How Hartlepool College of Further Education bucked the trend of falling apprenticeships

After startling figures were released last month stating that since the apprenticeship levy reform, apprenticeship starts across the country have decreased by 61%, FE Week spoke to Darren Hankey, Principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, one of the few Colleges that are bucking the trend.

The college, which is the number one general further education provider of apprenticeships in the North of England and second in the country, reported a rise of 6% in its apprenticeship starts since the levy was introduced.

Darren said: “Hartlepool College of Further Education has a long and well-established track record of delivering high quality apprenticeships.  This was echoed by Ofsted when it inspected the College in March 2017 which led to the College’s apprenticeship work being judged ‘outstanding’.”

The Tees Valley college has over 700 apprentices on its books with the majority of these aged between 16-18 years old.  Apprenticeships range across many different sectors including automotive, engineering, advanced manufacturing, aeronautical, business administration, travel and tourism and hair and beauty to name a few.

Darren, said: “We can’t say we were pleased with the reforms when they were announced.

“We can understand that for some firms the previous way apprenticeships operated were not fit for purpose, but this wasn’t the case for our college or the firms with which we worked.  Over time, we had built up good relationships with all of our firms and ensured that all of apprenticeship programmes were tailored specifically to the firm’s needs.

“As a result of this approach, the vast majority of the College’s apprentices achieve their programmes and progress into full-time permanent employment.

“It took us a while to get our head around the reforms – everything has changed.  That said, we made a concerted effort to work even more closely with our organisations to really communicate the changes and to ensure they were aware of the opportunities the reforms provided.

“We produced new materials, both in hard copy and on our website, we held numerous briefings, carried out stakeholder mapping sessions and assigned senior managers to organisations to act as a point of contact. Most importantly of all, we ensured our organisations had a one-to-one service related to the reforms, with our staff regularly going out to see businesses directly and being on hand to answer any of their queries.”

Whilst this has led to comparatively good apprenticeship recruitment figures which go against the national trend, there are still concerns ahead for the college.

Darren said: “Despite these encouraging figures, we’re still unsure how this will translate into actual funding.  In many areas we operate, new standards are not yet available and the funding for apprenticeship frameworks has been cut severely.

“Furthermore, there is still insecurity around the latest non-levy procurement exercise, the new changes have led to a lot more work in terms of contract compliance and uncertainty in terms of cash-flow”, stated Darren Hankey.

“Where there are new apprenticeship standards; in many cases end-point assessment is not in place and this is quite alarming.  I can only imagine the kind of backlash there would be if new GCSEs or A’ levels were rolled out without final examination procedures in place.

“Outside of the FE and skills sector, this has hardly received any coverage, but it has added greater ambiguity for apprentices, firms and providers.

“For us it is a case of ensuring we are working ahead of time, making sure we’re ready for change and continuing to strengthen our partnerships with companies across the North East.”

Hartlepool College has successful working relationships with a number of large levy paying companies including Caterpillar, Gestamp Talent, Seymour Civil Engineering, Altec and Babcock International.

To learn more about Hartlepool College of Further Education, visit the website: