|Hefin David MS|
|Helen Mary Jones MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Mohammad Asghar MS|
|Russell George MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells MS|
|Dafydd Evans||Cadeirydd, ColegauCymru|
|Jeff Protheroe||Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau, Ffederasiwn Hyfforddiant Cenedlaethol Cymru|
|Director of Operations, National Training Federation Wales|
|Professor Ewart Keep||Adran Addysg, Prifysgol Rhydychen|
|Department of Education, Oxford University|
|Lara Date||Ail Glerc|
|Robert Lloyd-Williams||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Papurau i'w nodi||2. Papers to note|
|3. COVID-19: Sgiliau||3. COVID-19: Skills|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:43.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:43.
Prynhawn da. I'd like to welcome you all to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee. I do move to item 1. We have no apologies this afternoon, and we are just waiting for Hefin David to join us shortly. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I've determined that the public are excluded from the committee meeting in order to protect public health, but this meeting is being broadcast on Senedd.tv. The committee has previously agreed that, should there be any technical issues with me chairing the meeting, then Joyce Watson will temporarily stand in to chair the meeting. If there are any Members who have got any declarations of interest, please do say so now—I always get that bit confused. There we are; right.
So, we have one paper to note. We have a letter from the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee with regard to the impact of COVID-19 on higher and further education, inviting some of our Members to join that meeting at the end of June. So, I know that some Members have expressed an interest. Helen Mary has expressed an interest, and I know that one of our Members, Hefin David, is also on that committee meeting, so perhaps we can discuss this in a bit more detail at the end of this meeting in our private session, if that's okay with Members.
Okay, in that case, I do move to item 3, and this is our next session with regard to COVID-19 with a particular focus on skills. If I could ask the witnesses to, perhaps, introduce themselves for the public record. So, if I could ask Dafydd first.
Dafydd Evans, prif weithredwr, chief exec of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and currently chair of ColegauCymru.
Good afternoon, all—prynhawn da, bawb. Jeff Protheroe, director of operations at the National Training Federation for Wales, which is an association of over 70 independent training providers delivering apprenticeships, employability and skills.
I'm Ewart Keep. I'm a professor in the department of education at Oxford University.
Thank you, all, for joining us this afternoon. Sorry to have kept you at the beginning of the meeting. We appreciate that your time is valuable, so thank you for being with us this afternoon. Perhaps if I could start. I wonder if you could explain what impact the coronavirus has had with regard to health and safety in the health and social care sector, and how providers have responded to that. Perhaps in doing so, it would be useful if you could explain the different responsibilities for apprentices in terms of their health and safety, and how that is split up between employees, training providers and the Welsh Government. Perhaps I'm not asking you all to answer that, but if one of you can indicate if you feel that you can address that question. Jeff Protheroe.
Thank you, Chair. In terms of the health and safety of apprentices, clearly, as all apprentices are employed-status individuals it remains ultimately the responsibility of the employer. However, that said, there is also a responsibility on the providers of apprenticeships to ensure that all workplaces where the apprentices are, are not only vetted on starting the programme but regularly monitored as well. And through the regular reviews that the work-based learning practitioners will have with apprentices, generally on a monthly basis, then, the health and safety of the individual apprentices is discussed regularly. And then, if there are any issues arising from that, then there's a conversation and a dialogue with the employer and, if necessary, with Welsh Government as well. So, those are in terms of the key responsibilities.
Okay. Thank you, Jeff. I don't know if any of the other witnesses want to come in, or are you—. No. Thank you. As I understand it, Jeff, there's a contract that the Welsh Government has with the providers. I wonder if you can tell us how many, if any, disease reports providers have been made to the Welsh Government regarding apprentices in the health and social care sector since the start of the pandemic.
So, we've monitored this fairly regularly, and obviously trying to engage with our provider network, particularly the commissioned contract holders and, indeed, their supply chain just to see what the impact is. And as it currently stands, in relation to COVID-19 there have been no reported incidences of apprentices. Now, to be fair, we only represent, I guess, 60 per cent of the provider network. I'm not too sure what the situation is within college-led work-based learning contracts, but there doesn't appear to be any related to COVID-19. But what we are seeing in regular discussions between apprentices and their mentors, if you like, is the increase in well-being and mental health issues as well as a result of it, as an indirect impact, I guess.
Yes. So, the way that that would work in reality is that the providers would capture that through their regular dialogues with the individual apprentices and, generally, practitioners would signpost the individuals on to areas of support. And clearly, what we're seeing, particularly within the health and social care sector, which I think you framed this initial question, with the direct impacts of COVID-19 particularly within homes, apprentices or people on an apprenticeship programme within the health and social care sector are having to see, obviously, increased bereavements, et cetera.
I suppose I was just thinking, Jeff, in terms of signposting on, I understand that response, but is it being captured in terms of is that being reported to Welsh Government, if you like, to capture a bigger picture in that sense?
So, Welsh Government, in the last few weeks, have put in place quite a robust data-capture mechanism. I'm not too sure that issues of mental health and well-being are being captured formally, but I do know, in discussions that we've had recently with Welsh Government officials, mental health, as an indirect impact, I guess, of the pandemic, is rising up the agenda, dare I say, within apprenticeships.
Would it be helpful if that data was collated centrally, if it's not being done so now?
Well, I think any data is useful, I guess. It's being captured by individual providers now via the monthly monitoring that they do. I guess that is easily accessible to feed into Welsh Government, but the issue of mental health and the well-being of apprentices has been raised with the Welsh Government and we're working collaboratively to identify how best it can be dealt with.
I guess my concern was that—. It sounds like it may well be, but Welsh Government need to see the full picture in order to help them respond appropriately. Dafydd Evans, you wanted to come in.
Yes. I just wanted to share, really, that what we're hearing back from the apprentices in the care homes is that they are working extremely hard, far in excess of the hours they would have worked traditionally as an apprentice, and the homes are becoming more and more dependent, I think, on the apprentices. And we've had some fantastic instances of videos coming back from apprentices working in care homes et cetera showing them in their workplace and the support they're giving to the elderly in those care homes.
You've got to remember that nearly a third of apprentices in Wales are actually in the health and care sector. We're not talking about small numbers here; we're talking significant numbers. Although, initially, yes, there were concerns, I think, about some personal protective equipment from a health and safety perspective, that seems to have settled down now, and we're not hearing that now as extensively as we were previously.
Thank you, Dafydd. Joyce Watson. Joyce, your question is—. Your mike is muted, I think. Can you unmute your mike? There we are.
Okay. On 11 May, the Minister wasn't able to tell us how many apprentices had been made redundant or been furloughed. I'm just wondering if you're able to give us some of those figures.
From our own perspective, it's around about 30 per cent—just over 30 per cent—which are furloughed. The number of redundancies are very, very small. As far as our own contract is concerned, it's about six—very, very small. But 35 per cent are furloughed and, of course, there is a concern, naturally, about what happens post furlough. I think that there is an opportunity for Welsh Government to be putting, potentially, safety nets in place and support for employers to keep their apprentices to finish their apprenticeship. I'm aware that perhaps in England there are thoughts along those lines of what are called 'golden handcuffs' et cetera, and that would be something, I think, I would wish Welsh Government to consider as well. Because it would be a real disaster if these apprentices were not to complete their full apprenticeship.
And I can add that Ewart is nodding to that. Jeff, did you still want to come in or not?
Just to echo, I guess, what Dafydd has already said. There are significant numbers of apprentices who are furloughed, but I guess what I'd like the committee to understand is that doesn't mean to say that they're not continuing with their apprenticeship programme, and what we're seeing is in excess of 90 per cent of apprentices continuing to—[Inaudible.] So, the fact that the apprentices are not in their place of work does not mean that they're not making progress with their apprenticeship, which I think is a significant testament to the provider network.
Again, as part of our data capture, in terms of numbers of apprentices that have been made redundant, it's relatively small, currently sat at just over 50. And I know Welsh Government are now regularly requesting information from the provider network to have a more real-time picture of this across the provider network.
We all know, obviously, that, the apprentices that have been made redundant, there is a real challenge in finding those new places, and we'd be interested to know if you've managed any of that, but also how they've been supported by you yourselves—the providers—and what you've found is working well and what could be improved.
As Jeff has mentioned, I think the people on furlough, remarkably, they're actually going through the theory side of their apprenticeships even faster than they were previously, because they've got time on their hands to do it and therefore there's a lot of remote learning happening there. However, we are hitting a bit of a brick wall, as it were, ahead of us now in a month or two, because, while we're able to carry on with the theory, the actual practical assessments, which is what you require to finish your apprenticeship, are not being able to be undertaken, either within colleges or in the workplace, in many instances. So, I think, while things have been going okay in the past couple of months in terms of continuation of learning, there is a buffer ahead of us, which we're going to hit pretty soon.
So, if there is a delay—and, you know, none of us know yet, truly—what sort of impact do you think that will have, and how could we manage that impact? What advice might you have?
I think, naturally, extending the period by which—. We're funded for a period of time within which we've got to deliver an apprenticeship, and I think there will be instances where we will not be able to complete that apprenticeship within the time frame that we're funded for. I think, potentially, an extended time frame would certainly be useful but I'm more concerned, if I'm honest, about those who are on furlough and them not being able to retain their employment. That, for me, is the big black cloud ahead of the apprentices.
We are, naturally, as well, working closely with the Minister for Education regarding the potential of opening up some of our workshops in the colleges in order that some of the practical assessments can take place, because I really do feel that, while the future has been pathed out, as it were, for A-level students and GCSE students, it's far less clear for vocational learners, and I think we've got a duty to try and do everything that we can in order that, by September, those who have got their practical quals to complete, we can try and complete those for them—in a safe manner, naturally, but I think that would show the parity of esteem that is required for vocational against academic as well.
Yes, if I may. Again, just to reiterate, really, that the work-based learning provider network is contractually bound to ensure that apprentices remain or stay on programme. In a situation where an apprentice is unfortunately made redundant, then the provider will work with that apprentice to try and obtain, or try and source, employment within that sector, but, if unsuccessful, then obviously look to other sectors as well.
Now clearly, we're in a fairly difficult job market at the moment, and there are going to be issues with that, but the main safety net, if you like, is that there is the ability then to ensure that that learner stays on their programme, and also—dependent on age—can receive an element of training allowance to ensure that at least there is some form of income, so, hopefully, when the labour market increases, then at least that individual has a good chance of completing their apprenticeship to go on and find work in the future.
As I say, numbers are fairly low at the moment, but I completely echo what Dafydd says: there is a black cloud looming, and particularly within some of the sectors that are served by the apprenticeship programme, not least of all hospitality, manufacturing et cetera. As we see the furlough scheme diminish in the fullness of time, then that's something we have to be prepared for.
Thank you. And just finally from me, do you have any views on Ofqual's proposal for vocational qualifications, and would they meet the needs particularly of apprentices here in Wales?
So, yes, we do have a view. I think, to be fair, what has happened recently has identified the qualifications market within the UK for everything that it is, and I guess what we mean by that—. We have, if you like, our own qualifications system within Wales. Some qualifications are currently owned, if you like, by Qualifications Wales, and we've seen a fairly rapid response by Qualifications Wales to the qualifications that they are responsible for, particularly health and social care and the essential skills qualifications. But, because we have a legacy of working within a four-nation vocational qualifications market, we ultimately see Wales waiting—and other devolved administrations waiting—to see what Ofqual does before we can move on with our system. I think it's fair to say that Ofqual, given the landscape, has acted fairly swiftly to try and introduce some ways to this—three stages: calculated results, adaptations and delayed. As Dafydd has said, ultimately, what we're going to end up with is a number of apprentices who need to demonstrate physically their skills waiting until workplaces open, waiting until workshops et cetera open, and I don't think enough has been done around that adaptation piece in order that we can start looking at innovative ways of undertaking assessments.
Now, there are positives to take out of this situation, and I think what we must do is look towards the future to ensure that there are far more innovative and efficient ways of undertaking observations of learners within competency-based assessments. Examples abound at the moment, but I won't go into those now because of time.
I think you've finished your line of questioning, Joyce. Oh, Dafydd wanted to come in—and then I'll go to Helen Mary, but Dafydd.
Yes, I think it is really worth following up on the adaptation issue, because I think what we have found is that the adaptation of the assessment can be very challenging, almost has to be done on a student-by-student basis—very bureaucratic, because it all had to be agreed back by the awarding body, any adaptation they're intending to do. So, even though on the face of it the adaptation seems attractive, when you really get underneath the skin of it, it's very, very challenging, and many of our assessors are saying, 'We really would prefer to try and open up the workshops and bring them in to do it, as we're used to doing it, rather than trying to design these very complicated adaptations.'
Helen Mary, do you want to ask your supplementary and then come on to your set of questions? You're muted, Helen Mary. There we are.
Thank you. I just wanted to ask a little bit more about the last point that Dafydd was making, actually, about the possibility of reopening some of the workshops for adaptations for assessments, if it could be done safely. And I wonder if Dafydd can just tell us—or Jeff—a bit more about that. I have written to the education Minister about this, because I'm really concerned about that cohort of students and apprentices. So, a specific question—I guess this is more to Dafydd—is: what would be the possibility of colleges being able to open up in times when they might normally be on vacation to enable this to happen? Because I know there had been some discussion about whether schools might change their pattern, their term pattern, and that doesn't look as if that's likely now, but it does seem to me that some of those—it may be a little bit later in the summer, but some of those students would be able to come in and still qualify before September.
We have been working closely with Welsh Government and with our trade unions as well, who are absolutely critical. If this is going to happen and work, the trade unions are absolutely critical. And there's a meeting literally going on this very second between the joint trade unions and ColegauCymru, where we're hoping, this afternoon, to sign off a set of agreed protocols to allow us to open up for these two key identified cohorts of vulnerable learners and those practical assessments that are required to be done. We're hoping that that could be part, hopefully, of the Minister's announcement on Wednesday—that would be ColegauCymru's aim and objective, and we'll be asking whether that would be possible to enable those colleges who can meet those protocols to open from 15 June onwards.
That's very helpful, thank you. I've got a number of questions now about the impact of the coronavirus on work-based learning and the networks and your workforce. So, we understand that the agreed funding formula, based on an average of payments to providers between August and March, will mean slightly lower payments. Can you tell us the extent to which that will lead to a fall in income for work-based learning providers?
That's a fantastic question, and, if I'm honest, I haven't got a full answer for you at this moment in time, purely because there's little visibility, I guess, in terms of what was expected to be delivered in the next four months and how that works out from a Welsh Government perspective. However, that being said, from the surveys that we've done with our members, we are seeing a reduction in funding in the millions—certainly, anywhere between £130,000 over the next four months, from what was expected, up to £0.5 million.
This is going to have a significant impact on those providers in the short term. I'm sure we'll come on to it: you know, the short term is not necessarily the issue—it's the medium to longer term that we see as the more pressing issue. But what we do know is that there was expected to be circa £10 million-worth of European social fund funding coming into work-based learning this year. I'm led to believe that that's been redirected to the star chamber. There are significant reductions in funding for our members.
It's not a dissimilar picture, really, in the colleges. As with any formula, you will have certain people who are hit worse than others, as it were. All in all, the colleges aren't too unhappy about what's been proposed up to the end of this contractual year of 31 July. I think you'll probably come on to 2020-21 later on. That's our major concern: the cut for 2020-21. I don't think that we're going to die in a ditch regarding this averaging for 2019-20. That isn't as significant as the big hit that's awaiting us in 2020-21.
Thank you. So, obviously, if there's going to be an economic hit on the main contractors, that's going to have a potential impact on the subcontractors as well, and some of those are quite small organisations, aren't they? Have you got any take yet on what that impact has been or is likely to be? Have we seen providers closing or furloughing staff?
Not at this point in time, because I think that, currently, the averaging has allowed us to carry on, to a certain extent—up to 31 July, it's more or less business as usual, in one respect, and there has been an agreed protocol, as it were, with the Welsh Government that we will not furlough staff while we've got the averaging in place. I think, again, it will be—. If we were hit with this 10 per cent cut, then that is dramatically going to impact both prime contractors such as ourselves and our subcontractors. Undoubtedly, it will have an impact—it will create redundancies within the sector, undoubtedly.
Yes, if I may, Chair. Again, just from the short-term solution that the Welsh Government's provided, it is clearly welcomed. If you look at other areas of the UK, I think it's fair to say that Wales has got a fairly good deal and it does secure the short term. As Dafydd has said, the issue is not now around the short term—the next three, or two months, in fact; the next two months—but it's what comes after that.
In relation to the specifics around subcontractors, the vast majority of our members are subcontractors either to independent training provider leads or, indeed, further education college leads. The funding settlement that was put out by the Welsh Government came with some very clear expectations, and one of those was the issue around furloughing of staff—i.e. avoiding that where at all possible—and, also, ensuring, for the very reason you identify, Helen, that money is then sent down to the supply chain.
There have been some small numbers of furlough going on, particularly within subcontractors— we're in the tens for that—but money is getting to subcontractors. However, we find ourselves in the situation that we do not know what the funding is going to be from 1 August. Although providers, regardless of type, are not currently furloughing staff, the reality is, with the significant amount of funding reduction that's coming down the line, we are looking at redundancies. No amount of restructuring or repurposing is going to keep those staff in post, and that is a significant challenge.
That's obviously a concern—
Sori, Dafydd, rŷch chi'n moyn dod mewn.
Sorry, Dafydd, you want to come in.
And while we perhaps don't become totally stressed on the impact on us, there's naturally the impact on the employers and the learners, because we're currently on a growth curve as far as apprenticeships are concerned. Therefore, we've got a huge carry-over of contracts as providers, which is going to eat up a lot of next year's contract, just of those who are still on scheme. Therefore, we've calculated out that the impact on starts for next year, even though a 10 per cent cut in the contract, is actually, for north Wales, around a 50 per cent cut in the actual starts. Now, I think we respect the fact that there probably will be fewer starts next year but, wow, I'm going to be very disappointed if it's 50 per cent, and I think the economy is going to be in a very dire place if it's only 50 per cent starts. Especially, as well, if we did have incentive schemes for employers to try and take on apprentices, you need then the workplace learning contract to take them on and to train them, so there's got to be some joined-up thinking here as well.
And do you want to add anything to that, Ewart? I can see you agreeing.
I agree overtly. The real problem is going to come next year in terms of employers' willingness to provide places, their ability to do so, the ability for them to be funded. It's very difficult to know exactly how big a fall is likely to be, but I agree with what's been said—I think it's going to be a very bumpy ride.
One final question from me, then, on this topic. The Welsh Government's COVID-19 resilience plan talks about the risks of the erosion of infrastructure that will be available to undertake learning delivery. From what all three of you have already said, what's your assessment of that? Is that a real risk? And, how easy would it be if you do have to make redundancies at one stage to then reverse those later?
I don't think it is easy to reverse, to be honest with you. Once you've lost staff, it's very difficult then to recruit them back and to take the risk of growing, and we need some kind of certainty in terms of a three-year—. Ideally, we'd want a three-year plan of funding in order that we can staff to that kind of plan. I think we all recognise we're in unprecedented times and that's a big, big ask. But I do think that it would be poor use of public money if we were, in the short term, in September, spending money on redundancy costs and then finding the recovery in the economy and a demand for apprentices coming back and then looking to re-employ people back again. That to me isn't a sound use of public money and I think it would be better to try and hold on and to just wait and see what the impact on the economy is going to be looking like before we cut this contract by 10 per cent.
I'm just conscious of time—Jeff, did you want to come in ever so briefly?
Again, I echo everything that Dafydd has said. I think we've spent the last four years building up the apprenticeships programme in Wales and, as the committee will know, we've seen a massive increase in demand from employers and, indeed, young people. We're fully committed and the network's been fully committed to helping Welsh Government achieve its manifesto commitments. And again, as always, what is not necessarily understood—and Dafydd's touched on it—is this bow-wave effect that goes into recruitment of apprenticeships. We're at £120 million, circa, at the moment. The likelihood is there's going to be a 10 per cent reduction to that. So, we've got an increased level of apprentices, even more so now because they've got to get carried over into next year, and that is going to have a massive impact on the amount of opportunity starts through progressions, at a time when it's likely that the country is going to go into recession. So, Dafydd's mentioned bigger-picture joined-up thinking; it just doesn't seem the right time to be cutting apprenticeships.
Can I just say at this point that I know that Hefin David is now in the meeting? He and Vikki Howells were both present at the start of the meeting but we had some IT and broadband issues that were out of our control and out of the control of our IT department as well. So, I'm pleased to see Hefin back in the meeting now. Can I just check your sound level, Hefin? Yes, you're okay. Hefin, I know you wanted to ask a number of questions and I know that they've not yet been addressed. So, I think you're okay to ask the questions I know that you're interested in.
Oscar Asghar. Oscar?
Go ahead, Oscar. Oscar, I think you've inadvertently muted yourself again. Can you just unmute yourself again, Oscar?
Thank you very much, Chair, and good afternoon to all witnesses here. My question is regarding the direct impact of the coronavirus emergency on traineeships and on vulnerable apprentices in Wales. What has been the impact on trainees of providers offering specific support, and have there been specific challenges for this provision, please?
I think, at the beginning of this process, this was probably the cohort that we were most concerned about—the traineeships—because they tend to be rather unfocused, they're not sure what they want to be doing, et cetera, and lacking confidence. However, I'm, from our own perspective, very pleased to report that, actually, engagement has actually been very strong with them on a remote basis, to our surprise, if I'm honest. I think part of that is that, actually, some of them are finding remote engagement easier than the social engagement of actually coming together. Now, that may not be breaking down some of the barriers that they've got to be coming to work, because some of them are young people who may be stuck in their bedrooms, as it were, and the problem they have of actually finding work is their lack of confidence of going out into society. But, ironically, this kind of remote support actually works for them.
It's working for them in one respect, but I'm not sure it's breaking down the barriers that they've got. So, it's kind of a duplexity, really, of message that I would have for those. But we have had very good engagement with them and, to date, we've set up some very, very rigorous timetables for them so that we have engagement with them first thing in the morning, making sure they're getting out of bed and engaging, giving them tasks, coming back, then, at lunchtime and back, then, at the end of the day. So, we're having a far more regimented type of approach with the traineeships than we do with our traditional, perhaps, apprenticeships.
If I may, Oscar. Again, it's welcome that the question's been asked around traineeships as well as just apprenticeships. Because I think, certainly from the providers' and the practitioners' perspective—and most practitioners who deliver traineeships have a really strong relationship with their traineeship learners—I think it is really felt that those individuals who have got barriers, and, in most cases, multiple barriers, were really looked after from the provider network. I think what we've seen from the provider network, pretty much overnight, is their pastoral care for traineeship learners and the more vulnerable apprentices kicking in at very, very quick notice. And everything that Dafydd says obviously remains true with our members as well.
But what we have seen is increased engagement. There have been challenges, to answer the other part of your question, not least of all the individuals' ability to have kit and equipment. Most kids are doing their engagement off a phone. Sometimes there's only one who has a smartphone in the house as well. But what we have seen is the provider networks that are stepping up to the plate issuing kit and equipment, where they can—iPads. We even have providers reporting that they're giving internet dongles and the Wi-Fis, et cetera. I know, as well, for the very vulnerable, particularly within and around the Cardiff region, we've seen the providers supporting them in terms of food and that wider welfare stuff as well. So, in the 15 years that I've been involved with work-based learning, I think it's been really pleasing to see how the provider network has undertaken its civic responsibility as opposed to just its economic responsibility. But they are vulnerable—vulnerable learners.
Okay. Thank you very much. How are providers supporting these vulnerable apprentices and trainees, or those with additional learning needs?
We've got additional learning needs support workers, not only the tutors, and they are also working remotely from home, using this kind of technology, although, as Jeff says, there are barriers, sometimes, to doing that. If I would have a plea, it is that we probably do need a lot more capital investment into the providers to help support these vulnerable learners. Every single Chromebook, iPad and laptop—there isn't a single one in Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, and I'm sure it's actually the same in every other provider in Wales, currently. They're all out there, and, actually, it's quite difficult to source more, actually, to physically to get them, let alone that we've got the cash to buy them.
So, I think we've got to have a dramatic rethink about what the basic IT requirement is that a learner is going to need in the future, and there's something around a kind of digital entitlement that a young person needs, whether they're in an apprenticeship, whether they're in a traineeship, or whether they're in FE or in school, really. I think there's something around having a digital baseline that all learners will require, perhaps not the same baseline at different age groups. It would be fantastic if we could be progressive in Wales and really put our heads above the parapet and say, 'Yes, we will provide that baseline to our learners across Wales', and then we've got that ability. Because we could be, couldn't we—there is a scenario where we could be switching on and off, as it were, lockdown, et cetera, further down the line again?
It took us quite a few months to get this kit out there. The day we had to close, we couldn't organise that within the 24 hours we were closing. It did take us some time logistically to get what kit we did physically out there, especially in rural areas. We had vans driving Chromebooks across the land, and I don't want to be there again. So, I'd rather have it that the learners actually have the kit and that if we were faced with this challenge again in a few months' time, let's say in December when there's another peak, let's have the kit in place.
Thank you very much. My final question—I would like to ask Professor Keep: what are providers doing regarding those apprentices who may have become disengaged with the remote and distance learning? You can give us that perspective for Wales also.
I'm not sure that I really know the answer to that. I think providers are probably in a much better position to know. My suspicion is that it will vary enormously between different sectors, so those where they've still got a lot of learning to do, they can go online, I think they're probably okay, but those who've got a lot of practical learning that can only be done in the workplace, then there's a problem. But the providers are much better placed than me to tell you exactly what they're doing about that.
I think that we tout this 85 per cent engagement level, and that is quite a regular figure right across the sector, and I think we're very proud of that in one respect. In another respect, 15 per cent dropout is a big, big dropout as well. So, although 85 is very good, actually, 15 over per cent dropout is far, far higher than we would expect in a normal year. I think that is difficult, and re-engaging, possibly, with those learners will have to be a priority for us once we get up and running again.
Yes, if I may, and as Dafydd said, the figures are working in the right direction. We've got over 88 per cent, or we've got 88 per cent of learners engaged, and, obviously, 12 per cent not engaged. I think the feedback that I'm certainly getting from the provider network is that those who are not engaging are due to the indirect impacts of furlough, i.e. they're staying at home, they're looking after kids. It's not as if they've dropped out of learning, it's the case that, currently, they've got their own personal circumstances that are taking a much higher priority at the moment. So, I think we'll see them re-engage, and providers are keeping in touch, they're keeping conversations—they're looking after their well-being et cetera. So, I don't think those who are not currently engaged are going to drop out of the system any time soon.
Okay. The Wi-Fi signal is incredibly bad here, and I can barely make out what's going on, so I'm going to do what I don't normally do and just rattle through some questions very quickly. So, can I ask—what are the plans and thinking within the sector around reopening campuses and training providers for face-to-face learning and assessment?
I think most of your questions are probably going to be—well, they could be aimed at anyone, I suppose. Who would like to address that one?
As I mentioned previously, I think that we are working closely with Welsh Government to try and achieve that, and the sector's wish would be to be able to reopen on 15 June. But we need everything to be lined up for that to be the case. We want Welsh Government support, we want union support, and certainly without those pieces of the jigsaw in place, I can't see any college opening, and even though probably we have the legal right to, I don't think we would wish to do that without Government support and union support.
Just to let the committee know, really, that the independent training provider sector, which obviously does a lot of centre-based activity, is pretty much in step with the FE sector within Wales. We're working with Welsh Government officials on what is currently known as unlocking FE and work-based learning. There is clearly a big desire to get those apprentices in who need to undertake an assessment so they can complete their apprenticeships, so they can progress. I guess the other thing to consider with regard to the apprentices is, even then, we're still at the behest of employers, because it's not until the employers open that, obviously, our practitioners can go in and meet with the apprentices in the workplace, and as we know, there are going to be various stages that the sectors get unlocked as well. But I do know, notwithstanding all of the health and safety stuff that needs to be done, that providers are quite keen to get back to some sense of normality and to get learners in.
As Russ said, I've missed a great deal of this meeting, so are there any specific things that you think the committee should be recommending to Welsh Government with regard to this emergency?
Okay, I'll start off. Yes, I think there's a huge looming issue, which is called youth unemployment. Come the end of July, loads of people are going to leave or finish their college courses, their school courses and their university courses, and a lot of them are not going to find jobs. The youth labour market, which is always tricky, is going to be a lot trickier, and therefore it seems to me that there's potential for a really quite significant rise in young people who are not in employment, education or training. It's almost inevitable. Then there's a whole series of issues about what in the medium term you might want to put in place to address that, and I guess to boil it down really quickly, the research evidence and the experience from pervious recessions like this is that, for the most disadvantaged young people, the key is the provision of work experience and transition support, but work experience is utterly critical. Because employers are looking for—. In a labour market where there are lots of applicants and relatively few places, one of the key things they look for is relevant work experience, and young people who haven't got it lose out to adults. So, that will need a great deal of thought and energy putting into it, because otherwise youth unemployment is going to become a really big problem, and we know that young people who remain unemployed for any length of time—their future career prospects, and any prospects, are scarred by it. So, it's something to try and avoid or minimise as best we can as much as possible.
Did any of the other witnesses indicate they wanted to address that question as well? I'm sure you all did. Dafydd and then Jeff. Dafydd.
Yes, I think that there's a key message for Welsh Government. I think they've got a decision to take in terms of whether they're going to provide some kind of specific support and incentivisation for employers to take young people on. And that's the key question. Or are they just trying to survive in the labour market? Because if they are to survive in the labour market, they are likely to be the casualties. Employers will probably keep on more experienced or elderly staff than retain their youngsters. Therefore, I think it is absolutely critical that we look at some kind of incentivisation scheme for apprentices to be retained and for apprentices as well to be employed and taken on by Welsh Government. We have got a fantastic apprenticeship scheme in Wales, I think, which we should be really, really proud of, and it's been a cornerstone of Welsh Government policy, and it would be, I think, such a shame if that were allowed now to fall by the wayside at this critical moment.
I've heard Professor Keep speak many times, and he says some very, very great words, which are welcomed. Absolutely, I think as we've got the next recession looming, youth unemployment is likely to skyrocket, as we've seen in the previous recession. In 2008, which I guess was the last one, a couple of years after, the UK Government pulled the future jobs fund. The Welsh Government stepped in with what was then Jobs Growth Wales, which has seen various iterations in the past, which echoes what Dafydd says around some sort of incentive from Welsh Government.
Myself and Dafydd already alluded to the looming cuts within apprenticeships—£11.8 million—and without any understanding of what's happening with European funding. But also as well, Welsh Government's proposing to cut its employability and skills budget by £5.9 million, and that includes traineeships and the ReAct programme, and the ReAct programme is designed to deal with people facing redundancy. It just doesn't appear to stack with what is coming down the line in the medium term. Welsh Government have supported the network within the short term up until July, but there's a much bigger issue looming post all this.
I can just about make out the answers. It's a bit bumpy. It sounds like somebody's heart is beating really fast on—
What I can say, Hefin, is all the answers were clear our end. The answers are on the public record.
The heart beating is the joys of being a witness. [Laughter.]
I'm not sure if you have addressed this, and I thought you might have, but let me go to the Welsh Government's post-16 resilience plan and your view on whether the supplementary budget enables that plan to do what it's supposed to do.
I suppose any other wider comments that you also have about the Welsh Government's—
I think, in general—and hopefully in this conversation it has come over—we have had very, very positive dialogue between the officers of Welsh Government and ourselves, in that the short-term measures that were put in place really allowed us to focus on actually delivering remotely and not have to worry too much about the impact on staffing et cetera. So, short term, I can't fault that, to be honest with you.
I think what we need now is clarity. A resilience plan is fine, but we really don't quite understand what it means for us, in financial terms, yet. I think Jeff's mentioned some of the cuts already that appear to be looming. Now then, if they are going to be cut, which will be recirculated back and rebranded as some post-COVID initiative, that's absolutely fine, and I understand the political imperative to do that—I'm a realist—but let's get the timing of that right so that we can redeploy staff into those new initiatives, not be sacking them now and then redeploying them under a new initiative in a couple of months' time.
So, I think it's all about timing, really, and that we, as providers, don't do anything that would be detrimental to our own employees without understanding the bigger picture on the direction the Welsh Government are going in.
I guess the resilience plan is welcomed. We've worked with Welsh Government officials to draw it together. I guess it got off to a bit of a shaky start, really, because it was initially called 'a continuity of learning plan', and I think it was fair to say that the provider networks have responded quite robustly and said, 'Well, learning is still going on, so what we need is something longer term.' The document—there are lots of great principles in there; the new way of working of the future. And there is a lot that we can take from this current situation that we need to ensure is there in the fullness of time, in terms of the efficiencies that have been realised in terms of the ways of working.
I guess Dafydd's absolutely right—we need that longer term security. And I guess one thing where there's a bit of a conflict in terms of the resilience plan and the budget, as you asked that question, Hefin—. Let me just find the sheet. There's a statement that says:
'Apprenticeships have a vital role in supporting the recovery of the economy and we will working across sectors to understand how the programme can support growth.'
So, that's what it states in the resilience plan, which is a very positive statement, as you would imagine, but the supplementary budget is looking at an £11.8 million reduction. So, there doesn't seem to be a correlation between what the resilience plan is saying and what the budget is looking at.
Perhaps if I can ask Professor Ewart—you were nodding away, but is there anything else you want to add in terms of Hefin's question or, indeed, anything that you think that you want to add to the Welsh Government's supplementary budget in terms of work-based learning?
I think the thing that is highly likely is that—. The problems are going to be much deeper in certain localities, because we know that they're going to be particularly deep in certain sectors, and we know that particular parts of Wales are very reliant on those sectors. So, if you're in a part of Wales that really relies heavily on hospitality, catering, tourism, leisure and retail, then you've got really, really, really deep problems that might persist for quite a while. And so, if you like, the youth unemployment challenge, the disruption to existing programme and apprenticeship take-up challenge is going to be more acute in certain geographies. I think that really needs to be thought about, because there are going to be colleges and providers in those parts of Wales that are going to be particularly hard hit, who are going to really be facing a climb up a very steep mountain, and I think that does require a lot of thought.
I think also it's worth bearing in mind that, again, research tells us that the adult training is going to be a real problem. There are going to be plenty of unemployed adults, but also we know that, when recessions hit, employers—one of the first things they cut is their adult training budget. So, that will store up more long-term problems, and our record across the UK on adult training is not great by anyone's standards.
And I guess the third thing—and this is lurking at the back of some of the things that have been said this afternoon—a lot of the current infrastructure in Wales and Scotland, and, actually, parts of England, is paid for by the European social fund. The clock is ticking, and I have yet to meet anyone, including anyone in Whitehall, who knows what the UK shared prosperity fund will look like, how it will work or how much money is in it. But getting some clarity about that is really—. It was important before, but it is now vital.
Hefin, do you have any other questions? No. Thank you, Hefin. Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. I've had some considerable IT issues as well during the course of the meeting, so I've missed a lot of what the witnesses have said, unfortunately, so I apologise if anything that I ask is repeated. In fact, some of my questions I think will pick up some of the points that Hefin has already asked of yourself, in particular, Professor Keep. So, what I wanted to focus on, really, was how skills policy and the skills system could or should assist in the national recovery. So, if I could start, Professor Keep, by asking you what you could tell us about the challenges that you think the coronavirus emergency poses for skills policy in Wales.
I think it poses some quite big challenges. Plainly, apprenticeship is going to be difficult. There are going to be substantial problems about young people at different levels entering the labour market and how that's accommodated and dealt with. As I say, the most likely outcome is that adult training is going to reduce. But I think there are two other things. Recessions tend to reduce investment in plant equipment, technology like digital technology. So, the underlying demand for higher levels of skills may be impacted negatively—it may actually be reduced or pushed backwards.
And I think the other thing is the Welsh Government have a very commendable policy on fair work. One of the things that really worries me is the impact on job quality, and that has a skills component, because I can see a lot of employers looking at the labour market and thinking, 'Well, things are very uncertain—I want more labour by the hour, I want more precarious, insecure, zero-hours contracts, because that actually financially will suit me.' But that's the kind of employment contract that almost guarantees that learning and structured learning opportunities will not be available to those staff. So, I think there are a whole range of different ways in which COVID-19 is going to make life a lot tougher. It's going to push lots of things that were doing quite well and actually some things that weren't doing at all well, like adult training—employer-provided training—backwards. So, there is a really key question about how the Government links skills to economic development, business support, business improvement and a fair work agenda that carries on, because, without that, we're going to go backwards.
And so what lessons do you think stand to be learned from this emergency for skills policy then?
The trouble is that it's a bit like being in a plane that's attempting an emergency landing. We haven't landed yet, and so it's very difficult to know how we're going to come out of this and in what shape. There are some immediate lessons and I think we've been discussing those in this session. But longer term lessons—some of them will not be apparent for quite a while to come. Until we know the scale of the recession, until we know the scale of the non-arrival of overseas students hitting the university sector, until we know how willing employers are to maintain apprenticeship volume, we just don't know. I think six to nine months from now it will be much clearer what the long-term implications are, but, at the moment, I don't, honestly—I don't know anyone who really knows.
Bearing in mind what you've just said there, is there anything at this stage that you'd like to set out regarding your thoughts on how skills policy and the skills system in Wales could or should evolve to support the recovery?
Yes. I think it's really important that Wales thinks very hard about trying to tackle youth unemployment, because, as I've suggested, if you don't, it has lifetime-long impacts on the people who it hits. So, trying to minimise long-term youth unemployment seems to me to be a no-brainer. It will save a lot of money in the long run, so it's really important.
I think there will have to be more thought about what's provided for the adult unemployed and for the adult employed in terms of adult learning. I think a lot of it is going to bite-sized courses that, perhaps, if you do quite a few of them, add up to a qualification, but not huge, full qualifications, because it'll just cost too much and it'll be too slow.
I think—. Sorry, I think Jeff or Dafydd wanted to come in as well. Dafydd first, then Jeff.
Those of you familiar with the work-based learning contract specifically—it is full of conditions and targets on a sector-by-sector basis, with age profiles et cetera, and all trying to move us to be giving priority to perhaps higher skilled, better GDP-type jobs. That is fine in a static economy that we understand, but I think—taking Professor Keep's point, I don't think anybody quite understands what's going to happen currently in the economy in the coming months. I think the foundation economy may well require a lot more support and therefore the luxury, as it were, of trying to provide numbers for the more higher skilled level may be something we have to be a bit more flexible about in the short term. And therefore—. We're currently working with national priorities, regional priorities et cetera, and I think we need a lot more flexibility and to allow providers to meet whatever the needs of the employer are in their particular region at that particular time, rather than somebody centrally trying to second guess what is impossible to guess in my mind.
Yes, please, Chair. Obviously, Vikki's questions are about skills policy, and I think, clearly, what is needed in the immediate term is flexibility with regard to policy. Our current apprenticeship skills policy plan is very much about higher level, higher value. And I think that is very much driven by international evidence and, I guess, the desire within Wales to have an economy that we would want, as opposed to an economy that we have, and certainly we see apprenticeship skills policy is going in a higher levels direction. But, when you speak to organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, what they're looking for and what their members are looking for are the lower level skills. I think policy has directed towards that higher level, that younger learner and obviously priority sectors, and I think, as we look forward to the future, we have to have a skills policy where we rebalance what is deemed to be a priority sector. Who would have thought that we'd be out there every Thursday clapping retail workers and people within that sort of foundational economy and foundational jobs? If you're 25 and over and you're working in retail, you weren't going to have any form of skills provision moving forward, and I think that's what we need to look at in terms of policy moving forward: far more flexibility, responding, dare I say, to regional needs, as Dafydd has said, as opposed to a five to 10-year plan in terms of the economy that we would wish to have, as opposed to the one that we currently have.
I'll come back to you, Vikki; I just want to just check with Oscar and Joyce. I know we're limited for time—is there anything you wanted to ask? I know you showed an interest in this area. Oscar first—did you have anything you wanted to ask now?
Yes, thank you very much, Chair. I think there are more questions than answers there now. The thing is that I heard that skills sector funding is being curbed, and European funding is still in doubt, so we don't know—. I know the professor just mentioned that he can't find anybody in the House of Commons there to say what is there in the future for us.
Quality jobs and quality apprenticeships are the backbone for any economy, because we need those. I think you mentioned we have not landed yet, but I think we haven't called 'Mayday' yet either. So, we haven't done a crash landing or anything like, we are just flying there to make sure that our economy is stabilised as soon as possible, with the right apprenticeships in place. Basically, funding should not be curbed.
Aviation is not devolved. That is one area—I'm very concerned, and the thing is that any economic development is also based on transportation. In front of me, there is a diagram. Chair, I just want to say that there are around about 60,000—roughly calculated— apprenticeships, and more than 21,500 out of that are in the healthcare and public sectors. So, basically, there is 150 in transportation, and 21,500 in healthcare. So, basically, priorities in Wales are a bit different.
So, my question is how we can cater our economy in service, rather than other areas, so the economy booms.
I'm sorry that we're short of time. Who wants to address that, briefly?
Just to follow on Oscar's analogy—Mayday, Mayday. We have something looming at the moment, and what we've seen in terms of the current apprenticeship offer—I think it's 37, 38 per cent are working in health, social care and public services. These people are the backbone of the economy now, and I think it is important that, as we look towards the future, there is a rebalancing of priorities and there is recognition of the importance of the foundational economy and the foundational jobs that are within that. So, yes, I absolutely agree with what you say.
No, I think Jeff's answered it.
That's fine. Joyce, is there anything you wanted to ask on this point?
Yes. Obviously, we're talking about the potential of people being made redundant in what are now currently high-level skilled jobs, and we need for them to be redeployed, because they are the high-end earners paying the most tax, and we need those returns. So, what suggestions do you have on how to keep those skills within the new, emerging technologies? That might only need maybe just short upskilling, and, of course, you alluded to adult learning earlier in your comments, so it's about marrying those things together. And are there any recommendations you might have that are useful to us?
Yes. I think you're quite right. Apprenticeship isn't the answer to everything here. There's a lot to be done here around adult reskilling and upskilling, and people I think will have to change professions during this—[Inaudible.]—and therefore—. You're aware that there is a pilot happening this year—my institution is one of those, and Coleg Gwent the other—where we're doing personal learning accounts, which is giving individuals a fund to allow them to reskill and for a designer, bespoke training package for them to be switching professions. That's been quite a successful scheme and we've had a good uptake. It's quite an expensive scheme, because it's very bespoke to the individual, but it really does allow flexibility for people to move across professions in a very short period of time. You know, the apprenticeship scheme is a longer term product, as it were, but I think we do need to have as well in the toolkit a short, sharp couple of months of retraining that will allow people, actually, to switch professions if, for example, the hospitality industry isn't starting up now for many, many months—we give them the opportunity.
One advantage we have now that we didn't have in 2008 is that we can analyse job advertisements priced on the web—when I say 'we', machines can do it for us, artificial intelligence can do it for us—so through web scraping job advertisements and further particulars, it's now very easy to actually identify physically where and at what skill level new job opportunities are emerging, particularly in areas of new technology like green jobs or digital. So, in terms of being able to inform the providers where the opportunities are, and inform adults who are unemployed where the opportunities are, and what kind of retraining might be needed, we're in a way better situation than we have ever been before. So, that's actually one piece of good news.
Thank you. Vikki Howells, have you got any final—? [Laughter.] That's a good point, thank you, Professor Keep. Vikki Howells, have you got any final questions at all?
Yes. I just wanted to touch on the fact that we're seeing some companies losing high-skill, high-productivity roles, and particular concerns in the aviation sector in Wales—looking at BA and some concerns about GE as well. So, I just wanted to ask you, Professor Keep—what do you think needs to be done here in Wales to ensure that those high skills, which are so important to the regional economy, aren't lost?
It's really difficult because, as we've just discussed, firms will not keep people employed for three, four years, waiting for an upturn in the volume of, for instance, planes that need surfacing. So, I think part of it is about retaining those skilled people in Wales, but potentially in different jobs. And so I can see things like wind turbine engineering, I can see that kind of—alternative energy being something that some of those people with a bit of retraining could transition into. But if you want the firms to keep them employed, then it's long-term job retention, and the interesting question is, 'Can either the UK or the Welsh Government afford that?' To which I don't know, but it would cost a lot of money.
Well, absolutely. It's a really hard calculation, but one of the problems is that until the UK Government sorts out what it's doing about some of these things and creates some Barnett consequentials, it's very difficult for anyone in the devolved nations to know how much money they've got to spend on any of these policy areas.
Yes, if I can, Chair, just bringing together some of the choices and Vikki's point, really. Given that specific scenario that was raised, you know, we've got an ideal opportunity in Wales because we all talk to each other. We know the situation that's facing the aerospace industry, and we know they have very high-skilled engineers. We also know what's coming down the line is that they're building a brand-new metro in south-east Wales, and they're building trains in Newport. So, you know, if you haven't got apprenticeship programmes and the infrastructure in place to be able to upskill, retrain and retool the workforce, then we're on a road to nowhere, and I think there's the ability to start connecting these points together.
Vikki, did you have any final questions at all, or have you addressed everything? Thank you. If I can just ask our three witnesses, we are over time, but is there anything that you've not mentioned in answers to questions that you think is important? If you've mentioned it, then don't say it, but—. Professor Keep is nodding. Dafydd or Jeff. Jeff, you've got one point.
Just—if I may. I am mindful of the time. I guess, from the committee's perspective, and, I guess, what follows this in terms of discussion possibly with the Minister et cetera, given what I do as a living, what I fail to see at the moment is some form of commitment from Welsh Government, particularly the Minister, to apprenticeships and apprentices in Wales. We've seen the Minister for Education outline the response for people in schools et cetera and colleges, but I can't find anything that says, 'If you are an apprentice in Wales currently, we stand by you and we will work with you to complete your apprenticeship', and I think that is hugely important moving forward.
I think there just needs to be a high-level ministerial commitment that if you're currently on an apprenticeship programme, if you're currently furloughed, then whatever it takes ,we'll continue to work with you to complete your apprenticeship.
Yes. I think we've got to think as well outside the box, and in the end it's about commitment and money, but there are ways of doing this by setting up arm's-length companies who can become the employer. We did this up in Anglesey in preparation for Wylfa power station. Okay, it didn't come off, but at that time we actually created a company and employed apprentices ourselves directly as an arm's-length company of the college, and I think that could be a kind of model where we could see apprenticeships seen through to the end. So, all I'm saying is there are solutions out there, but, unfortunately, we recognise as well that everything needs cash for it to make it happen.
It does indeed. Okay, that's probably a good note to end on in that case. Can I thank our witnesses, Dafydd Evans, Jeff Protheroe and Professor Ewart Keep? Thank you for your time. Sorry we've run over a little today, but I appreciate your time with us this afternoon and your valuable evidence to us, so thank you ever so much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I do move to item 4. Under Standing Order 17.42, can I resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:56.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:56.