You’ve made the decision to take on apprentices, your headcount has been approved, you’ve got resources to support them through their learning and your CFO is champing at the bit to recoup some of the company’s levy money.
You’ve weighed up the pros and cons of whether you should deliver apprenticeships yourselves and decided you’d prefer to use an external training provider. But, with nearly 2600 providers on the Register of Apprentice Training Providers, how do you choose the right one? Here’s our list of recommended checks and questions to help you on your way.
1. Find Apprenticeship Training
To search for providers by postcode and apprenticeship or subject use the apprenticeship service’s https://findapprenticeshiptraining.sfa.bis.gov.uk/.
If you’re thinking of using a provider you are already aware of, you can also search by provider to see which apprenticeships they offer. Don’t just use this as a search facility – read the descriptions the provider has written for the specific apprenticeship and to describe their organisation. The amount of effort they’ve invested in writing their profile and marketing materials can tell you a lot about them and whether they’re used to working with employers as their customers.
The site also shows you:
- Achievement rate:** How many apprentices complete that specific framework or standard with that provider.
- Employer satisfaction rate:* The ESFA-published FE Choices annual survey result for employer satisfaction for that provider.
- Learner satisfaction rate:* The ESFA-published FE Choices annual survey result for learner satisfaction for that provider.
*New providers may not have this data yet and achievement rates** will only be available for Frameworks, as Standards are too new.
If you have a strategic plan to recruit apprentices across multiple sites and subject areas use this search to check whether the provider has the breadth of sector knowledge and geographical coverage to manage all of your requirements.
Check the provider’s Ofsted rating at https://reports.beta.ofsted.gov.uk/.
You can narrow down the search results if you don’t have the provider’s URN, filtering by Education and training → Further education and skills. Make sure that you download the full report to check both the overall grade and also their grade for apprenticeships specifically. Ofsted rates providers using just four grades; 1 = Outstanding; 2 = Good; 3 = Requires Improvement; 4 = Inadequate. Unless you have a very compelling reason, such as working in a very specialist industry with no other local providers, use only providers with a grade 2 or above.
Notices of concern***
Check whether the provider appears on the ESFA notices of concern list at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/esfa-current-notices-of-concern.
Notices are issued by the ESFA when providers do not meet acceptable quality and financial standards. Whether you decide to go ahead with a listed provider may depend on the type of notice and the type of organisation. For example, whether it’s a serious breach or a concern. Or whether the notification is in respect of apprenticeship minimum standards (in which case you would avoid using that provider) or an FE college with a financial health notice of concern (which in the current climate is not that uncommon, as is evidenced by the list, so you may still want to use that provider).
*** checks which apply only to training providers with a track record of delivering ESFA funded training.
4. Customer service culture
Look at their website and check their social media presence. Do their apprenticeships feature prominently? Call them. If they don’t know who to put you through to, don’t have a dedicated apprenticeship lead or just don’t get back to you within a couple of days, then they may not have the right customer service culture that puts you, as the employer, first.
So far, these are binary desk-based checks – the kind of thing that you could work in to a checklist for HR colleagues to use – but you’ll also need to start a dialogue to get a real depth of understanding of the provider before you commit. So here are some of the questions you need to ask:
5. The Learner experience
- How do they support apprentices and how does that vary for learners who are struggling?
- How often do they carry out progress reviews with the learners?
- What materials and resources will the learner have access to?
- How do they expect you as an employer to support the apprentice with their learning?
All important questions and even more so for learners whose delivery is predominantly via self-directed and/or remote learning rather than attending day release or block release sessions.
6. The Employer experience
- Can they help with recruitment to the role?
- How do they communicate with employers?
- How do they support employers to support their learners?
- Will you have a dedicated account manager and if so how often can you expect to see them?
- If you have concerns about their service or about your apprentice’s progress, who should you contact?
Most good apprenticeship providers will have a dedicated employer engagement team or at the very least a named contact responsible for managing your account.
7. Provider readiness
- Are they already delivering the Standard or Framework?
- Do they have a lead time for learners enrolling and/or a minimum cohort size?
- Do they have an end point assessment organisation (EPOA) in place?
- Have they got an existing relationship with their EPOA and how closely do they work together to maximise the provider’s achievement rates through good preparation?
8. Collaboration and added value
The ESFA funding rules absolutely forbid providers from offering employers incentives or kick-backs to secure their business. That isn’t the same as genuine added-value collaborative working, although how willing a provider is to offer this kind of best practice activity may be dependant on the volume of apprenticeships you are looking to place. Collaborative opportunities you may want to ask a provider about include:
- Your staff attending the provider’s in-house Prevent or safe-guarding training.
- Provider teaching staff doing “work placements” with apprentices to better understand the business. For tech/engineering sectors, tutors may also have the benefit of access cutting-edge technology which providers may not have in-house.
- Your assessors/mentors attending the provider’s CPD workshops and events.
9. Cultural fit
The final question is one to ask yourself before making that final decision:
- Are they an organisation you can work with: is there a cultural fit? For example, if their priority is volume of apprenticeships and yours is quality, find another provider.
It’s a lot of effort finding the right provider but they are crucial to a successful apprenticeship programme so it’s worth the investment in time to find an organisation which will be a partner in your programme, not just a provider.
Visit the Apprenticeship Delivery Information Hub for all the latest blogs and guides to help you deliver quality apprenticeships.