Last week it was announced that the Treasury took back over £300m of funds allocated to apprenticeships despite small employers being turned away, reports furniture industry training association, FIESTA.
With 90% of employers within the furniture and interiors sector being non-levy payers, the association finds it "disappointing that excellent and often specialist training providers of essential skills are having their funding allocations cut to the extent that they can do little more for SMEs than complete existing apprentices on their programmes".
Mark Dawe, chief executive at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), says: "It's desperately disappointing to hear the DfE admit that such a significant sum of money went back to the Treasury when we know that all of it could have been spent on funding apprenticeships of SME employers.
"The fact is that 200 good quality providers were unable to offer any apprenticeships to non-levy employers after what the Skills Minister (Anne Milton) herself described as an ‘awful' procurement [process] – and those with contracts were not able to get the growth they wanted to meet employer demand."
FIESTA has attempted to counter this status quo in the furniture and interiors sector by setting up Furniture and Interiors Skills Plus, which includes an Apprentice Training Agency. By a quirk of the funding rules, the Apprentice Training Agency circumvents the impact of the clawback and ‘access to training' rules, which means that SMEs can access funded training for apprentices through the Skills Plus route.
Gary Baker, chair of FIESTA, states: "We have laid the foundations for our sector to train new and existing colleagues in a range of qualifications from new entrants at level 2, to senior managers at Master's degree levels and everything in between. To get the message out there, we invite employers to attend the Closing the Skills Gap conference at Furniture Makers Hall, on 26th April. It's open to all furniture and interiors manufacturers and will be the start of a country wide push to engage members to show the opportunities in funded training that we have developed."
Jeremy Stein CEO of the BCFA adds: "Some of our sectors specialist training providers have had allocations against which our members could have drawn down funding, halved from May this year. We urge all manufacturers to attend the conference or contact us to understand how you can access the funded training you need – and engage with the providers of your choice. We were in danger of letting the far reaching and excellent training opportunities simply evaporate through lack of funding, but we have worked hard to ensure that the full range of qualifications should be available to all of our members, either levy or non-levy payers."