The introduction of the apprenticeship levy means a big shake-up in the world of training, but KF Training saw the changes coming and has positioned itself to meet the challenges.
KF Training of Peterlee is celebrating after being included on a list of training providers for apprenticeships.
The Department for Education and the Skills Funding Agency have published a new register of apprenticeship training providers, to ensure that anyone taking an apprenticeship is doing so with a quality, registered provider. Now, with the new register, trainers providing the courses must have the needs of apprentices in mind, ensuring their training is tailored to the requirements of the businesses they work in.
All providers on the register have been through a rigorous assessment process to make sure they meet apprenticeship quality expectations. Employers paying the new apprenticeship levy will be able to choose their apprenticeship training delivery from the list for all apprentices starting their programmes from May 2017.
Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfon said: “Giving employers control over their apprenticeships needs and funding is an essential feature of our plan to create an apprenticeships and skills nation. Our new register of apprenticeship providers will mean that only organisations that have passed our quality assurance can deliver apprenticeships.
“We are giving employers the confidence to do business with high-quality training providers, and making sure that individuals can benefit from gold-standard routes as they climb the ladder of opportunity.’’
This is a significant milestone for KF Training and sets the seal of approval on the journey the business has been embarked on for the past two years. Managing director Kelly Lee said: “This is great news and reflects all the hard work we have put in over the past two years to remodel the business in anticipation of future training demands.’’
KF Training was set up in 2011 on the back of a small apprenticeship contract for the manufacturing sector. It started by concentrating on manufacturing and on the shop floor training and then moved to working across all departments within a plant as well as moving into other sectors. Since then, it has grown steadily, taking on new contracts with different funding providers and winning more clients so that it now has a national presence.
But the business became increasingly dissatisfied with the way apprenticeships were being seen. Kelly explained: “There was a stigma surrounding traditional apprenticeships because they were seen as a tick box exercise. That was very frustrating for us and we wanted to challenge it and change the way skills were being developed within apprenticeships.”
She added: “We didn’t want to be associated with watering down of training which is the way that the training industry was going. We wanted to begin something different and get ahead of the game; we needed it to be not just about the qualification but about going in and really spending quality time with the business, investing up-front, listening to their challenges and developing a package together that met those challenges. We evolved the way that we delivered, by creating bespoke programmes with the client’s needs at the heart of our training offer.
“Over the past two years, we’ve embarked on a total business transformation, looking at the way that we position, the way that we deliver and driving the business towards being apprenticeship levy-proof.
“We first set up as a traditional apprenticeship provider with a lot of one-to-one learner to-trainer provision. What we’ve been doing for the past two years is real self-assessment, taking a long hard look at the challenges in the business. Our business development team are now more business focused and adopt a clear consultative approach at a director level, so that we thoroughly understand what a client’s needs are and what package of solutions we can put together to meet those needs. Over the last two years we have looked at and changed how we deliver. Our training adds real value and gives the client tangible return on investment and that’s how we set ourselves apart.
“Our two year journey has been in anticipation of the apprenticeship levy. The levy is all about the employer, it’s about employer’s choices - they are in the driving seat - and it’s about the added value that we bring to the employer. Our training now is about that return on investment for their money because – with the levy – they are spending their own money now.’’
KF Training has developed a model of training to meet the employer’s needs and engage the apprentice.
“We’ve created bespoke diagnostic tools that we use at the beginning of our apprenticeship programmes to identify and scope out potential projects,’’ said Kelly. “In all of the apprenticeship programmes we have live projects that we identify through the diagnostics tool or which are specific to the client’s needs, which means that it’s a live working project with a real return on investment and links directly to the apprenticeship programme.
“There’s a lot more technology within training and we embrace this making it more fun, interactive and engaging. Getting participants to work on a live project, makes the training come alive. Employers see the benefit because it’s company focused and making a real improvement to their workplace which their staff are an integral part of.’’
As soon as the details of the apprenticeship levy were unveiled, KF Training knew that its new business model hit the brief and had been the right way to go. This has been further confirmed by the business’s inclusion on the new register of providers.
“Once the levy information started to come out, we knew what we had been doing was really ahead of the game,’’ said Kelly.
All the delivery of the company’s training, done on the client’s premises, is flexible to business demands in direct response to employers.
“We have a standard delivery model - we go in and train the apprentices in the class room or training room on the client’s premises, we deliver workshops and then we take them out on the shop floor to do observations and to work on the projects,’’ she said.
All KF Training’s trainers have industry experience and experience in leadership and management. They are also all qualified trainers as well as assessors. The apprenticeship levy represents the greatest shake-up in vocational learning in the UK for decades.
“It’s going to be much more under the spotlight because the employers are spending their own money,’’ said Kelly. “Therefore they are going to want a quality service from the training provider and they are going to want added value to get the best outcomes for their training budget, for their staff and for their business.’’
She added: “It’s going to be about packaging the service that you are going to supply, delivering on your service promises and demonstrating real value to employers.”
It will also affect smaller employers, who, while not paying the levy, will now have to make a contribution to training costs.
“They have to contribute 10% towards the cost of training where previously training has been fully funded,’’ she said. “So they will also be looking at getting value for money.’’
Investing money in training will bring that key element – commitment.
“Business commitment will be key to the success of the training,’’ said Kelly. “The more you put in, the more you are going to get out of it. If you commit to the way we deliver and the workshop delivery, release staff and invest in them, that’s when real impactful skills development happens.”
And are employers ready for this?
“Some employers are, some are well informed and know what they are going to do. Others are not informed and think that the levy can be used to spend on recruiting an apprentice, but it’s not. It’s there for them to spend on either training an apprentice or upskilling their existing workforce.’’
For those employers who are not ready, Kelly has some simple advice. “Make sure you do your research and make sure you’re finding the right sort of provider to work with, the one who’s going to add value, somebody for whom you can get a testimonial to find out what they have been doing. That way, you’ll be making a more informed choice.
“There’s going to be more for the employer to do because they are going to be in the driving seat. They are also going to be involved with the digital apprenticeship service (DAS), so they need to find a provider who will support them through that, support in the lead up to the levy and who can support them thereafter.’’
Furthermore, the employer should not be taking on apprentices for the sake of it, it must be part of the business’s overall strategy. “They’ve got to think of the levy as being their training budget pot, so they need to spend it in a way that is going to be have the most impact, be the most effective and support the business to grow and progress.’’ said Kelly.
She pointed out that training and apprenticeships bring many other benefits to the employer, such as: increased loyalty, improved morale and higher motivation and greater staff retention. The apprenticeship levy marks a huge change, but the training world is always changing and companies must – like KF Training – adapt and develop to keep pace with, and anticipate, those changes.
“Whether it’s recruiting an apprentice or whether it’s working with young people in the age 16 to 24, you can see that there’s a lot more coming through with GCSE A to C grades, which is really good,’’ said Kelly. “I would also say that you can see a lot more commitment from the employers as well as from the delegates because they are starting to see what the real benefit is to them, whether it’s transferable skills or progression within the company.’’
She added: “We are involved in a lot of forums in the North East. We keep up to date with what’s going on with all the different LEP regions. We are part of the provider alliances, we get involved with external training, attend network events, task and finish groups and have all the information coming through to make sure that we up to date. We are part of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA). We cascade and share all the information that we need to brief the team and we’re always well informed ahead of changes.’’
But, whatever new developments come along, KF Training’s commitment and dedication won’t alter. Kelly said “We are putting real skills training in there and that’s what’s exciting, when you see learners progress and the clients are getting benefit from it and it’s really having an impact on the business, that’s what training’s all about.’’
Delivering in the North East and beyond
Currently KF Training has some 1,200 learners on programme. The company also offers commercial training and digital programmes which are promoted through its ecommerce website (Intellelearn).
Commercial includes continuous improvement training, personal development, personal effectiveness and also areas of mandatory training such as health and safety or first aid.
Its training provision comes under four main headings: continuous improvement; leadership and management; business skills; and innovation.
KF Training’s digital team, Intellelearn, also develops bespoke digital and e-learning modules for regular clients as well as adapting e-learning to be embedded within the apprenticeship delivery.
Managing director Kelly Lee explained: “When the company started, it was predominantly North East but over the last two years we have developed a national footprint and we deliver all over the UK. We at KF Training set out our stall over 24 months ago - not in response to funding reform but in response to the need to be better, do more and provide real training that employers were already screaming for, as outlined in the Richardson Review in 2012. We’ve spearheaded a fresh, collaborative, solution focused, skills rich training model and are giving employers exactly what they need and want through bespoke products which offer real value for money and tangible return on investment - and in our eyes there is no better advert for training providers than that!”