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HEART's $30-b spend for training not value for money, says auditor general

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, October 01, 2020

HEART/NSTA Trust, the country's national training agency, did not receive value for money after spending more than $30 billion on a slew of skills training programmes between 2014 and 2019 primarily geared towards reaching unattached youth, Auditor General (AG) Pamela Monroe Ellis has reported.

The revelation was made in the final performance audit report of the entity tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

When contacted yesterday, director of communications and marketing at HEART Julia Green told the Jamaica Observer that the entity's management and board were reviewing the report and would comment on the findings at a later date.

According to Monroe Ellis, despite an increase in the number of admissions over the five-year period, HEART's certifications remained at a consistently low rate. She said that an analysis of enrolment data showed that for training programmes during that period, HEART certified less than half the number of trainees, despite a reduction in the number of trainees dropping out of the programmes.

Of the 232,301 people trained only 103,452 were certified, reflecting an average certification rate of 45 per cent up to June 10, 2020.

Monroe Ellis said given the low certification rate of 45 per cent, “HEART would not have yielded maximum value from training expenditure of $30.5 billion, between 2014-15 and 2018-19, to deliver skills training programmes”.

She said HEART indicated that its training expenditure included $3 billion for social intervention programmes and initiatives that were not geared towards certification, and acknowledged that failed assessments, dropouts and absenteeism contributed to the low certification rate relative to enrolment.

The AG said HEART also identified socio-economic conditions, such as financial and social challenges faced by trainees, as being among the root causes for dropouts and absenteeism. Some of these challenges, she said, were outside the control of HEART, but at the same time deprived the trust of its ability to maximise value from the cost to provide skills training programmes.

HEART yielded low certification results and little or no entrepreneurial and employment benefits from $8.3 billion disbursed to external training providers (ETPs), the report said.

Funding to training providers, including community training interventions (CTIs), was provided to deliver skills training programmes which Monroe Ellis said produced low certification results and little or no entrepreneurial and employment benefits. These, she said, included multiple programmes implemented by HEART, in succession, through ETPs and CTIs geared towards the certification of unattached, underserved and at-risk youth.

Monroe Ellis said the less than desirable outcome for these programmes demonstrated that the practice of using multiple programmes, with similar content did not reflect a comprehensive approach towards targeting at-risk youth vis-a-vis a holistic programme, which combined academic and social interventions, given HEART's acknowledgement that the social conditions of unattached youth impacted their ability to complete these programmes.

The AG report also found that HEART did not always ensure that adequate evaluations were conducted before disbursing further funds for the continuation of the programmes with the respective CTIs.

Aditionally, the report showed that HEART disbursed $1.3 billion in funding to 76 CTIs for the execution of the National Unattached Youth Programme (NUYP), which was impacted by poor attendance and low certification outputs and other unfulfilled objectives.

“We noted that from an enrolment of 5,661 trainees, only 1,810 were certified, as at June 2020, reflecting a certification rate of 32 per cent, which was partly due to the poor attendance, despite a daily stipend of $500 being provided based on attendance,” it read.

Monroe Ellis said that HEART did not demonstrate that it effectively monitored the Career Advancement Programme Youth Empowerment Solution (CAP-YES), in keeping with the project charter and its own policy, to mitigate key risks identified.

She said after making the initial disbursement of $25 million in funding to the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), to administer the programme, HEART appeared not to satisfy itself that CMU complied with the established operating, reporting and expenditure control procedures, as stipulated in the project charter, before making further disbursements totalling $50 million, bringing the total disbursed to $75 million.

“While we were able to verify the existence of supporting documents for expenditure totalling $62.6 million, documents to support expenditure totalling $2.1 million were not provided. In March 2020, CMU returned $10.3 million, approximately one-and-a-half years after the programme ended. With low certification, employment, career advancement and business opportunities outputs, HEART was not able to demonstrate that it received value from the reported $64.7 million spent on the programme,” the AG report stated.

It further added that HEART's records indicated that 687 participants were admitted to the programme and only 128 or 19 per cent were awarded National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) certification. Also, only 45 of the 687 or seven per cent participants gained employment.

The report said despite an increase in admissions to HEART's skill training programmes, there was a delay in admitting trainees due to an increase in demand based on applications. New admissions increased by 92 per cent moving to 52,257 in 2018-19 from 27,258 in 2014-15.