On March 11th 2021, we hosted the first Find a Training Provider virtual seminar for our community of apprenticeship employers. This new seminar series is the next step in our objective to help employers make truly well-informed decisions about which apprenticeship training provider to work with.

The focus of this first session was on tackling the big universal challenges, which all employers face when it comes to choosing a training provider.

I was joined by a fantastic guest speaker - Kate Temple-Brown, Client Director at The Opportunity Group - who shared some really valuable insights into how best to navigate this tricky decision-making process.

If you missed the session, here’s a summary of the key insights…

Should you always start by identifying a specific Apprenticeship Standard before engaging with training providers, or should you take a different approach?

Rather than trying to match a job opportunity to a long list of apprenticeship standards, the first step should be to conduct a ‘training needs analysis’. Think about what you would like to achieve first. A good training provider will then empower the employer to help them identify what they need before committing to a standard.

Think about how you will use apprenticeships in your organisation first and identify the skills gaps. This will then give you a really strong foundation from which to have meaningful conversations with a whole range of different training providers, and pick the right one.

The employer should be in charge and have a strong idea about what they want to achieve. The training provider should not simply say: “This is what we deliver, pick one.”

A quality training provider will work collaboratively with an employer to help you select the apprenticeship standard that will work best for your business objectives. 

One common first step for employers is to reach out for word-of-mouth recommendations from other employers and to use an existing network to help identify possible training providers. How important is this approach in influencing your decision of which providers to engage with?

Although it’s great to acquire recommendations from other people, the apprenticeship market is an ever-changing landscape, and it’s difficult to get the detail from other employers that you might need to make a decision. 

It’s actually more useful to get insights from other employers to understand what didn’t work well. If you had a bad experience with a training provider, for example, it’s useful for you to share that experience with other employers, so they don’t encounter the same problems.

Engaging with trailblazer groups for guidance and support is another great option. These groups know the knowledge, skills and behaviours which are part of an apprenticeship standard inside-out. Looking beyond the name of the apprenticeship standard and considering the detailed elements of the standard is important, especially, in helping you to select the right apprenticeship standard. 

Trailblazer groups can share best practice and also connect employers with other employers who have had experience of working with particular apprenticeship standards. 

You should approach the procurement of an apprenticeship training provider like you would any other commercial decision. Just because it is Levy-funded, it doesn’t mean it can’t be brilliant.

What are the most important indicators of a Training Provider’s quality?

The nuance of how an apprenticeship training provider works with you is incredibly telling. Employers should be asking training providers what else they do, rather than simply delivering the standard. For example, do you help the employer to onboard their learners? Do you provide pastoral care for apprentices? Do you engage with the line managers as well as the learners? 

How often do you have assessor sessions and are these one-on-one? Indeed, some training providers may run an assessor session with four learners at the same time. This is simply not going to be as effective as a one-on-one session. Ultimately, both options would cost exactly the same to the employer. 

It’s important therefore to have these kinds of questions and queries ready when speaking to training providers. 

You should approach the procurement of an apprenticeship training provider like you would any other commercial decision. Just because it is Levy-funded, it doesn’t mean it can’t be brilliant. Unfortunately, a lot of employers have sadly presumed the service provided by a training provider has to be a bit worse, because it is Levy-funded. 

Many employers want a provider who can be flexible and adapt their offering to meet the specific needs of our business. How is it possible to ascertain how flexible a training provider can be?

If you have a strong idea about what you want to achieve and how you’d like the training provider to deliver the training in order to meet needs of the learner and your business, you can gauge how the training provider responds and how prescriptive they are when it comes to their mode of delivery. 

There are some times, as an employer, when you don’t know what you want. However, if you opt for a programme, which is off-the shelf and generic, you will miss out on the value of training which is really tailored to your business.

If the training provider can adapt the training to meet your organisation’s specific needs, your learners’ progress will be so much better and their engagement levels will be so much higher because they will be able to talk about specific things that they do in their day job and connect that to the learning. 

What questions should the training provider be asking you?

It’s really clear, early on, if you’re going to have a transactional relationship or a consultative relationship with a training provider. It’s all about how the training provider challenges you to make sure that you, as an employer, are in the right position to give the learners the right experience. 

A consultative-focused training provider should be asking the employer questions, such as: “Have you conducted a training needs analysis?” and “Do you have senior buy-in to start a new apprenticeship?” The training provider should be looking to make sure the employer is able to deliver apprenticeships in this landscape. 

What steps can you take to ensure your partnership with a training provider continues to be collaborative and the quality is consistent if the primary provider is subcontracting the training to a supporting provider?

Firstly, it’s important to question if you want any secondary training provision because that extra degree of separation does make it more difficult to manage the quality. 

The secondary supplier is probably also having to give a percentage to the primary provider, and that percentage could instead be spent on a value add for you, the employer. 

But if you are in this scenario, it’s vital that you, as an employer, have a direct relationship with everybody who is providing training for your business. Often the prime provider will prevent this, but you should push for that direct contact. It is impossible to manage the quality of the training, if you’re not managing those people directly.

It’s really important when you’re negotiating with a training provider that you meet the secondary provider during this negotiation stage. Sometimes, a training provider might cross-sell a programme to you, which they don’t deliver, say that they can deliver it, and once the employer confirms that they’d like to go ahead, they will then go and find a supporting provider to do the delivery. 

Often this kind of cobbled-together partnership is not going to be as effective. In the long run, it might be better to have two separate relationships with different providers that specialise in different areas, rather than working with one provider who says they will take all the hassle away from you. It’s unlikely, especially if you’re a large organisation, that one training provider can deliver exceptional programmes in every area that you want. 

Some training providers are actually now becoming more specialist and stripping back the range of standards they can offer, simply because they were over-promising and under-delivering. 

How should you approach the tendering process? 

You can tell a lot about a training provider by looking at their contract. Do your due diligence and look at what a provider may have added into a standard apprenticeship levy agreement to perhaps protect their funding levels or to say that they won’t take responsibility for quality. In some cases, a training provider may include a clause that means they will charge the employer for future cohorts if the funding gets changed by the government and then the employer may need to pay a commercial top-up to continue. 

It’s definitely a good idea, therefore, to ask for that apprenticeship levy agreement early on in the process. 

It’s a triumvirate relationship between the employer, the training provider and the government, and your legal team may not have encountered a contract like this, especially if you are new to apprenticeships. 


To reserve your spot and find out more about our next virtual seminar, visit our Apprenticeship Employer Community page now.