Kwik Fit has come under fire from the National Union of Students (NUS) for running unpaid traineeships of up to 936 hours across five months.
An investigation by FE Week found the car servicing firm advertising “multiple” 16 to 18 vacancies “nationwide” on the government’s National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website.
But the advert, which said trainees would do a “maximum of 39 hours a week Tuesday to Saturday” for up to 24 weeks, was removed this afternoon after FE Week started looking into the posts.
However, it reappeared just hours later with an added line saying simply “most weeks will be less”.
“Expecting young people to be unpaid in a traineeship of up to 39 hours a week for a five-month period is unacceptable,” said NUS vice president for FE Joe Vinson.
“Unfortunately, it’s likely that this is just one example of the many organisations across all industries.”
A spokesperson for Kwik Fit, which had a turnover of nearly £640m for the year ending March 2012, defended its traineeship scheme.
He told FE Week: “Participants will spend their entire period training and will never work unsupervised and we hope that people will actually complete their training modules more quickly than the maximum period allocated.
“Our hope is that they will become Kwik Fit apprentices but whatever they decide to do, they will be far more ready for work than when they started with us.”
All of the 120 traineeship vacancies offered by firms advertising on the NAS website as of Tuesday were unpaid.
However, Kwik Fit was the only firm asking for more than 35 hours a week as part of their traineeship — the government’s flagship policy launched last month to reduce unemployment among 16 to 23-year-olds.
Kwik Fit, graded outstanding by Ofsted following its last inspection in June 2008, was also the only organisation on the website named as both the employer and training provider.
It is understood that the Skills Funding Agency will pay Kwik Fit an average of £1,250 to £2,000 per trainee.
Kwik Fit can run traineeships because it has an apprenticeship contract with the agency. The contract, which also funds traineeships, is worth nearly £2m for the current academic year.
The firm’s spokesperson said trainees would spend a total of around 10 days in the classroom or workshop and the remainder on-the-job, where activities would include tyre-fitting and stock-handling, among others.
To run traineeships, the government requires firms to offer a “high quality” work placement with English and maths qualifications offered, if needed.
They can take from six weeks to six months.
But, with no government requirement that trainees be paid, Mr Vinson said: “We are seeing an increasing amount of traineeships turn into what are effectively unpaid internships.”
The Kwik Fit spokesperson said: “We provide an industry leading apprenticeship scheme which delivers exceptional value to the tax payer.
“We receive 18,000 applications each year, however our experience shows that while some school leavers have the right attitude or personality, for one reason or another they aren’t quite work-ready.
“We want to help those people close that gap and get ready to take their first step on to a career ladder.
“We hope they succeed and go on to an apprenticeship with us, but there is no imperative for us to introduce traineeships — in fact the scheme will cost us more in time and resources than we will receive in funding.”
A spokesperson for the agency said Kwik Fit’s, “traineeship funding is calculated at individual learner level and is based on the number of hours planned for both the work placement and the teaching associated with the learning components.”
There is no suggestion Kwik Fit vacancies breach traineeship rules.
Editorial: Making traineeships work
Traineeships, as I said in my Newsnight interview, are a good thing — particularly given youth unemployment is on the rise again.
But let’s also be clear that the government has taken ownership of the term ‘traineeship’ and it is not intended to be a qualification-based programme.
It is a government-funded work placement scheme, with some work preparation and English and maths training where required.
The total time, most of which is likely to be the work placement, determines the amount paid to the training provider, in this case Kwik Fit.
So the tension comes from the government paying thousands of pounds in work placements for potentially unpaid trainees.
For traineeships to succeed, the government must protect learners from the threat of exploitation from both the training provider and employer.
When trainees are adding value in the workplace they should be paid, something the TUC argued as part of its Traineeship Charter, published last month.
And even when paid, it is also important that traineeships do not become an unnecessary and costly pre-apprenticeship programme.
The FE sector needs to work with employers to rally round the programme which, when done the right way, is the difference between being out of a job or developing the workplace experience and employer reference to get a job — and keep it.
Nick Linford, editor