Fuller, Alison and Rizvi, Sadaf
The Southampton Skills Development Zone apprenticeship:
research report University of Southampton 56pp. , Southampton, City of, GB
1. An apprenticeship scheme developed by SSDZ has been an innovative attempt by the four public sector employers represented on the SSDZ Board to work with partners to create new training and employment opportunities for local unemployed 18 to 25 year olds. A team from the LLAKES research centre undertook research into the scheme from August 2010 to December 2011. The research aims included:
• To develop an evidence base about the apprenticeship scheme, with information on the numbers starting and completing their apprenticeships, and being offered permanent contracts with their employers;
• To provide an account of the experiences of all the major stakeholders in the scheme and their perceptions of its strengths and weaknesses;
• To identify the key features of the scheme and perceptions of its benefits that can contribute to its dissemination and expansion.
2. The SSDZ apprenticeship scheme provided an opportunity for eligible young people to participate in a pre-apprenticeship training and recruitment process before being recruited by one of the four employers (City Council, University Hospital Southampton (UHS), Primary Care Trust and Southampton Solent University). The apprenticeship consisted of a 12 month fixed-term employment contract in a ‘real job’ role. Apprentices were registered on the government supported Level 2 Apprenticeship programme in health and social care, business administration and in (one case) engineering.
3. The apprentices were paid at the appropriate entry point for the job role. Their wages were paid by the employers with a contribution from the DWP’s (then) Future Jobs Fund (FJF). Off-the-job training was provided by City College (business administration) and UHS (health and social care). The costs of delivering the formal requirements of the relevant apprenticeship frameworks (including the qualifications) are met by the Skills Funding Agency (SfA)
4. There have been three main cohorts of apprentices: cohort 1 began in January and March 2010, Cohort 2 in September 2011 and Cohort 3 in March 2011.
5. The research involved a range of data collection activities including observation of the pre-apprenticeship course, key informant interviews with 12 SSDZ Board members (including the four employers, JobCentre Plus, training providers and the SSDZ programme and operations managers), and 22 workplace managers and supervisors and training providers; focus group and one to one interviews (total 21) with apprentices belonging to cohorts 1 and 2; the collection of administrative data on the progress of apprentices. Some apprentices in cohort 2 were interviewed at the beginning, during and at the end of their apprenticeship. A total of 55 participants were interviewed in total.
6. The research report provides detailed evidence about the organisation of the scheme, its performance in terms of participation and achievement and the experiences and perspectives of the key informants and the apprentices. The findings can be summarised as follows:
7. A total of 47 apprentices, 32 in cohort 1 and 15 in cohort 2 started the apprenticeship scheme. Overall, 34 (72%) gained employment, mostly with their apprenticeship employer, and 36 (76%) successfully completed their apprenticeship framework.
8. The commitment and involvement of the SSDZ Board including the chief executives of the participating employers was central to the successful implementation of the scheme. The major partners in the scheme agreed that the scheme had both social and economic goals which they were committed to helping to achieve.
9. Participants strongly supported the pre-employment training and recruitment programme, and recognised its value in helping unemployed young people choose and apply for a place on the scheme and a particular apprenticeship opportunity.
10. The apprenticeship scheme was conceived as comprising both the pre-employment training and recruitment process and the one year apprenticeship as an integrated model that could be promoted to other employers including in the private sector.
11. The pre-employment training and recruitment process also provided an opportunity for the partners (including the employers, Jobcentre Plus and City College) to build local capacity and shared understanding about the nature and challenges of the scheme and the target group.
12. The ability and willingness of the employers to recruit and employ ‘non-standard’ applicants into ‘real’ jobs was crucial. Without this commitment, the young people would have been unlikely to have been considered for posts by the line managers and HR staff and, therefore, would not have benefited from the experience of an apprenticeship.
13. The FJF wage subsidy helped to mitigate the employers’ risk in taking on young people who would not normally have been shortlisted for posts owing to their lack of relevant experience. The challenge of sustaining the scheme at a time of financial austerity for employers was seen as considerable.
14. Workplace supervisors and line managers were positive about the ability of their apprentices to develop the required skills despite their lack of prior experience. They also recognised that they had benefited personally and professionally from supervising and mentoring the apprentices.
15. There was some progress in rolling the scheme out to the private sector. The availability of a tested pre-employment training and recruitment model was seen as a benefit and factor that could facilitate the involvement of other employers.
16. The experience and creativity of the key partners in leveraging funding from diverse sources (regional, national and European) was likely to play an increasingly important role in enabling the scheme to be sustained and, or adapted, for example, for inclusion in the plans for the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
17. Overall, the apprentices were very positive about the opportunity to participate in the scheme. They had all been unemployed for at least six months and were very keen to get jobs with training and qualifications attached to them.
18. The apprentices recognised the value of the pre-employment training and recruitment process in helping them to select the ‘right’ employer and sector for them, as well as to making a good start on the apprenticeship.
19. Apprentices perceived that they would have been highly unlikely to have been shortlisted for jobs with the participating employers because of their lack of relevant work and employment experience. The opportunity to become apprentices and gain employment experience – learning and earning at the same time - with highly reputable public sector employers was highly valued.
20. Most participants felt that they had become valued members of their workplace teams, and were making a positive and productive contribution. Apprentices saw themselves as productive employees from a fairly early stage in their one-year contracts. This raised questions about whether the learning goals associated with the apprenticeship should have been more substantial and challenging.
21. Apprentices were supported by colleagues, supervisors and line managers in their on-the-job learning and in working more independently. Overall, they spoke highly of the help and encouragement they had received from members of their workplace teams.
22. Most of the apprentices experienced an uncertain and anxious period at the end of their contracts when there was considerable uncertainty about whether they would be retained. There was considerable relief when individuals heard that their contracts had been confirmed.
23. The apprentices perceived that their CVs had been significantly improved by their participation in the scheme, their achievements and employment experience, and that this would improve their chances in the labour market. In addition, they felt that they had gained in self-confidence and self-esteem and had improved their inter-personal skills.
24. Experiences with the formal part of the apprenticeship have been mixed. Issues for improvement raised by the apprentices included: the amount of off-the-job time available to study and to complete assignments; the relevance of the qualifications to actual jobs; the level of qualifications, the timeliness with which they were able to complete aspects of their qualification framework; and having adequate access to workplace assessors. Access to an assessor as part of the work team was highly valued as it meant that assessments could be integrated into daily working practice and therefore could occur more regularly.
25. Just under half the apprentices in the interview sample had attained qualifications at Level 3 or above before starting their apprenticeships, which were all at Level 2. This raised questions about whether some individuals at least could have been registered on Level 3 apprenticeships at the outset, or whether they and others could progress directly to Level 3 on completion of the Level 2 programme.
26. Most apprentices had had their educational and career aspirations raised as a consequence of participating in the scheme. There was scope for ensuring that employers provided formal opportunities to discuss career development with individuals so that the completion of the apprenticeship could be viewed as a rung on a ladder, rather than as a single step.
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