The government has scrapped its flagship pre-employment skills programme following years of low starts, it has been confirmed.
Halfon said: “The traineeship programme has been running for nearly 10 years and the number of starts has remained relatively low.
“It is right, therefore, that we focus our offer on our mainstream provision. This change will make it easier for young people and employers to navigate our skills offer and will enable providers to better tailor their programmes to deliver the key skills needed to drive growth in local communities.”
From August 1, 2023, provision previously delivered through the traineeships programme will be “integrated” in to 16-19 study programmes for young people and the non-devolved adult education budget for adults. Mayors with devolved skills powers will decide what’s best for their areas, the statement says.
Official figures published last month showed there were 15,500 traineeship starts recorded in 2021/21 – just 36 per cent of the 43,000 target. It comes despite the Treasury investing £126 million in traineeships in 2021/22 and £111 million being pumped into the pre-employment programme the year before, when 17,400 starts were recorded against a target of 36,700.
Halfon points to “great alternatives” to traineeships, “such as T Levels and the T Level transition programme, bootcamps, apprenticeships, and sector-based work academies.”
However the body representing training providers as slammed the government’s decision as “an unmitigated disaster for social mobility.”
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:
“Axing traineeships would be incredibly short-sighted. The government’s own research on traineeships shows their effectiveness. Around three-quarters of all trainees have successful outcomes – either taking on work, starting an apprenticeship or further study – within 12 months.”
AELP has warned that the government’s plans to end funding for those currently with a 16-18 traineeships contract, but not a wider 16-19 study programmes contract “could be the final nail in the coffin for many” providers in light of rising costs of delivery in the training market.
Of the 136 providers with 16-18 traineeship contract allocation in 2021/22, only one, South West Regional Assessment Centre Limited received a wider 16-19 contract as a designated special post-16 institution.
“To announce this decision, without any form of consultation – and right before Christmas – is incredibly poor form,” Hickie said, adding: “Coupled with the planned level 2 and below reforms, this could be an unmitigated disaster for social mobility, by limiting access to skills training at entry level.”
Earlier this year FE Week revealed that more than half – £65 million – of the 2020/21 traineeships budget had to be handed back to the Treasury. A bigger underspend is now expected for 2021/22.
Some 290 training providers and colleges currently receive procured or allocated budgets for traineeships, ranging from £3.2 million at Strode College for 19-24 traineeships (procured) to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which was allocated £5,500 for 19-24 traineeships.
Introduced as a flagship pre-employability programme in 2013, eligible 16 to 24-year-olds were funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency for pre-employment training and unpaid work placements from six weeks to one year, although most last for less than six months.
But traineeship starts have been on a rapid decline, from a high of 24,100 in 2015/16 down to just 12,100 in 2019/20.
Ministers saw traineeships as a good route to help get young people back into training and work after the Covid-19 pandemic and decided to back the programme with more funding.
Officials have made numerous pleas with traineeship providers to rapidly boost their recruitment over the past two years.
But providers have often warned that the lack of learner incentive means that traineeships are currently limited to those willing and able to take on a placement without getting paid.
Others have argued that other government programmes that do offer payment, like Kickstart and apprenticeships, have systematically displaced traineeships.