Traineeships: the hidden gem of skills policies

This summer, the Chancellor launched his ‘plan for jobs’ in an effort to accelerate economic recovery from the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Along with a new ‘job retention bonus’ to encourage businesses to retain furloughed staff and ‘kickstart scheme’ to incentivise businesses to provide extended work placements for people on universal credit, the package included an additional £111m for traineeships. 

I’ve long held the view that traineeships are the brilliant employment and skills policy which Government doesn’t quite seem to love or invest in as it should.  First launched when Health Secretary Matt Hancock was the Minister responsible for skills and apprenticeships, traineeships have never broken through or scaled as they might.  10,400 young people started a traineeship in 2013/14; numbers grew to 24,100 in 2015/16 before receding to 14,900 last year.  Compare that to over 393,000 last year apprenticeship starts and it’s clear traineeships are a minority sport.

What is a traineeship?  They’re short, typically two or three month programmes which include a combination of acutely work-focused training, support to improve maths and / or English, and a substantial period of work experience – ideally with the prospect of a permanent job with the work placement employer on successful completion. 

Their simple, sharp focus on employability and employment is their power.  Where other education and training programmes might build the technical skills, knowledge and behaviours required to support a sustained career in a given sector, traineeships – done well – help young people smash through the more immediate barrier of finding, getting and keeping a job.  When followed by an apprenticeship or similar work-based training support, they help disengaged, disenfranchised young people to jumpstart their career and make rapid progress.

Given our experience in this area, we’d suggest that five things which make a traineeship programme sing:

  1. Proactive, systematic student outreach: the target student audience for traineeships is, by definition, difficult to engage.  Usual engagement approaches need amping up to reach the students that traineeships can really help.  Working with job centres, community groups and other referral partners is crucial. 
  2. Exceptional initial assessment and measurement of distance travelled: open, honest and granular initial assessment conversations with prospective students are essential to make sure that a traineeship is the right thing, at the right time, for them.  In many cases, prospective trainees will need other support before or alongside their traineeship to ensure the secure maximum value. It’s also important to be able to use that initial assessment as a starting point to then measure how far students go on their programme, how much they progress with the right support, and what tangible impact their traineeship has had.
  3. Hyper-focused employability training: the real power of traineeships rests in their ability to help students power through whatever barriers have been holding them back to date.  That means delivering training that addresses maths, English, IT and substantive employability skill needs - and whatever practical barriers each student faces, however small specific they may be.  The very best traineeships will also focus on the needs of particular industry sectors – creating clear, direct, progression pathways.
  4. Proactive, realistic employer engagement: a traineeship without a supportive, serious work placement at the end of which might be a job is no kinda traineeship at all.  Engaging with employers willing to offer that opportunity – and which understand what it means to offer opportunities to previously disengaged young people – is essential.  That means having candid conversations with employers to manage expectations up front.
  5. Regular, practical, follow-up support: however great the programme, not all trainees will secure a job with their work placement host employer.  Continued, one-to-one, practical support will help students to sustain momentum from their traineeship and quickly find sustained work elsewhere. 

Given some of these and other requirements, there’s no doubt that delivering an outstanding transformative traineeship programme is very hard; much harder from a provider perspective than any other programme in the publicly-funded portfolio. 

We’d argue strongly though, that the view is worth the climb from student, labour market and economic perspectives.  We hope that providers and employers embrace this injection of additional funding for traineeships to the transformative effect we believe possible.

Check out NCFE’s Go the Distance traineeship packages for more information – taking focused action on youth employment and providing you with the tools to make a difference. Read more.

Danielle McCullough
Danielle McCullough
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