September 12, 2017 : Ruth Boyle
Flexible Workforce Development Fund means a race for funding
One of the prominent themes of the Scottish Government’s recent decisions on employability has been the side-lining of the third sector. The Apprenticeship Levy is no different.
Last week, The Scottish Government announced the details of the Flexible Workforce Development Fund (FWDF), one of the activities funded by the levy in Scotland. Like many previous decisions, this fund seemingly does little to assist, support or even recognise the third sector.
We acknowledge that the levy was imposed upon the Scottish Government by their UK counterparts. Nevertheless, Scottish charities now find themselves in the entirely unacceptable position where they are forced to use charitable donations to cover their levy costs.
Why? There are a number of issues, including the third sector’s under-representation in apprenticeships and the fact the majority of third sector organisations paying the levy deliver public services through contracts from Scottish and local government, meaning they have limited unrestricted costs through which to pay the levy.
Charities anticipated that the FWDF would be a means of accessing funds, but it seems like it will prove challenging for the sector to benefit. The policy intention is that the fund be beneficial for addressing skills gaps for groups where a full MA may not be appropriate, such as older workers, early service leavers and employees in low-skilled jobs – an intention that speaks to the third sector.
Social care accounts for some of the largest third sector levy contributors and the most populous age group among its workforce were those aged 46-59. Yet, what chance does the first come, first served nature of the fund afford such organisations in the race for funding? When the starting pistol was shot yesterday, it’s likely that the private sector was the first out of the blocks.
The third sector also lacks the same knowledge of their skills gaps when compared to the private sector – especially not in the detail required by this process. Coupled with the lack of pre-existing relationships with Scotland’s colleges, it’s going to be difficult for the sector to access this fund and satisfy the detail of a ‘training needs assessment’.
The fund is linked to skills gaps identified by employers and labour market information, conversations and research we know the third sector is rarely a part of. The Skills Investment Plans and Regional Skills Assessments deal with the third sector as an after-thought at best.
Nevertheless, gaps in management and digital skills are most definitely prevalent in the sector. Our advice is to apply as quickly as you can and use the offer of assistance from the colleges to complete your application. This is an opportunity to foster new relationships. And please let us know how you get on.
It is our expectation that the third sector will have a difficult time trying to access this funding and we’ll watch with interest to see how many third sector organisations secure money.
To consider Cornerstone as an example, if the charity manages to secure the maximum funding through the FWDF this will represent a reimbursement of 13% of their levy contribution. While Skills Development Scotland informed us that it was ‘unlikely’ that organisations would recoup their full levy contribution, however the return is seemingly tiny.
Paying lip service to the importance of a thriving third sector is useless when the government, and their enterprise and skills agencies, fail to recognise the sector as an employer and make decisions with little regard for the sector. If the proof is to be in the pudding of the Scottish Government’s employability decisions, I don’t think they’ll be winning the Great British Bake Off anytime soon.