OAL and DfE set up new funding streams to support apprentices following training provider closure

Following the sudden and unexpected closure of Learning Education and Development (LEAD) Limited, a large Private Training provider, during the summer of 2022, a significant number of apprentices were left in a state of limbo, having achieved gateway but had not started or fully completed End Point Assessment (EPA).

With no on-programme funding remaining, these apprentices had little prospect of being picked up by other training providers, due to being in the EPA window with their programme of learning complete. Without training provider support and without any accessible funding to pay for EPA, the future for these apprentices appeared bleak and there was little or no support in place for the Levy paying employers.

Rebecca Dunlea, HR Business Partner at Kimal, one of the employers affected by the closure said, “We just couldn’t believe it. They didn’t officially tell us, we initially found out from an ex-employee at Kimal that had heard about it and reached out to let us know. We were left completely in the dark, no one would give us any information, if you rang the number for LEAD it just dialled out to nothing, what do you do? It was really heart breaking at the time, the timing of it couldn’t have been much worse. If it had been early on in the course, you just think I would just start again with someone else. It was a great relief to get that e-mail from OAL, saying they were looking into this for us and that they were trying to help because we felt a bit lost. No one tells you what you should do in that scenario, and I’d never come across anything like this before, so that was really helpful, just to know that OAL were working on it was reassuring.”

Two of the apprentices affected by the closure were Darren an Improvement Technician apprentice at global laboratory network Element, and Anthony also an Improvement Technician at Kimal, a manufacturer and supplier of specialised procedure packs and vascular access devices to hospitals across the world.

By the time LEAD filed for bankruptcy Darren had already completed gateway and was ready to complete his EPA. “…the preparation for Gateway process started in March. It actually took a few months to get everything ready, and the gateway was completed in July. I felt very well prepared for the EPA which was due to be held on the 8th of July.”

Following the closure of LEAD, OAL contacted Darren to reassure him that we would do all we could to enable him to still complete his EPA. After a while Darren had started to lose hope “the longer it went on, the more the likelihood of it not ever happening seemed to increase. In the month or so leading up to the call (from OAL) to say that the EPA is going to happen. I hadn’t really thought about it at all, and I’d kind of dismissed it. I said to myself, oh well that’s maybe never going to happen.”

Once the opportunity to complete EPA fell through, Darren then waited nearly 5 months as OAL negotiated with the DfE to set up a new funding stream so that the apprentices affected could complete EPA. “Once OAL got in touch with me to confirm I could still complete my EPA with them, I was surprised initially, I couldn’t believe it was still alive after all this time. Then everything happened so quickly from getting the phone call to scheduling my EPA within a couple of weeks.”

The same can be said for Anthony who had an added hiccup when it came to his preparations for his rescheduled EPA. “I actually saw the email a bit late as I had just come back from holiday, I was nervous going into it, because on top of the big gap I only had a week to prepare for my EPA. But considering it almost never happened I figured it was best to get on with it and hope for some good news at the end of it all.”

After waiting 5 months and now only having 10 days to prepare for his rescheduled EPA, Darren was apprehensive about preparing for exam like conditions in such a short time, but Darren had some kind words to say on the IA of his long-awaited EPA. “The OAL Independent Assessor (IA) was very nice. Their (IA’s) hands are tied in terms of the feedback they can give, but she filled me full of confidence, reassuring me that everything was ok, when I needed clarification, she would outline what it was she was looking for, which made me feel very positive about the whole process. Considering it took almost 2 and a half hours it felt like the whole thing was over in a heartbeat.”

With regards to OAL and their efforts towards ensuring he could complete his EPA Darren said, “It’s been a long journey from starting out in February 2021, for that to be wasted and not to get anything out of that would have been painful. It’s mad to think this now, but I wouldn’t change a thing, that’s probably the best way to put it, the whole process turned out really positive. My entire experience with OAL has been wholly positive, I’m just delighted that they’ve done what they did to get me through it and to actually make sure that I’ve now got the value that I wanted out of it. I’m going to have that certificate in hand to say that I completed my Level 3 Improvement Technician apprenticeship, which is great.”

Anthony went on to say “The fact that you managed to help me complete my EPA after being stuck at gateway and to not just be left which is what I first feared was great, you didn’t have to do that so that was really appreciated, I couldn’t thank you enough. The whole EPA process was smooth and calm once we secured a date and IA was fantastic.”

Occupation Awards Limited (OAL) proactively contacted the ESFA and Department for Education (DfE) to try and resolve the problem and find a solution to support the apprentices to achieve.  OAL designed and set up a web page to help and advise the employers and providers impacted by the closure of their training provider on what to do and to get in touch so they could liaise directly with them to support their completion of EPA and achievement. Anthony had this to say on the help page set up by OAL. “I found it really helpful and easy to complete, considering that up to that point I was just stranded, kind of stuck in limbo, to know that there was someone helping me to still complete my apprenticeship was great, I wasn’t sure whether or not it would happen, but I figured it was worth and try and luckily it worked.” 

Thanks to the efforts made by OAL and the DfE, Darren is now looking to progress with his qualifications in other areas to help streamline audit and testing processes at the High Wycombe site where he is based. Following the completion of his EPA and achieving his Level 3 Improvement Technician apprenticeship, Anthony has now progressed from production team leader to Continuous Improvement and Training specialist.

After months of negotiations and setting up an entirely new funding stream with the DfE, OAL were able to process gateway, and complete EPA for the apprentices who were impacted by the closure and wanted to continue with their assessments. Lee Reddington Head of Partnership Development had this to say, “We are thrilled to have been able to achieve something, that we believed had never been done before. To have so many apprentices that otherwise would not have been able to complete EPA and therefore their apprenticeships is fantastic. I just wish there were systems in place to streamline the process if this sort of thing was to happen again. There are still many apprentices out there that have been affected by this closure, and others, that we’ve been unable to help or had lost confidence by the time we had managed to set up new funding streams. I really want to congratulate Darren, Anthony and all of the other apprentices who stuck with it, despite the delays and setbacks. Their resilience and perseverance is a credit to them and their companies and shows what apprenticeships are all about.” 

All outstanding apprentices registered with OAL have now achieved their Improvement Technician and Lean Manufacturing Operative apprenticeship, and the majority have achieved distinction grades. Hundreds more apprentices have been redirected from the interactive web information provided to other training providers through the joint efforts of OAL, DfE and IfATE and will now hope fully complete their apprenticeship journeys.