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The Way I See It… Level the Playing Field


Mike Gardner, Managing Director, WMG Associates argues the current system for awarding European and government funding for training disadvantages learning providers.

Training quality in the UK is suffering because the private sector is unable to compete on a level playing field for European and government funding for the provision of business related training courses.

Smaller providers are often unable to access central funding meaning they are unable to compete fairly against colleges and other public sector suppliers when tendering.

Funding of up to 75% is available for training from sources such as the European Social Fund and ERDF and this is currently channelled through local Learning & Skills Councils.

However, the entire ethos of funding allocation is currently based on incoming rather than outgoing goals – that is, how many people enrol on the course rather than whether they successfully complete it or even continue to attend.

The LSCs are used to working with further education colleges and, while a certain proportion of the funding has to go to colleges, the fact is that in virtually all instances they are the only ones who get asked to tender at all.

The key problem is that a college environment is not always the most suitable one for learning. Classes tend to be at a certain time on a certain day and that means anyone who cannot attend then misses out.

Furthermore, since colleges are being judged on numbers through the door rather than training outcomes, there is no real incentive for them to ensure the course is successful. They don’t have to give the funding back if the students drop out or fail the course so there is no incentive for them to ensure it is really delivering what it should be.

This is not the college’s fault – they have budgets and targets to meet and have to operate as cost-effectively as possible - but the fact is that this type of instance gives training a bad name and means the funding can be wasted.

I believe the current system also discourages private enterprise within the training provision sector. If the smaller companies cannot compete for the big contracts because they cannot access funding, how can they ever hope to grow and employ more people?

Yet ironically it is the smaller providers who are able to offer the flexibility in terms of timing and locations, as well as the ongoing support for trainees, which give the training a better chance of being successful in delivering its key learning outcomes.

Private providers do not have the restrictions a college has: they can run a course when and where the client wants it – at their premises and overnight if it is required for the night shift, for example – and will still be there to offer support, draw up action plans and overall ensure the training brings real benefits for the client.

By making more funding available to private providers to offer courses as well as colleges, the whole of British industry will benefit through more flexible, outcome-focused training.


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