Richard Evans is the Chairman of the CIPHE’s Education and Training Group. In this issue of ETM, he looks at the Trailblazer concept and the Plumbing & Domestic Heating Technician Apprenticeship.

Bigger doesn’t mean better!

Apprenticeships still occupy a central part of the skills agenda, but will all this discussion bring about the high quality frameworks that are now urgently required? The main political drive seems to be to create large numbers of appren- ticeships, but with little reference or debate about the quality and fitness for purpose of the programmes. These two elements are surely the most important and should not be subverted by political hype over the numbers taking them up.

Too often politicians get carried away quoting numbers, imagining the larger the number, more of the population will be conned into believing their commitment to an issue! It’s the old issue of quality verses quantity. Significantly, however, one aspect of the Government’s Trailblazer initiative, which was launched in March has CIPHE playing a key role.

Colleges and college lecturers want to play a key part in developing and delivering high quality apprenticeships, working closely with employers and the relevant professional organisations. The CIPHE has led the way with involvement in the Trailblazer initiative, which allows employers to be involved in designing the programmes and equally important, directly defining and developing the skills that their workers need now and in the future.

The success of the Trailblazer initiative highlights the importance of networking across a wide range of stake holders e.g. professional bodies, employers, awarding bodies, colleges and training providers and standard setting organisations. This is but one element of the programme that promises much for the future. The pro- gramme is set at Level 3 with an entry Level 2 in English and Mathematics and is delivered over 48 months, with an opportunity for the assessment/accreditation of prior experience and learning (APEL), for candidates with relevant previous experience. The knowledge, skills and behavioural specification is comprehensive and provides a strong foundation for practition- ers of the future. The specification fully recognises the importance of mathematical, scientific and equally important the practical and behavioural skills needed, along with the wider core skills.

Finally, on graduation a clear progression career route is defined by the award of EngTech, accredited by the Engineering Council in association with CIPHE. This sets the scene for practitioners to progress to higher professional memberships e.g. Incorporated and Chartered Engineer following work experience and CPD.

I am relatively optimistic about the initiative and hope that colleges will be significantly involved in the delivery and further devel- opment. This development will benefit the students, employers and colleges and raise the profile of the professional status of plumbing and heating engineering.

Productivity and Manufacturing

(Productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which available resources are used in production).

Current debates about rebalancing the economy and the ability of the country to compete in the global market constantly highlights the low current productivity levels in the manufacturing industry. The need to increase exports significantly in the future is crucial to this endeavour. International surveys over many years have shown consistently that we lag well behind most of our international competitors. For example, for the G7 nations Britain was on average 17% less productive and an often quoted statement is that France is 20% more productive than this country i.e. they achieve in four days what we do in five. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report in 2014 also highlighted that the country had become even less productive, decreasing by 3% per hour between 2007 and 2012. Even accepting the complexities associated with the factors in play, when defining and measuring productivity and the confusing array of the resulting statistical interpretations, the reality is that the country is performing poorly.

A recent report has identified the need to increase exports to £1 trillion by 2020, but the indications already show this target is unrealistic and is very unlikely to be achieved, falling short by at least 30% . There are a wide range of complex and interconnected causes in play creating these problems, including low investment in research and development (R&D) and poor innovation and creativity skills. The solutions will take a long time to reform and implement and will require radical approaches, free from political dogma and micro-management. One essential element is the need to develop high quality technical education and training following these reforms and again the FE sector must be significantly involved.

So what are the factors that have created low productivity? As already mentioned there are many dimensions, including the inadequate resourcing and support of technical and vocational education and training. The country operates a low skill/ low wage/high employment policy, which increasingly depends on immigrant workers, who are prepared to work for low wages. Other factors include workers’ motivation, the work environment, pay, conditions of service, the lack of CPD and the quality of leadership and management.

Many commentators argue that to maintain a productive industrial base, some unemployment is necessary, but also underpinned by an effective and efficient technical education and training system. Investing in our own education and training system is essential. After all, I would argue that taking people from abroad can be seen as unethical, where often poorer countries have invested in their own people and then to see them poached by richer countries. I accept that social and economic mobility is a fact of globalism, but there has been an understanding of the wider issues in recruiting overseas people including the ethical ones.

Clearly if a reformed and effective manufacturing base is established by this government, then the issue of low productivity must be addressed, recognising the complex mix of factors that creates it. This would also have significant impact on the technical and vocational curriculum in FE colleges, which will require colleges to inform students of the issues involved – including the rationale for greater use of work experience programmes and the creation of realistic working environments in colleges. This would provide students with a greater understanding of the work place and the factors that contribute to low productivity and how they can improve it.

Again this puts colleges centre stage in producing the qualified and informed workers of the future.

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