by Simon Ashworth, Director of Policy, AELP

We know that Skills Bootcamps are a big government priority. Serious financial backing was announced by the Treasury in the Spending Review and they were referenced in the recent Levelling Up white paper.

Skills Bootcamps offer a winning formula of driving high-value sustainable job creation, creating better in-work progression and the development of technical in-demand skills. They are also strongly targeted on supporting the training and retraining needs of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises).

Waves 1 and 2

Data from Wave 1 and Wave 2 for March 2021 indicates that were 2,800 starts on Skills Bootcamps, with about 40% reporting positive outcomes at the end of the 13-16 week programme. Around three-quarters of contracts awarded in Wave 1 and Wave 2 went to independent training providers.

Wave 3 and Non-Devolved Areas of England

The Department for Education has tendered Wave 3 starting in September 2022. A range of seven contract lots are available which is an expansion from the previous waves. The initial level of funding is £60m and is available in non-devolved areas of in England.

Along with the welcome cash boost, SME co-investment requirements have been reduced from 30% to 10%.

Prisoners nearing the end of their sentence will also be eligible for Skills Bootcamps.

Ofsted is undertaking early thematic surveys to increase oversight, and reporting is finally moving to be completed through the ILR.

These are all positive developments. Skills Bootcamps are gathering momentum in areas currently without a devolution deal.

Devolved Areas of England

Of course, devolved regions in England have long had an interest in Skills Bootcamps. For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority was a digital trailblazer in the very early pilots.

On the back of the Levelling Up White Paper, additional funding is being made available for Combined Authorities to commission their own Skills Bootcamps.

The Greater London Authority recently announced that they have submitted a business case to the Department for Education (DfE) worth c£19m for devolved Skills Bootcamp funding.

Extended Devolution

The Adult Education Budget, large chunks of the National Skills Fund and the relevant share of the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund are set to be devolved at regional and local level. More combined mayoral authorities and new County Deals are on their way. Skills Bootcamp funding will be part of the devolution revolution.

Employed Participants

Skills Bootcamps are employer focused. For employed participants, the focus is very much on in-work progression with support from their employer. Although, unlike apprenticeships, where the off-the-job aspect is highly regulated and regimented, Skills Bootcamps offer greater flexibility.

From a living cost perspective, however, the key point to remember is that the participating employer pays the wage of their adult employee on Skills Bootcamps. This is how an adult employee can afford to live whilst training and retraining.

Unemployed Participants

Skills Bootcamps also help unemployed adults get the skills training they need. They are flexible and can last up to 16 weeks.

The support of Jobcentre Plus Job Coaches will be crucial in enabling providers to reach unemployed people on Universal Credit who might benefit from participating on the programme. However, providers delivering in the current wave of Skills Bootcamps are regularly feeding back concerns with referrals slowing, with potential candidates instead being led towards the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s flagship Restart programme.

But the reason why unemployed adults can participate on Skills Bootcamps is because the DWP foots the bill for up to 16 weeks of Universal Credit.

Skills Bootcamps are a classic example where the cost of provision funded is by DfE and living costs are funded by DWP.

Way to Work

Another key risk to Skills Bootcamps is the DWP’s new Way to Work initiative to get short term unemployed adults into jobs through intensive job search.

There is a real danger that DWP job coaches will be less incentivised to direct service users to Skills Bootcamps, when the direction from above is to shift thousands of people into work by June.

DfE and DWP Co-ordination

The issue of competing DfE and DWP programmes and initiatives is unfortunately not a new challenge for the sector.

It’s an ongoing saga, which we’ve seen more of recently, for example with Kickstart competing with traineeships and apprenticeships.

A key risk is that unemployed people will be forced into accepting short-term, low quality, low wage, jobs instead of being allowed to retrain for skilled roles in sectors with significant skills gaps.

We need to break this cycle.

Ultimately, we need a joined-up approach to employment and programmes, which offer value for taxpayers’ money.

The focus must be to get individuals on the right programme for their skills needs and long-term career ambitions - not simply whatever programme is flavour of the month with respective government departments.

Simon Ashworth is Director of Policy at AELP