Greg Wright: Apprentice’s ordeal following collapse of training provider is a cautionary tale for our times

Sarah Jordan of VIPworldwide
Sarah Jordan of VIPworldwide
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If you believe the Government, we are about to enter a golden era for apprenticeships.

Generations of men - and women - used an apprenticeship as a stepping stone towards skilled, well paid and rewarding work. Sadly, apprenticeships started to fall out of favour in the 1980s, because many people wrongly believed they belonged to the world of rags and spanners. Policymakers have finally realised that apprenticeships, when tightly managed, can offer a route to employment for millions of young people.

In recent years. the Government has set lofty goals with regards to increasing the scale and quality of apprenticeships in Britain. However, the tale of Sarah Jordan would suggest that the Government-backed delivery of some apprenticeship training leaves a great deal to be desired.

The former Government provider Aspire Achieve Advance (known as 3aaa) closed in the autumn, leaving a number of apprentices without a training course. A petition to wind up the Derby-based company was presented to the High Court in October last year.

Kirsty Beasley, the director of marketing at VIP Worldwide, the luxury hotel film production and social media marketing agency, said one of her employees, Sarah Jordan, has been left in limbo.

Ms Beasley, whose business is based in Hessle, East Yorkshire, approached 3aaa to help the firm find a digital marketing apprentice.

She said: “Sarah started with us in July on a digital marketing apprenticeship. Sarah received a call from her tutor on October 12, 2018 to say the company had gone into receivership the day before. There was no information of whether she would have a pause in learning.”

A letter addressed to Sarah confirming that 3aaa had ceased trading arrived 10 days later. To add insult to injury, Sarah had to visit the post office to collect the letter because there was insufficient postage.

Months went by. In early March, Sarah was initially told that an alternative apprenticeship placement had been found for her, at Shipley College, which is more than 76 miles from her home.

A Shipley College spokesman said that they had been approached by the Education and Skills Funding Agency and were asked to consider options to support a number of digital marketing apprentices affected in Yorkshire and the Humber. The spokesman said: “Our aim was to explore running workshops within the apprentices’ local area. Unfortunately, when we explored the options, it became clear that we were not in a position to run this training in terms of logistics and funding.”

Ms Beasley said: “The Government has just rushed to place the students with no regard to distance or if the provider can even take them.

“Sarah had done three months’ of hard work which included tests, projects and started her portfolio towards her apprenticeship and all this work is lost and cannot be accessed as 3aa’s online platform is down.”

However, Sarah is still employed by VIP, which is also providing training for her,

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Following the termination of 3aaa’s contracts with the department, we prioritised finding new training providers as quickly as possible for the affected learners.

“Working with a specialist team, the majority of apprentices have been allocated to new providers and have restarted their apprenticeships. We are in discussion with a small number of providers to finalise arrangements for the transfer of the remaining small amount of apprentices who still need to be transferred.”

A spokesman said they could not comment on individual cases.

A formal criminal investigation has now been launched into 3aaa.

This sorry saga will not inspire confidence in the Government’s approach to supporting a new generation of apprentices.

Last summer, Sarah Jordan started her training in the well-founded belief that a Government backed provider would ensure she achieved her ambitions.

But her work has been wasted due to forces beyond her control. The Government would be well advised to consider the lessons that can be learned from this cautionary tale.