Mark Corney looks at how the traineeship programme is developing policy-wise.

From this month, traineeships have been open to 24-year-olds. At a strategic level, therefore, traineeships appear as a single programme across the 16 to 24 age range.

In fact, current and future policy developments suggest the development of a three-way traineeship programme for 16 and 17-year-olds, 18 to 21-year-olds and 22 to 24-year-olds.

According to the technical consultation on ‘Traineeship Funding in England’ published in June, the purpose of a traineeship is to support progression into sustainable employment or self-employment with or without training, a job with an apprenticeship or entry into further learning.

The preferred definition of job outcomes is employment of at least 16 hours per week — paid at the appropriate rare of the national minimum wage — which is the same measure of full-time employment used in respect of JobSeekers’ Allowance (JSA).

No definition of the number of hours of further learning per week is given in the consultation document, but for young people claiming JSA after moving off a traineeship the 16-hour rule will apply so it must be less than 16 hours per week.

Standing back, the consultation paper has clearly been drafted from the perspective of 18 to 24-year-olds.

It is from the 18th birthday when young people are eligible for JSA and the standard definition of full-time employment as at least 16 hours per week applies. None of this is relevant to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Fundamentally, the consultation paper is raising of the participation age (RPA) blind. From September 2015, the participation age will increase to the 18th birthday.

According to the Department for Education website, 16 and 17-year-olds without a level three qualification will meet the duty to participate if they are, in full-time FE at school or college with the later equivalent to 540 guided learning hours per year; a job with an apprenticeship; or a job, self-employment or volunteering of 20 hours or more per week combined with part-time training of 240 hours per year.

Entry to traineeships also fulfils the duty to participate but the critical issue is progression from a traineeship before the 18th birthday.

Under the RPA, volunteering is acceptable so long as it is full-time. Yet, full-time employment under the RPA is defined as 20 hours per week, not 16.

An acceptable outcome for 16 and 17-year-olds is also a job of 20 hours or more with part-time training, not a job of 16 hours without training.

Progression into further learning from a traineeship before the age of 18 under the RPA must also be very specific, full-time not part-time and a minimum of 540 guided learning hours per year.

In short, it is the categories which meet the duty to participate under the RPA for 16 and 17-year-olds which must be the outcome measures for 16 and 17-year-old traineeships.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds will be a specific group within the traineeship programme because of the RPA. But over the medium-term 18 to 21-year-olds might also emerge as a self-contained group.

Each of the main political parties are developing ‘earn-or-learn’ strategies for 18 to 21-year-olds rather than 18 to 24-year-olds.

In return, for benefit — JSA or a Youth Allowance — unemployed 18 to 21-year-olds must accept full-time training.

At present, traineeships are a voluntary programme. Non-participation does not automatically lead to benefit suspension.

Traineeships for 18 to 21-year-olds, however, could become a mandatory programme fulfilling the promise of full-time training in return for benefits. Alternatively, traineeships for this age group could remain volunteering but sitting beneath them is a much tighter benefit regime.

Either way, traineeships for the 18 to 21 age group would be operating within a stronger mandatory benefit system by comparison to 22 to 24-year-olds.

Providers, therefore, should plan for a three-way 16 to 24 traineeship programme.