ESFA plan traineeship funding tender despite history of tendering woes

The Education and Skills Funding Agency is to launch a tender to “quickly” widen the provider base for adult traineeships despite a recent history of botched procurements.

It follows chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement that the government is to invest £111 million to triple the number of people taking part in the pre-employment programme as part of the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

Details about how the ESFA will manage new traineeship opportunities for 16 to 18-year-olds have not been finalised yet but the agency promised the plans will be published “shortly”.

The procurement to deliver 19 to 24 traineeships, which are funded through the adult education budget, will grant successful providers additional funding but there is no launch date yet.

The ESFA said it will be looking for providers with the capacity to start providing “high-quality” traineeships “quickly” through a ring-fenced contract for service.

The tender will be handled through the Department for Education’s e-sourcing portal.

As well as an investment of £111 million for 2020/21, the ESFA confirmed that there are new flexibilities to widen access of traineeships. They include:

    young people qualified up to level 3 (rather than level 2 previously) are now eligible for a traineeship

    minimum work experience of 70 hours (previously 100 hours), with multiple employers if needed

    ESFA said it wants to see flexible content and qualifications that prepares trainees for progression to apprenticeships and jobs through a direct line of sight to the occupational standards

    an increased AEB traineeship learning aim cost of £1,500

    employers who offer new traineeship work placements will receive £1,000 per learner (up to ten learners) to support engagement and assist with costs such as the purchase of additional PPE for trainees

    traineeships can now last up to 12 months, allowing twice as much time on a programme for those young people with particular needs who need it

The ESFA said it will publish an updated traineeships framework for delivery and funding rules over the next month.

Introduced as a flagship pre-employability programme in 2013, traineeships are eligible for 16 to 24-year-olds and training providers are funded by the ESFA to deliver pre-employment training and arrange work placements.

But traineeship starts have been on a rapid decline, from a high of 24,100 in 2015/16 down to just 14,900 last year.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief policy officer Simon Ashworth said it’s good to see that the government is “not wasting any time” on its plans to boost traineeship numbers as “we will see youth unemployment shoot up as the furlough scheme unwinds”.

“The procurement should reward existing expertise and capacity among those providers who have stayed loyal to traineeships and turned them into a highly effective programme,” he added.

“But at the same time, it should allow quality controlled market entry to others to meet the new ambitious growth target.  AELP also hopes that the design of the revamped programme will be much more responsive to in-year demand.”

The decision to run another tender may concern some in the sector, especially those who were part of the previous AEB procurement run in 2017.

The tender was plagued with delays and had do be completely redone after the ESFA realised it was botched. And when the final outcomes were released most providers had their funding slashed – including one case of a 97 per cent cut.

Providers teamed up to threaten the ESFA with legal action before the agency found additional funding to top up contracts.

Later in 2017 the ESFA had more issues with its tender for non-levy apprenticeship funding. For example, the agency awarded a contract to an defunct provider but an ‘outstanding’ college was rejected.

And just last year, the ESFA delayed its European Social Fund tender three times following technical errors as well as claims the agency broke procurement rules which led to more threats of legal action.