Virtual Hub & Spoke Model
Report Segment: A New Skills Centre
This reports puts forward the arguments for and against a new physical centre for energy skills. Whilst there are several good reasons in favour of a single site centre, the overwhelming evidence points to a hub and spoke network involving existing providers in the region.
However leaving aside the case for running apprenticeships from an industry endorsed independent centre, there may be other arguments for a new training facility. It could house new specialist equipment which may be too large for a college to accommodate - and of course the equipment would be ‘independent’ – available for any training provider to use to meet the demand of employers. This last point is particularly important because one of the drivers for a new centre is employer responsiveness. In this line of thinking, only an independent operator could deliver true industry standard training by tendering out courses to get the best provider – or by simply acting as a landlord – hiring out facilities (classrooms, equipment etc..) to the training provider market.
The Nautilus report suggests that apprenticeships would play a key part in the new proposed skills centre but immediately this presents a difficulty for further education which is charged with expanding the apprenticeship service across the two counties, and of developing new relationships with employers in the region. There is surely a serious danger of ‘over provision’ crowding out the market and driving down quality as vocational providers struggle to cope with dwindling numbers. If there is a case for more apprenticeships in the sector, surely there are adequate supply side resources to meet this need, especially considering the new UTC in Norwich, the East Consortium Engineering Centre in Great Yarmouth and Leiston High School aspirant ‘rural UTC’ for the Sizewell C labour market. If FE is ‘unresponsive’ then there will be private providers who can step into to take up the slack. The apparent ‘apprenticeship shortage’ does not, on its own warrant a new sector specific training centre.
The key question is how to maximise the take up of local talent as job opportunites become available. A new physical centre may increase the chances of that happening but it is surely not a necessary condition. Of more importance, for example, would be to work with companies to identify forthcoming skills shortages and then to broker these precise skills needs out to the most appropriate training provider so that skilled labour is provided ‘just in time’ for the employer. Through ESF funding, this kind of precision training – could be subsidised (especially to the SME market) and could become an attractive proposition for (SME) employers. This is something being looked at by the 3 Counties ESF Energy proposal.
There is a case for the installation of some very large equipment for training operations such as bolt tightening – and this could be made available to all training providers in the area. There may even be some public sector support for such equipment to be purchased.
The Scottish Model – A virtual NetworkIESTA is the Scottish energy skills centre based close to Aberdeen. IESTA presents a “training capability matrix” involving 22 different training providers including FE, HE and the private sector, across 85 separate vocational disciplines ( ranging from accounting and auditing for the sector, to oil spills management and well control). This brokerage model is not dependent upon a physical centre and indeed many of the services offered are delivered on the premises of the appropriate providers rather than the IESTA skills centre which is small and not suitable for most types of training. This is a model which would suit East Anglia very well.
If a hub and spoke model is to work it certainly needs the support and involvement of all the key players in New Anglia. This is depicted in the diagram below.