Fiesta to help SMEs access apprenticeship funding

The Furniture and Interiors Education, Skills and Training Alliance (Fiesta) has set up a new route for small employers in the furniture and interiors industries, including KBB firms, to access government funds to train apprentices.

Furniture and Interiors Skills Plus is a new service developed in conjunction with the Apprenticeship Management Group that aims to offer employers access to a wide variety of funded training programmes for apprentices and staff.

With more details set to be unveiled at a conference at Furniture Makers Hall next week, Fiesta said that through Skills Plus micro and medium-sized, non-levy-paying employers will be able to access a much wider selection of funded skills training than is currently available.

This is because, Fiesta claimed, of the current ineffective structure of the procurement process, resulting in more than £300 million earmarked for apprenticeships for the year to April 2018 returning to the Treasury coffers, according to a press report in FE Week.

This is despite many small non-levy paying employers – those with payrolls of less than £3 million – being turned away from providers because of insufficient funds.

Fiesta said 90% of employers within the furniture and interiors sector are non-levy payers and “it is very disappointing that excellent and often specialist training providers of essential skills are having their funding allocations cut to the extent that they can do little more for SMEs than complete existing apprentices on their programmes”.

Mark Dawe, chief executive at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said: “It’s desperately disappointing to hear the Department for Education admit that such a significant sum of money went back to the Treasury when we know that all of it could have been spent on funding apprenticeships of SME employers.

“The fact is that 200 good-quality providers were unable to offer any apprenticeships to non-levy employers.”

Fiesta, which counts the KBSA and The Kitchen Education Trust (TKET) as members, said Skills Plus offers businesses a specialist apprentice recruitment service, Apprentice Training Agency (ATA) and Levy Management Company.

The Skills Plus ATA will qualify as a levy-payer so it can recruit and employ the apprentice on behalf of the host member.

It will oversee all the administrative aspects of the apprenticeship, providing HR and training support, sourcing and contracting with training providers and funding agencies, and undertaking performance management reviews.

Meanwhile, for larger levy-paying companies that directly employ one or more apprentices, through Skills Plus, Fiesta said large employers will be able to outsource the apprenticeship management to obtain best value for money and real-time monitoring from their apprentice levy digital accounts.

Fiesta chairman Gary Baker said: “We have laid the foundations for our sector to train new and existing colleagues in a range of qualifications from new entrants at Level 2, to senior managers at masters degree levels and everything in between.

“To get the message out there, we invite employers to attend the Closing the Skills Gap conference at Furniture Makers Hall on April 26. It’s open to all furniture and interiors manufacturers and will be the start of a country-wide push to engage members to show the opportunities in funded training that we have developed.”

Jeremy Stein, chief executive of the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA), added: “Some of our sectors specialist training providers have had allocations against which our members could have drawn down funding, halved from May this year.

“We urge all manufacturers, to attend the conference or contact us to understand how you can access the funded training you need; and engage with the providers of your choice.

“We were in danger of letting the far reaching and excellent training opportunities simply evaporate through lack of funding, but we have worked hard to ensure that the full range of qualifications should be available to all of our members, either levy or non-levy payers.”

TKET chairman Craig Matson said: “We needed to get the system simplified so that the kitchen industry can take advantage of it. I’m 100% behind this initiative and we’ll be backing it at Roundhouse.”

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