the job outcomes at the end aren’t as high as providers would like.
The other is around Ofsted expectations, where there’s a question mark over how much providers will be expected to fit into a short programme.
“Ofsted might come in and ask: what are you doing about safeguarding? What are you doing about equality and diversity? What are you doing around English and maths? All of a sudden, the poor provider has this 12-week programme where they’re expected to squeeze in what a college would do across 12 months,” Richard said.
I’ve heard some quite moving stories about how Bootcamps have turned people’s lives around, both with the technical knowledge and skills they've gained, but also with the personal support.
Richard Moore, Further Education and Skills Consultant
Stay one step ahead with Bud
Find out more about the training landscape and other critical challenges on the horizon with these articles:
- General election: What does a change in government mean for the training industry?
- What’s next for Ofsted inspections?
Alternatively, listen to the full conversation with Richard by catching up with our webinar on demand.
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