London SMEs and training providers need to work better together

According to a new report from Ofsted, businesses and training providers in London must overcome barriers to ensuring learners have access to effective apprenticeships and work experience.

The report, ‘Engaging small and medium enterprises in work experience and apprenticeships in London’, looks at 17 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and 26 training providers in London and identifies the success and challenges of their partnership work in providing apprenticeships and work experience for leaners.

It finds that training providers in the city find it challenging to encourage SMEs to provide work experience and apprenticeship opportunities. Providers also found it difficult to source enough work experience placements for learners with employers, sometimes creating fierce competition between learners for places.

SMEs themselves cited time constraints of employees and the availability of staff as barriers to engaging in the provision of apprenticeships and work experience. Critically, employers in London expressed concerns over the employability of learners and whether they are prepared for the world of work.

Though SMEs acknowledge the benefits of work experience for learners, they say that this is not always of benefit to their business and can create additional work. Businesses also feel the large number of providers competing for work experience and apprenticeship places has created confusion over who to work with and which would benefit their organisation the most.

Several of the businesses spoken to by Ofsted find the process for recruiting an apprentice or offering work experience too bureaucratic, and find resources like the National Apprenticeship Service website complex and confusing. There is evidence that, for some small businesses, poor communication with providers, changes in provider staff and pressure to accept certain training packages have led to poor experiences when offering apprenticeships or work experience.

However, some businesses have cited strong long-term relationships with the providers they work with. For example, the report finds that Barking and Dagenham College has developed long and well-established working relationships with local employers.

Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Further Education and Skills, Marina Gaze, said: “It is imperative that all learners leave education and training with the skills and experience they need to enter the world of work. Part of this is making sure that learners are given the opportunity to undertake meaningful and relevant work experience. This is a critical opportunity for young people to better understand what it is to work, develop their knowledge and ultimately make informed career choices.

“Ofsted found that many training providers use work experience as a way of introducing a potential apprentice to an employer. Making sure that there are sufficient work experience and apprenticeship placements must be a priority for the government, businesses and providers. London is a city with a varied and vibrant character, and part of this character has developed through the fantastic array of businesses which operate within it. It is absolutely crucial that they work closely with training providers to ensure that the expertise which has helped make London the success it is are passed on to the next generation.”

In response to the findings, Ofsted has set out several recommendations for government and providers to ensure that learners have ample opportunity to complete work experience or find a suitable apprenticeship.

The government and funding agencies should:

  • ensure that businesses are aware of the benefits and implications of becoming involved in work experience and/or apprenticeships
  • improve communication through simplifying information on the National Apprenticeship Service website

Providers should:

  • make sure that young people are well prepared for the world of work by developing comprehensive employability programmes
  • ensure that there are sufficient work experience places with businesses for their learners
  • improve communication with SMEs, making sure they understand the benefits and requirements of providing a work experience placement or apprenticeship and continue to support them and the learner throughout the placement.