Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Northern Ireland Assembly - Committee for Employment and Learning

Training for Success - Submission by ICTU on 30 April 2008.

Congress welcomes the invitation of the Committee to provide an opportunity to comment on the Training For Success Programme.

Congress acknowledges the assistance of DEL officials in providing information and data helpful to the development of our position.

Congress is supportive of attempts by government to provide training opportunities to post school trainees and adults. Our concern is to ensure that such training meets the needs of participants, to assist them into employment and to progress in employment towards higher skills and rewarding career opportunities. Congress is also concerned to ensure that happens in a non-exploitive context and in a manner which is not wasteful of public finances and resources.

1. Congress accepts that Training for Success commenced last September and that it is somewhat early in time to be conclusive regarding its operation. Initial research conducted by the Learning and Skills Development Agency suggests that participants consider the training approaches to be an improvement upon the former Jobskills Programme however a more considered analysis is necessary perhaps after the first year of operation of the Scheme. Already a number of issues have arisen which are of concern to Congress.

2. One concern relates to the process of tendering for contracts. We appreciate that all departments are bound by European regulations re procurement hence tendering is open to any organisation across the EU. There is a concern that all contracts at Level 3 have been awarded to the private sector – in some instances to organizations from outside Northern Ireland and which have no infrastructure locally to deliver the programmes they sought to provide. Congress would wish the basis upon which contracts to be transparent and in the public domain so that the public may be satisfied that contracts met the criteria demanded and that an organisation awarded a contract best met those criteria compared with other applicants.

3. It is not known and not recorded by DEL as to the number or type (large, SME,) nor location (urban rural) of employers participating in the scheme. There is a need for the collation and retention of accurate data so as to track the engagement by employers and to monitor access to the scheme across all areas.

4. The scheme is aimed entirely at the private sector - public sector bodies who wish to train apprentices cannot do so under Training For Success - this is because it would be seen a double funding from the public purse. This excludes public sector employers in areas such as health, education, local authorities environment etc, from being able to recruit apprentices and have them as trainees under the scheme. It is probably more to do with government attempts to grow the private sector than with concern over double funding (which could be easily addressed) but it is detrimental to having access to as wide an employer base as possible to enable higher level training for employment and it reduces access to training.

5. Anyone under 19 or starting at age 19 is exempt national minimum wage entitlements. There is evidence that level 2 trainees in particular are not being paid a wage equivalent to other employees but are being given £40pw which is the level of trainee allowance paid to pre-apprentices. There is no monitoring of wage levels nor is there a requirement by an employer to indicate the level of wage to be paid when that employer recruits an apprentice. Congress understands that in England it is a condition of receiving funding that the employer pays the current wage rate - but not in NI. This needs to be addressed. DEL take the view this is an employment matter and it is outside their remit. Congress however is of the view that in order to prevent the exploitation of young persons there ought to be provision in the securing of contracts for the employer to declare the level of wages to be paid and that this be monitored on a sectoral basis.

6. There is evidence that because of a downturn in construction in particular apprentices are being laid off - thus they cannot complete their apprentice training. When this happens they are re-directed into the pre-apprentice strand. This means they are out of the apprenticeship. There is a need to ensure that once recruited the apprentice can continue with the apprenticeship in a programme led arrangement through the likes of an FE college. Congress understands such happens in England. DEL have a concern that if there were to be programme led apprenticeships this would encourage employers not to take on apprentices as employees but to wait and have free labour when the colleges place these apprentices for work placements - That is a genuine concern which would replicate all the evils of Jobskills - however on the other hand it is highly damaging to the concept of apprentice training if it all falls apart because the employer cannot keep the apprentice on. We need these trainees to have a guarantee that when they are signed on to an apprentice scheme they will be guaranteed to be able to complete it.

7. There is also concerns that these apprentices are not receiving travel allowances for days spent in colleges engaged - those on pre-apprenticeship programmes get travel allowances - there is no obligation for apprentices to receive same. There is a case for equity of treatment with regard to all participants being able to attract travel allowances and at the actual costs of travel. The current restricted arrangement is a deterrent to access to participants from rural communities.

8. For the apprenticeship strand each trainee has employed status - the 222 at Level 3 are higher qualified entrants and information from colleges and LSDA indicate that this strand is relatively working well so far as industry led standards are concerned. There are some concerns regarding the level of wages paid to apprentices with regard to industry rates. There are also concerns that employers are not monitored to ensure that each apprentice is provided with hands on job training. There is a need for monitoring in both cases.

There are 2899 on the level 2 strand again spread across a range of occupational areas. Again these trainees have employed status - there is a concentration in engineering construction and retail - again the standards are set by the industry.

Compared with jobskills at a similar point in the year the overall number on the programme is down by around 2000 - it is not known why this should be so and this is a matter which requires investigation.

9. Whilst the scheme is not confined to 16 - 19 year olds the figures show small numbers at age 23+ - thus there is little take-up by persons who missed out in earlier years. More need to be done to promote the scheme amongst young adults who have been in the workforce for some time. 

10. The Job Ready Strand has 5895 participants. 1371 are on the pre-apprenticeship element and 1208 on the Skills for Work element. These trainees are training organisation or college based for 52 weeks. After that the hope is they will progress to an apprenticeship. There area number of issues here to be looked at.

(a) If a trainee cannot progress to an apprenticeship after 52 weeks at college - something needs to be put in place for them to be able to continue in training for employment.

(b) there needs to be a clearer target for these trainees to achieve some vocational qualification as a result of their participation. Those on the pre-apprenticeship element work towards a Technical Certificate but those on Skills for Work don't have a structured programme.

(c) there is a need for more diagnostic testing during the first month of the programme to assess the competencies, aptitudes, needs and abilities of the trainees - the Training Credit should not be issued until that has been accomplished.

(d) A young person presenting at level 1 and who has employment, cannot join this strand of the programme. This has a number of consequences. Those young people are placed into Level 2 which may be above their current abilities, or they have to leave the job, or they don't come on the programme for structured training because they want to keep the job. There is a need to have flexibility at this strand which would allow these young people to remain employed. A young person who is a full-time student would be able to work part-time without restriction - why should Training for Success trainees be treated differently - after all the whole purpose of these schemes is about getting young people job ready

(e) Training providers claim that they are suffering financial losses because of the current level of travel costs and want the funding model to be revised.

(f) Colleges argue that only 60-80% of the Technical Certificate can be obtained in one year and that there needs to be scope to go beyond the 52 weeks to enable trainees to complete and to progress.

11. Congress wishes the programme to be successful and offers the above suggestions to seek to improve its operation. Along with the DEL Committee we will continue to monitor its development.