Make no mistake, this week’s decision to close the national traineeships programme for new starts from August 2023 is an absolute disaster.
A scheme which does so much to promote opportunity for the most disadvantaged should not be in line for the axe – and diverting its funding instead to the 16-19 study programme and adult education is a hammer blow to thousands of 16 to 18 learners.
The government’s own research shows that traineeships are extremely effective. Around three-quarters of all trainees have successful outcomes – either taking on work, starting an apprenticeship or further study – within 12 months. This compares to fewer than half of all non-trainees. The scheme’s flexible nature means it can be tailored to meet local needs- something employers really value.
Government have cited poor take up as the reason for axing traineeships. That is true, but there is a context! Unlike other programmes, such as Kickstart, there are no learner incentives attached to the scheme. So no surprise there.
The cost-of-living crisis is driving behaviour too, so it’s hardly a shock there hasn’t been a huge rush for a programme with no immediate financial benefit for the learner. AELP has long called for government to focus on increasing participation through better promotion of traineeships and introducing incentives for learners – instead of removing choice. Sadly, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Disappearing traineeships = disappearing opportunities at entry level
Lots of things about this decision worry me, but I am particularly worried about the impact this it will have on social mobility. The biggest beneficiaries of the traineeships programme have been school leavers with low previous rates of achievement.
The programme offered this group meaningful work experience alongside relevant on-the-job training – as well as support to improve their English, maths and digital skills.
The government are yet to publish an equality impact assessment on scrapping traineeships, but given 33 per cent of participants come from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 23 per cent have learning difficulties or disabilities, this is such a short-sighted move.
I am also very concerned that this announcement is made against a backdrop of reforms at level 2 and below where funding could be removed from up to 90 per cent of qualifications for young people.
Given traineeships were previously heralded as the alternative to a level 2 business admin apprenticeship pathway, the impact of scrapping traineeships at the same time level 2 and below qualifications are being significantly scaled back will severely limit skills provision at entry level. This could have a catastrophic effect on the people that need skills training the most.
Lack of engagement with employers or the skills sector
It is disappointing that ministers and officials did not consider it necessary to engage with the skills sector or employers on the future of traineeships. A meaningful consultation could have led to a solution which would not have caused such a backlash. One large employer I spoke to yesterday was horrified by the decision – and the lack of any consultation or communication – as they had traineeships firmly embedded in their workforce planning which they would now have to revisit.
As part of the plans, the government is also proposing to end contracts for independent training providers who have a 16-18 traineeship contract – there are 136 of them – but not a wider 16-19 study programme contract. Inevitably strips out specialist expertise and capacity for supporting both young people and the government’s social mobility agenda. We must not lose that expertise – these are providers already approved and trusted to offer provision to young people by the government.
To land this on the sector, out of the blue, would be a bad one to land at any time of year but I have to say, this is a truly terrible time to make such an announcement.
We’re about to head into a Christmas break after a really challenging year. Coupled with rising costs, the additional financial strain caused by such an abrupt end to contracts may well be too much to manage for some providers – especially if they have fixed costs such as leases for premises.
These plans will provoke many, many questions about what happens next, and send a lot of staff working for providers home for Christmas worried about their livelihoods. Rushing this announcement out less than a fortnight before Christmas will make it nigh on impossible to get the prompt answers providers, employers and learners deserve.
Creating more opportunities for young people should be a priority of any government, especially one who have talked so much about the ladder of opportunity. Scrapping traineeships is a big mistake – and AELP will fight for this decision to be reversed.