Last week, the government published its long-awaited plans for the much hyped Traineeship programme, designed to provide a new path into the workplace for the nearly 1million young adults who are currently classified as GREETs (Getting Ready for Education, Employment or Training). The framework, to be completed within 6 months, comprised a robust and structured work placement, a set of basic employability skills and Functional Skills in English and Maths up to Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE A-C grade).
The programme was designed largely in response to concerns expressed by employers that they were unable to fill existing vacancies because the applicants simply didn’t possess the basic skills which they felt to be essential if they were to succeed. Traineeships have been subject to an extensive consultation process during the last 4 months and we were very pleased to be given the opportunity to contribute to that process.
So now that we finally have some detailed plans available, what conclusions can we draw about the likely success of the programme?
Employers’ Role is Vital
Firstly, I am delighted to see that employers will play a key role in the delivery of Traineeships. This scheme will only work if employers get behind it and if it gives learners the skill set they require to gain a job and develop a career. It is right therefore that employers should be the beating heart of the scheme and can ensure that traineeships deliver what is required in their sector. My hope is that Traineeships will provide the missing first link in the Apprenticeship programme and that successful learners will go on not just to get a job, but to start a career.
Functional Skills is a Key Component
Secondly, I am very pleased that Functional Skills in English and Maths are clearly going to be a central component of Traineeships. As a specialist Functional skills provider, this is perhaps not surprising but it is pleasing to have our view that these core skills are critical for future success, confirmed by the government.
I am equally pleased that the government has taken on feedback and no longer expects Trainees to achieve a Level 2 in Functional Skills. The wording from the original discussion document has been changed to “working towards a Level 2” and this subtle but important modification makes a lot of sense. We have to accept that many people starting a Traineeship will be lacking in confidence and motivation having had a negative experience with these subjects at school. Our challenge, which we are happy to accept, is to prove that learning English and Maths can be fun and valuable but we need more time than a Traineeship will provide to help these people to achieve the equivalent of a GCSE A-C grade in both subjects. We’ll tackle that one when they start their Apprenticeship programme.
But What About 19-24 Year Olds?
So why not three cheers? Well, I do have one serious concern and that is the fact that initially, Traineeships will only be available for 16-18 year olds and for learners with special difficulties up to the age of 25. Whilst it is sad and worrying that any young adult is classified as a GREET, surely the priority is those slightly older people in the 19-24 year old cohort, who have probably been out of work or education for a longer period and whose life chances are slipping away even faster than their younger compatriots.
Whilst the government has signalled its intention to address this group next year, I think a real opportunity has been lost. The issue, as ever, is probably funding. 16-18 year old Traineeships will be funded from existing work study programmes but there is no equivalent pot of money for older learners and the SFA will no doubt rightly claim that their budgets are fully allocated. However, governments have a habit of suddenly finding additional funds when the need is really pressing and I think that the launch of such an important programme, warranted a loosening of the purse strings.
But Let’s End on a Positive Note
Notwithstanding those concerns, I am delighted that Traineeships have arrived and my congratulations to Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, for turning an idea into a fully operational scheme in such a short period of time. We look forward to working with our corporate clients to make the scheme a real success. This cannot simply be a question of massaging the unemployment figures. We have to see it as a genuine opportunity to provide as many young people as possible with the real chance of a fulfilling job and career.
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills