Traineeships make a difference to young people, with research showing participants are more likely to be in a positive destination like an apprenticeship or further learning. They consist of things you’d expect in a good education and training programme, like work preparation and experience. We’ve shown how occupational traineeships at Hartlepool College and Intertrain have helped young people prepare for jobs in construction and rail.
On the face of it, then, isn’t it a mistake to end traineeships as a national programme? Yes, the government has missed its targets to treble numbers and returned unspent money to the Treasury. But isn’t the answer to better promote traineeships and provide more incentives and support to employers and young people, particularly given better funded programmes like Kickstart will have affected take-up?
As it happens, I think the government is right. To understand why, we need to step back to first principles.
What are we trying to achieve? Our aim is to reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training. This stands at around 700,000, down since the pandemic but still too high.
Lots of organisations are trying to engage these young people, including Jobcentre Plus (for those aged 18-24), councils, colleges and independent training providers. They do great work, but I think the lack of a joined-up plan and clear offer can hold us back. Too often funding rules make us think in silos about programmes that risk requiring young people to fit around policy rather than vice versa.
And the multitude of programmes, often with overlapping rules and eligibility criteria, can make it difficult to see the wood for the trees.
Surely it’s better to work with young people to agree what’s most likely to help them into education, apprenticeships or employment? Which is actually what the government says it’s trying to do.
Instead of being a relatively small standalone national programme, helping about 15,000 people a year, the money for traineeships will be rolled into the budgets for 16-19 study programmes and the adult education budget. If providers think traineeships, or elements of them, are the best support for particular groups then they can do them.
But there’s a few things to watch out for.
First, I’d like this to be the first step on a path to simplification. Could Bootcamps be next? What’s our ultimate ambition? For example, the Local Government Association argued for a single pot of money underpinned by agreements on the outcomes this would deliver and then freedom in how these would be delivered. Can we reduce the number of funding pots colleges and training providers have to deal with, with a greater focus on education and work outcomes?
Second, we’ve long argued for a Youth Guarantee, ensuring every young person is offered a job, training place or apprenticeship. That would require local and national government to work together with providers on a joined-up plan – making sure young people get referred to the right support for them regardless of which bit of the system they engage with.
Third, we need to make sure that in making this switch we don’t lose great provision or providers that are delivering fantastic traineeships now. And we need to make sure this is a real and sustained increase in funding. We’ve already shown that higher-than-expected inflation is a stealth cut of £850 million in adult skills funding over three years. The public finances are tight, but investment in education and skills is good for the economy and social justice.
Traineeships made a difference. It’s now up to providers and devolved areas to make sure all young people get the support they need.