Home Features Andrew Eldred explains how devolving training can influence outcomes in local areas

Andrew Eldred explains how devolving training can influence outcomes in local areas

Andrew Eldred, ECA Director of Workforce and Public Affairs, explains why devolving the design and funding for certain types of training in England is an opportunity for members to influence outcomes in their local areas.

The Government in Westminster is making moves to devolve elements of political decision-making to UK regions. In recent decades the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have become more autonomous, of course, but regions in England are also gaining more control and spending power – including over segments of training and education.

One example of this policy is the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). There are 38 of these programmes across England, and the key objective is to empower local employers to influence decisions about local training needs.

The government has allocated around £2 million per area to fund improvements and changes to local colleges so that they can provide young people and adults with the skills most needed in each area, based on the LSIP. The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) has been actively engaged in many of the regions where these programmes operate, highlighting the requirements of our members and their businesses.

Furthermore, local skills devolution is spreading across the UK. In England, some of the Mayoral Combined Authorities already have power over local adult education decisions, and some local authorities are also starting to gain greater control over adult education policy and budgets.

Benefiting learners and businesses

The significance of this fuller version of devolution is that it gives access to far greater funding levels, which can amount to tens of millions of pounds, creating much more potential for bringing about the sort of changes that benefit learners and local businesses.

It’s important to note that this devolution process in England does not directly affect apprenticeships, which remains in the control of the central government. ECA members will know that the electrical apprenticeship is one of the most successful and sought-after apprenticeships. It has the highest take-up of any construction trade apprenticeship in England and typically represents at least 20% of all construction apprenticeships.

However, while the electrical apprenticeship scheme in England attracts an average of 5,000 to 6,000 new people to the sector each year that’s not enough to meet our needs either now, or in the future. ECA estimates that we need some 10,000 new starters in our sector in England (12,000 in the wider UK) every year to keep up with sector demand and to replace those changing careers or retiring.

And as the UK transitions from away fossil fuels to an electrified low-carbon economy, the opportunities for members continue to grow, but we need qualified people to reap the commercial benefits.

There is no doubt that many young people are attracted to a career as an electrician, but the number of apprenticeships available doesn’t match the demand. Various colleges have been dropping the delivery of apprenticeships and opting for full-time electrical courses, which are shorter and entirely classroom based.

Unfortunately, students graduating from a full-time course that may take one or two years then face the reality that they are not qualified ‘electricians’. And research for the LSIPs shows that average progression rates from a full-time electrical course into an electrical apprenticeship are less than 10%.

So, although the colleges report high levels of employment after their electrical courses, it’s not usually as an electrical apprentice. Many local authorities are also frustrated when they realise they are funding the courses but not getting suitably qualified ‘electricians’ as the end result. In short, hardly anyone is getting what they need from these classroom courses.

Closer relationships

However, the ECA believes that within this problem lies a solution. If colleges and students can be better supported through closer relationships with local employers, it could be possible to make a smoother transition from a full-time college course to an apprenticeship. The electrical apprenticeship highlights the importance of treating each candidate on their own merits, particularly giving due credit for learning they have already undertaken. By taking this learning into account, apprenticeships could be accelerated and made more attractive for smaller businesses to support, helping to increase the number of people joining our sector as qualified, and ultimately competent, electricians.

Engagement between businesses and local colleges through programmes like LSIPS is vital for this to work. ECA research shows that there can be demand for different skills across regions. With this approach, ECA members have the potential to ensure that local colleges are running courses that match regional requirements.

At a national level, ECA has set the tone by engaging with the design and delivery of T Levels that are relevant to our sector and which can help young people transition to an apprenticeship. However, local training solutions can only be designed and delivered locally, so engagement from ECA members with their regional training arrangements is vital. In addition, the roll-out of devolved adult education budgets and delivery is picking up pace, providing a further opportunity to influence the future skills base of our sector.

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