Wirral Metropolitan College is the only college to have had its traineeships rated in a headline field under the new Ofsted common inspection framework, and received a “good”. Its director for traineeships, Di Fitch, explains what makes a good traineeship programme

Wirral Metropolitan College was keen to take up the opportunity to provide traineeships when they were introduced. Employers immediately understood the need for a programme that focused on the basics of employability. And although there has been a sense of uncertainty in the sector about the purpose of traineeships, we very much consider them a pre-employment programme.

We consider traineeships a pre-employment programme

Ofsted’s five-day visit was tough and rigorous. They focused on destination data for traineeships and were also quite rightly concerned about English and maths, but with only 13 weeks to bring students up to the required level, this is a much greater challenge. The inspectors also talked to students, phoned employers, and visited our training subcontractor.

We were pleased to be rated as good, as we have worked hard to build a successful traineeship programme, based on three key pillars:

1. Ask employers what they need

Firstly, it is employer-led. We have always designed our traineeships around what employers need – first finding employers with vacancies, then designing a suitable programme – not the other way round.

The employers we work with are an integral part of our training programme. They participate in the initial interview to select candidates. They then interview the trainees again, just before they go out on placement after four weeks, which is a great opportunity for us to show the employers how much they’ve grown. Their tutors will also visit them on placement, to maintain consistency. Then the employer will often come back to talk to the group in the final week, when we’re exploring students’ next steps.

2. Set clear expectations

Secondly, we hold our students to very high standards. From day one, we tell them what is expected of them, which includes maintaining a good punctuality and attendance record that will be shown to their potential employer. Students on our traineeship programmes have a 60 per cent chance of being offered either a job or an apprenticeship at the end – which means that they have a strong incentive to prove themselves. But it works both ways – if we didn’t set such high expectations from the start, I don’t think we’d have such great outcomes.

3. Tailor the course

Thirdly, we offer tailored provision wherever possible. For our larger employers, such as the local teaching hospital, or large hotels, we run entire cohorts just for them. This allows us to prepare students for the specific environment they will face, and integrate the company ethos and values into our initial employability training. We can also invite the employer to offer sessions during the initial four weeks of induction.

Over 30 per cent of our trainees go on to apprenticeships, compared with the national average of nine per cent

These three elements have allowed us to build a programme that delivers excellent results for students and employees. Over 30 per cent of our trainees go on to apprenticeships, compared with the national average of nine per cent. Around 80 per cent end up in positive destinations, meaning jobs, apprenticeships, or FE.

But despite all this, the biggest problem for traineeships is awareness-raising. Employers may be calling out for trainees, but young people and parents are rarely aware of the scheme. Traineeships have received nothing like the promotion apprenticeships have, and consequently lack the same high profile.

We suggested to the Department for Education that a “Have you ever done a traineeship?” button be added to the National Apprenticeship Service website, so that young people who may not be quite ready to go directly onto an apprenticeship have the opportunity to fast-track their skills to get them ready. We would welcome anything that helps parents and young people understand traineeships, and share the enthusiasm of our employers.

First published in the OCR traineeships supplement.