The introduction of a training route to support young people without the necessary skills and qualifications to start an apprenticeship is a step forward, says shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden, but it must be implemented properly

While I welcome the fact the Government are introducing traineeships for the 2013/14 academic year, the timescales involved concern me.

Although Matthew Hancock first put his proposals out to consultation in January, it took until May for the policy to be confirmed, initially only for 16 to 18 year olds.

Under mounting pressure, Ministers used last month’s spending review to announce a full rollout for 16 to 24 year olds from August.

I already thought the Government was cutting it fine for colleges and providers to put in place 16 to 18 traineeships, but now providers have little over five weeks to put in place traineeships for this larger age group.

Prior to the spending review, there had been no indication from Ministers this extension was imminent.

In my view, traineeships can and should play a key role in supporting social mobility by giving young people the chance to reach out for those top quality apprenticeships, like those at BAE Systems and Rolls Royce.

The urgent need for traineeships has been highlighted by last month’s data on apprenticeship starts, which showed a 13 per cent fall in 16 to 18 starts, with the trend accelerating in the most recent quarter.

That’s why it’s so crucial traineeships are done properly, and there are several key areas Ministers must focus on. Firstly, traineeships must be underpinned by the key principle of progression. It’s essential traineeships equip young people with the skills needed to bridge the gap into apprenticeships. They should also be designed in close conjunction with the needs of employers, along the lines Doug Richard set out for apprenticeships.

Traineeships must be properly integrated into the employment and skills landscape. Staff at Job Centre Plus and the National Careers Service need to be up to speed and ready to direct young people towards them as an entry route to apprenticeships. The NAS and BIS must ensure they put resources into giving traineeships proper advertising and promotion.

It’s crucial the Government gets traineeships right. Rolled out and delivered properly, they can play a vital role in supporting young people towards the skills both they and our economy need”

There also needs to be clarity about just how traineeships will interact with the benefits system — especially the ‘16 hour rule’ for benefit eligibility.

I was led to believe this was one of the major reasons they weren’t initially rolled out for 19 to 24 year olds. In response to my detailed questions, Ministers are saying traineeships need to be designed in light of existing rules, suggesting colleges and providers will face an uphill battle to design programmes with enough contact time for learners while not falling foul of DWP regulations.

Quality must remain paramount in the new traineeships and the Government must monitor their rollout vigilantly. We cannot have the introduction of traineeships used as a front for the return of the models used in the short duration apprenticeships that were brought to public attention by FE Week in 2011.

While I think it would be wrong to have all traineeships fixed at six months, as this would prevent colleges and providers from having adequate flexibility to respond to local needs, it would be deeply alarming if the vast bulk of traineeships merely turn out to last six weeks.

For many young people, that simply wouldn’t be long enough to pick up the additional skills that are holding them back from apprenticeships.

It’s crucial the Government gets traineeships right. Rolled out and delivered properly, they can play a vital role in supporting young people towards the skills both they and our economy need in an increasingly globalised world where the emerging economies are looking to rapidly boost their own skills base.

That’s why Ministers need to rapidly give colleges and training providers the clarity they need to deliver this programme successfully and to help the countless young people who want to access apprenticeships but currently lack the necessary skills.

Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for further education, skills and regional growth