Providers have been given three weeks to bid for a contract in the government’s 16 to 18 traineeships “market entry exercise”.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency finally launched the opportunity today in a bid to rapidly ramp up the number of young people taking part in the pre-employment programme.
A deadline of 22 October has been set for applications. The agency intends for providers to start delivery from the beginning of December and run until 31 July 2022.
Contracts worth between £100,000 and £300,000 are available, with £30 million in total up for grabs.
The agency has launched the exercise in the face of poor engagement with the scheme, which comes despite a target from chancellor Rishi Sunak to triple the number of starts in both the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years backed with almost £250 million.
A progress report for the Sunak’s Plan for Jobs was published earlier this month and revealed there were 17,000 traineeship starts last year – 46 per cent of the government’s 36,700 target.
Ministers hope to achieve 43,000 starts on the scheme this year.
The ESFA was relying mainly on colleges with 16-to-19 study programme contracts to ramp up their traineeships delivery but has now conceded they need to expand the independent training provider market to achieve significant growth.
Officials have been promising a 16 to 18 traineeship market entry exercise all year but has been slow to get it off the ground. This is despite the agency running a procurement to expand the 19 to 24 traineeship provider base, although that was beset with delays.
To be eligible, providers must be rated by Ofsted as either ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ and hold another ESFA contract for the 2021/22 academic year.
However, the agency said it will “consider existing traineeship providers that have a 19 to 24 traineeship 2021 to 2022 contract without an Ofsted grade one or two”.
Providers must not be in formal intervention, must not have been issued with a notice to improve, not be subject to an investigation for breach of contract and/or failed audit in the past three years, and not have a financial health grade of ‘inadequate’.
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said the opening of the market entry exercise is “incredibly welcome news”.
“If we are to have any hope of hitting the chancellor’s ambitious targets of trebling the number of participants on traineeships, it’s only right that independent training providers – who already have a great record of delivering 19+ traineeships – can support delivery at 16 to 18 too,” she added.
“The bid deadline is tight, so I would urge providers who are thinking of applying to do so quickly.”