Tripling traineeships: Large colleges refuse to rise to the challenge

More than two-thirds of colleges in England chose not to run any traineeship programmes in 2018/19, FE Week can reveal.

The news comes as some of the largest college groups say they have no intention to deliver the pre-employment scheme despite a significant funding rate increase and an extra £111 million to triple starts this year to over 40,000.

Part of the government’s strategy to combat a rise in youth unemployment is to increase traineeship starts but the Department for Education recognises that the current provider base alone will not be sufficient.

A freedom of information request for the latest provider-level data shows that 113, or 68 per cent of all 167 general FE colleges, recruited no traineeships in 2018/19.

The vast majority of traineeships are delivered by around 150 private training providers and Skills Training UK topped the table in 2018/19 with 950 starts.

Of the 54 colleges that did deliver the programme in that year, 21 delivered fewer than 20 starts.

Some colleges subcontract to private training providers and with 330 starts, Eastleigh College saw the most collegefunded traineeships in 2018/19.

A tender to bring on board more providers, such as from the apprenticeship sector, was announced in July but has yet to be launched after suffering from delays.

Traineeships are funded for 16 to 18-yearolds from the study programme budget and for 19 to 24-year-olds from the adult education budget.

Introduced in 2013, the funding pays for an unpaid work placement for up to six months and this year the funding rate for 19 to 24-year-olds has risen from £970 to £1,500.

Employers are now entitled to receive up to £10,000, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee that they take on.

There has also been a change to the eligibility criteria for trainees this year, allowing people with level 3 qualifications, such as A levels, to participate.

Additional flexibilities have also been introduced to encourage take-up, with the minimum work placement hours reduced from 100 to 70 and allowing placements to be split across two employers.

FE Week asked the 10 colleges with the largest cohorts of young people in England that did not offer any traineeships if they planned to change this following chancellor Rishi Runak’s funding boost. Six said they had no intention of offering the scheme, three declined to comment and just one had plans to start delivering them.

Why are colleges continuing to turn their backs on traineeships?

Capital City College Group, the largest college group in London, said they are not planning to deliver traineeships in 2020/2021 because they have not found the programme to be “beneficial to our students” and it is “too restrictive to support the needs of the individual” even with the new flexibilities.

The group created a number of alternative pre-apprenticeship programmes some years ago which “utilise study programme and adult education budget funding streams appropriately” and will continue to offer those instead.

Sunderland College said they are “unable to secure employer commitment to traineeships as a model in the north east generally”, which has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19.

A spokesperson added that they have also decided not to offer traineeships because there are now multiple government initiatives, such as the Kickstart scheme, which “run the risk of confusing employers and asking too much of them, particularly at this challenging time”.

West Herts College in Hertfordshire, Chichester College Group in West Sussex and South Thames College in London all said they would not be expanding into the traineeships market this year owing to a lack of demand from employers and potential students.

And Activate Learning, which has seven colleges spread mainly across Oxford, said they would not be applying to the government’s tender at this time as “we feel there are other priorities of much greater scale and need”.

Nottingham College, EKC Group in Kent and New City College in London all refused to comment.

The one large college that said they would start offering traineeships this year was Harrow College & Uxbridge College.

A spokesperson told FE Week: “We currently have a cohort of high-quality apprenticeship candidates, particularly in the areas of accountancy and construction, where the impact of the coronavirus has resulted in a reduction of paid apprenticeship opportunities in these industries.

“We are therefore looking at traineeships in these areas as a substitute route to increase the chances of the trainees securing an apprenticeship in the future.”

HCUC’s spokesperson added that the “increased flexibility” in access to traineeships, particularly with entry now being allowed up to level 3 as compared to level 2 previously, will “enable broader uptake for both employers and students”.

Traineeship starts have been on a rapid decline, from a high of 24,100 in 2015/16 down to just 14,900 in 2018/19.

Data for 2019/20 only currently covers the first three quarters of the year and shows 11,000 starts.

Colleges have historically struggled to offer the programme.

Asked if the Association of Colleges is now actively encouraging its members to get more involved in traineeships this year, senior policy manager Teresa Frith said: “We remain optimistic about the funding for traineeships and hope that an expanded and more flexible traineeship branded programme to provide a re- or pre-employment offer will go hand in hand with a renewed effort to offer more apprenticeships, which have been hit hard due to the pandemic.

“AoC continues to work with EFSA to ensure colleges are aware of the procurement opportunities, employer incentives and how the delivery framework will help providers.”

A DfE spokesperson said the National Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus are “making sure as many young people as possible are made aware of fantastic opportunities traineeships offer, including how they can help them to get ahead in a
range of exciting industries”.

She added that the DfE is also working “at pace” on the procurement for traineeships for 19 to 24-year-olds and options for new providers to access 16 to 19 traineeship funding.

The spokesperson insisted the tender has not been delayed but is being run at an “accelerated timetable”, explaining that a
procurement process of this type requires a “significant amount of due diligence”.

However, she admitted that the procurement was expected to run over the summer, with the aim of having contracts in place as “early as possible in the academic year”.

Some colleges have been able to buck the trend when it comes to offering traineeships in recent years, and told FE Week that they will continue to increase their delivery this year.

How to deliver traineeships successfully as a college

London South East Colleges delivered 100 traineeships in 2018/19 and said it was working hard with employers to use the government’s new incentive payments.

Neil Coates, vice principal for adults, apprenticeships and partnerships at the group, explained that their success in the pre-employment programme can mostly be attributed to the college’s “strong employer engagement strategy – employer advantage – which takes a membership approach” and “ensures that we develop strategic relationships rather than transactional ones”.

He said the college group’s traineeships have also been positively impacted by the decision to put all of their employer-focused teams into one department, which has “ensured that the teams work collaboratively with curriculum colleagues to ensure any student at risk of dropping out is identified quickly”.

In addition, LSEC’s programme of traineeship starts are profiled across the year – which links directly to their drive on
apprenticeship recruitment. “Therefore, when a candidate applies for an apprenticeship vacancy, but is not quite ready for a full apprenticeship, we support them onto a traineeship programme,” Coates said.

Weston College in Somerset delivered 150 traineeships in 2018/19 and is “definitely” planning on delivering more this year.

A spokesperson said their traineeship model is delivered in-house by a specialist team, with “extensive experience” working with learners at a “crossroads in their educational journey”.

Weston’s traineeship delivery is “regularly reviewed using Labour Market Intelligence, in the concept of ‘career creation’ with bespoke traineeships pathways created around sector, employer and regional need, to ensure recruitment levels are sustainable in sectors with potential for high growth”.