The real cost of achieving quality outcomes for learners

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What’s considered a good quality learning programme is very much in the eye of the beholder and varies from apprentice to apprentice and from employer to employer. What they can all agree upon however, is that achieving a qualification VS not achieving one is a good bench mark for assessing the quality of training, and the likelihood of apprentice success, both short and long term.

Each training provider will have their own methods of running apprenticeship programmes, along with the business pressures of creating and maintaining profit, whilst also meeting the requirements of industry regulations and inspections. So, how does a provider ensure their profit margins remain healthy, that standards are being met, and the quality of training offered ensures high achievement outcomes for learners and employers? At what point do profits start to outweigh the quality of the programme and the margin becomes detrimental to the learning experience of the apprentice?

It’s a hard call to make and one that most companies and colleges battle with on a daily basis. What isn’t in doubt is that if you make a loss, then you’ll stop teaching all together. But what isn’t always given as high a priority as profit, is that if you have a lower overall achievement rate for your apprentices this will not only have a detrimental effect on your learners, but it will impact employer ROI significantly over time, and ultimately will reduce a provider’s achievement rates and their ability to attract new business.

Having four out of every five learners ‘Achieve’ their apprenticeship VS two out of every three, means the 82%+ Achievement rate is the better business model and with the correct scaling means a company is a better investment for an employer, ensuring they gain the maximum skills return for their investment into their apprentice’s success.

The way an apprenticeship programme is delivered can vary considerably, depending on the provider involved, and can significantly impact the outcomes for the learner and employer. From an ICON perspective, for example, we insist on a set ratio of learners to Skills Assessors that ensures maximum amount of time and support is provided for each individual. This ensures learners have access to a consistent level of quality teaching that enables them to acquire new skills, as opposed to just ticking boxes in a less effective learning environment. We then go further by practicing what we preach and providing each of our Skills Assessors with their very own Master Trainer to provide them with opportunities to standardise and maximise quality teaching. We have a ratio of six Skills Assessors to each Master Trainer.

The ratios we work to however aren’t necessarily the same across the sector, and the variances in staff per learner numbers can undoubtedly impact the quality of the training and the outcomes. There are of course other factors involved in maintaining acceptable achievement rates, but investment in staff and ensuring the right ratios of learner to educator is key.

With our current funding landscape focused on ‘employer led’ choices it is more important than ever for employers to do their research and ensure that when they contract with a provider, their investment in apprenticeships and skills is not just a short-term fix. Latest industry stats highlight that for every £1 invested in an apprenticeship the return for an employer is £74, but it’s important to consider the long term implications when it comes to an ongoing investment strategy. A strategy that ensures that the apprentices not only complete, but also remain with them long-term, built around a ‘Career Development Pathway’ aligned to the ‘Towards an Active Nation’ call for a clear and concise ‘Workforce Development Strategy’.

If you consider the cost implications of investing in apprenticeships at the outset and also the long-term commitments of an ongoing investment, it’s clear that ensuring quality over quantity and achievement rates over non-completion makes commercial sense. The recruitment costs alone are also reason enough to ensure you are accessing the best possible ROI when it comes to up skilling your workforce and ensuring you’re retaining staff post-training. It’s estimated that the cost of recruitment, from advert placement through to interviews, contracts, induction and embedding into a role can cost well over £1k per new recruit, and that’s before you even commit to the cost of training an apprentice to enable them to become a fully-functioning team member.

Organisations that monitor, inspect and regulate our sector, and education in general, work to ensure that learners and employers not only have access to the right information when making a decision about a training provider, but also the sort of criteria that is most relevant when choosing. There was some debate recently about changes made to the Qualification Achievement Rates (QAR) which are released annually, and monitor and report on the programme completions from training providers. The new measurement is focused on actual apprenticeship and traineeship completions and closes a previous loophole which meant some stats were slightly skewed. At ICON we support wholeheartedly the need to maintain standards and to measure accordingly, as a bigger organisation doesn’t always mean better, and the focus should always be on completions, achievements and training quality, as opposed to just participation or numbers, or indeed turnover.

I wonder how many training providers and colleges out there, hand on heart, can really say that they achieve more apprenticeship outcomes per cohort year on year and have a clear model of building bespoke career development pathways that also align to government strategy.

At ICON we believe in continually investing in resourcing ‘quality’ staffing structures that ensure learners gain the maximum amount of time with their teachers, and treating apprentices and their employers as individuals, and not just ‘another number’?