This week 5-9 March is National Apprenticeship Week. PCS DWP group is keen to promote this initiative and to provide an update on what we have achieved for apprentices in DWP and what we are seeking to achieve for apprentices in the future. It is important that PCS continues to work to achieve improvements for apprentices in DWP as virtually all new staff in DWP Operations and many in corporate areas are likely to be recruited as apprentices.
Issues with apprenticeships in DWP
There have been a number of problems with apprenticeships to date, particularly in the large tranche of staff recruited into Work Services Directorate (WSD) as Work Coach Apprentices. Members frequently reported issues relating to the quality of the learning provision, restricted ability to access sufficient time to undertake learning activity, and problems with educational certificates such as GCSE, and having to undertake additional tests or paying for certificates when for example GCSE certificates could not be found.
A further problem arose when it became clear that apprentices were being asked to sign agreements that were out of line with existing DWP Human Resources policies and procedures in particular those relating to probation. From this position PCS reached an agreement with DWP that apprentices could not be dismissed if they were not able to pass their end point assessments.
It is PCS’s view that the introduction of apprenticeships in WSD was far too hasty and that there was insufficient planning before the mass recruitment of apprentices. This resulted in managers having a poor understanding of how apprenticeships should work, poor learning provision, and in many cases a very poor experience of the apprenticeship for those undertaking them.
Improvements for apprentices achieved by PCS
Nationally, PCS has agreed protocols with the Cabinet office that govern how Government departments are to manage apprentices in line with legislation. Cabinet Office Protocols
Paragraph 25 states:
"Under the apprenticeship standards in England, an apprenticeship requires substantial and sustained training, generally lasting a minimum of 12 months and involving at least 20% off-the-job-training. Departments should comply with equivalent apprenticeship policy in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland."
This means that apprentices should be given the equivalent of at least one day per week off the job training throughout the course of their apprenticeship.
DWP has acknowledged that there have been problems with the mass tranche of apprenticeships in WSD and have undertaken to learn the lessons and ensure an improved experience for future staff undertaking apprenticeships. There is a new contract with the provider Premier Partnership due to begin in April and many improvements have been built into this contract including a revised Apprenticeship Agreement.
A key improvement is that managers managing apprentices will have to attend an induction delivered by the provider alongside their staff undertaking the apprenticeship. This should mean that all parties have a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of both managers and apprentices.
The department have agreed that all certificates (e.g. GCSE) that are required to demonstrate levels of learning that staff no longer have will be paid for by the department. In addition where it is not possible to get educational certificates functional skills (Maths and English) testing will only be at a level required for work and not a full GCSE equivalent.
Further improvements required
PCS in DWP will continue to press for further improvements.
A number of apprentices have been recruited as Fixed Term Appointments (FTA). The DWP claim that this was to give opportunities to people without relevant qualifications or experience. These apprenticeships will be 14 months in future as opposed to 12 months historically. However currently where these staff have been recruited on non-fair and open contracts in many cases they have to leave the employment of DWP at the end of their contracts. PCS will argue that on the successful completion of their apprenticeships they should be offered permanent employment.
Apprentice members continue to report problems getting enough time off to undertake learning activity. We are encouraging all members on apprenticeships to ensure that they get the full 20% “off the job” training that has been agreed in the Cabinet Office Protocols and where they cannot get this to ask for support from their local TU representative or Union Learning Representative.
We also recognise that improvements need to be secured for members who require exemptions from their apprenticeships. It is DWP’s view that there should be very few exemptions but PCS acknowledge that for reasons such as domestic, bereavement or health exemptions maybe required. Where members feel they have good reason to be exempted they should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Role of Union Learning Representative (ULR)
PCS has agreed with DWP that ULRs will be given full access to apprentices to ask them to join PCS and support them in their learning requirements and to intervene on the behalf of apprentices with their managers when they are experiencing problems with their apprenticeships.