Are colleges ready for traineeships?  Yes, says Lynne Sedgmore, but there are still areas to consider.

We all accept that the notion of traineeships is a good idea for many young people.

In the post-Richard world of work-based education and training, and as the apprenticeship concept is being properly redefined, for many, the traineeship is simply a way to re-badge what was previously known as a pre-apprenticeship programme. But the expectations are that it will be much more than that.

Traineeships benefit from having much in common with their older sister, the study programme.

Across the country, colleges are training and preparing staff, engaging in new relationships and refocusing their timetables to bring maths and English to the forefront of students’ learning. Trainees will benefit from this as much as everybody else.

And an army of staff is engaging with employers to develop further the commendable existing relationships to secure meaningful work experience. So, the building blocks of traineeships are most certainly in place already.

However, as is so often the case, the reality of ‘readiness’ depends upon some of the bigger picture issues, and, in this respect, traineeships are no different to many of the other new policy developments that colleges will be grappling with this autumn.

We are told that funding requirements have been relaxed and that requirements for assessment will be flexible, but, of course, we have yet to see what that looks like in practice. As with study programmes, it is worth considering whether arguments will ensue about the elements that are judged most appropriate for any given individual, or whether freedom really does mean genuine autonomy for colleges to decide. What is clear is that colleges are already investing significant time and energy into interpreting the rules that have been published.

Of greater concern is that in no less a place than the Queen’s Speech, the government publicised the view that traineeships and apprenticeships should become ‘the new norm’ for those not going to university.

Yet traineeships do not include any compulsion to engage in study towards a vocational qualification. For many in the target market, at level two and below, a vocational qualification is both achievable and appropriate as the experience of general FE colleges amply demonstrates.

Colleges are still unsure what the answer is to the question of how to support a trainee if, after six months, there is no job or apprenticeship for them to progress onto”

Moreover full-time vocational education is not only a route young people and parents understand but one which feels right to them. We would do well not to try and ‘fix’ an area of the system that isn’t broken by focusing on traineeships at the expense of everything else.

Colleges will continue to explain to young people the full range of choices available to them and continue to deliver a full range of vocational qualifications.

Employer engagement, while something we take very seriously, is well documented as complex and employers are difficult to engage. We have no barometer for how willing employers will be to work to enable traineeships at the same time as they are being exhorted to engage more with apprenticeships and adult skills provision.

And, even if they do, colleges are still unsure what the answer is to the question of how to support a trainee if, after six months, there is no job or apprenticeship for them to progress onto.

Finally, the 157 Group’s concern about the quality criteria being (inconsistently) applied to delivery is well documented. For many young people this year, a traineeship will not be a reality on the basis of geography alone. It will once again be left to colleges to deal with their disappointment and confusion.

So – how ready are we? As colleges, impressively so, if you focus on the nuts and bolts of what is undoubtedly a good idea. At a system level however more work is needed to ensure that all the elements of a world class VET system are in place.

Lynne Sedgmore, 157 Group executive director