Cogent Skills Training CST is a new apprenticeship training provider delivering a specialist range of apprenticeships into the Science Industries, including pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
The focus for CST is to deliver employer-responsive programmes in the workplace tailored to individual company requirements. Its overriding aim, in response to industry demand, is to supplement existing provision and meet growing demand where Science Industry companies cannot access specialist provision locally.
Approximately 50% of CST apprenticeship delivery is associated with upskilling existing staff in the workplace and 50% delivering to newly recruited apprenticeships. In response to current company skills needs, this currently averages two learners per company.
CST received an Ofsted monitoring visit on the 20 and 21 March. While there were numerous positives including the innovative delivery of the Laboratory Technician Apprenticeship, Ofsted found that CST was making insufficient progress with learner progression and the 20% off the job requirement.
The Ofsted inspection had a particular focus on existing learners in the workplace receiving upskilling through apprenticeships. One of the cohorts reviewed by Ofsted, receiving upskilling through a level 2 process operations apprenticeship, was noted by Ofsted as not being effective in employees acquiring sufficient new skills and receiving 20% off the job.
Though there is strong demand by science-based employers to utilise their apprenticeship levy in the workplace; the reality is that this presents delivery challenges, particularly in a process manufacturing environment, typically operating shift systems.
The requirements of 20% off the job training, (which entails apprentices spending a fifth of their week on activities related to their course) and the acquisition of additional/new skills requires substantial commitment by the employer, employee and provider.
Ultimately, this requires individuals to be progressing to new or enhanced roles, not just acquiring new knowledge and capability to improve performance in current roles.
Ofsted are scrutinising this type of delivery closely, and this means employers and providers will need to engage in apprenticeships to upskill the workforce with robust plans and programmes.
Under these circumstances, CST have already made the decision to discontinue L2 Science Manufacturing Process Operator (SMPO) apprenticeship delivery to upskill existing staff, due to the risks associated with this type of delivery.
Clearly if other providers take a similar view, this will limit the ability for employers to utilise their levy for the purpose of upskilling the current workforce, something employers have said is critical for their businesses given the continuing evolution of technologies and need to enhance productivity and performance to remain competitive.
Government have encouraged new providers onto the register of apprenticeship training providers (ROATP) who are then faced with a go/no go first Ofsted monitoring visit that will undoubtedly remove potential for innovation in delivery, the very thing that was intended within the new employer-led system.
As a new apprenticeship training provider Cogent Skills Training takes the feedback very seriously and will continue to implement a robust improvement plan. It will continue to deliver its strategy of employer focused delivery in the workplace for science industry companies, but will now focus its delivery on what is acknowledged as good and strong. For the moment it will step away from the delivery of some apprenticeships for upskilling, such as SMPO L2.
We have full confidence that we will achieve a successful Ofsted report in future.
Finally, given the above concerns, we also offer the following thoughts for Government to consider: