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When, in 2012, the government first signalled their intention to launch the Traineeship programme, I and many others in the sector gave the proposal a warm welcome. With its focus on employability skills and English and maths linked to a genuine period of structured work experience, I felt that it provided an ideal opportunity for young people to reach the first rung on the job ladder whilst at the same time acting as a stepping stone on to the Apprenticeship pathway.

The news this week that in the first six months of the scheme, only 3,300 people have started on the programme is therefore hugely disappointing. With unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds remaining above 900, 000, this level of uptake is going to have very little impact.

The government’s response is that the programme “is off to a good start”. If that’s the case, I dread to think how they define failure and if a potentially valuable programme is not to fall by the wayside, we need to understand very quickly why less than 130 people per week are taking up these opportunities.

I think the problems can be divided into 3 areas

  1. A Simple Idea Which Quickly Became Complicated

One of the great benefits of the Traineeships when the idea was first floated, was their apparent simplicity. This meant that potentially the scheme would be easily understood by employers and could be implemented quickly. However, as the proposals took shape, various caveats and conditions started to appear and the seed of confusion was sown.

Firstly the government decided that initially, Traineeships would be limited to 16-18 year olds thereby ensuring that people who had probably been out of work for the longest period were denied entry. Although the restriction was withdrawn, the damage had been done. Meanwhile, confusing rules were put in place around the rights of learners on the programme to continue to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA). Up until a few weeks ago, 19+ learners faced losing their JSA if they did more than 16 hours training a week. A similar rule limiting 18 year olds to just 12 hours training a week before losing their JSA, remains in place.

Confused? Well, there’s more to come because JAS claimants are currently  limited to an 8 week job placement period, although this can be extended to 12 weeks if a job is imminent

  1. Do Employers Know About Traineeships?

With such a plethora of eligibility restrictions, it’s hardly surprising if employers are hesitant about embracing the scheme. But recent research by NIACE (https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/opinion/more-visibility-traineeships-essential) suggests that the majority of employers simply don’t know that the programme exists. Whilst many saw the potential benefits, not a single one of the 14 employers interviewed by NIACE was aware of the programme.  Clearly this represents a huge communication gap and one that has to be addressed rapidly if the whole project is not to become yet another failed initiative.

  1. Is There Enough Clear Water Between Traineeships and Intermediate Apprenticeships?

Whilst we all want to encourage SMEs to embrace both Traineeships and Apprenticeships, ultimately the success of the initiative will be dependent on the response of the large employers. If employers such as McDonalds, BT and Rolls-Royce who have won widespread recognition for the quality of their Apprenticeship programmes and train thousands of apprentices every year, were to make similar commitments to Traineeships, they would provide the impetus that the programme so badly needs.

We have to ask therefore why few if any have chosen to do so.  I suspect that the main reason is that Traineeships simply don’t fit into their overall strategy.  Many of these companies have proven routes into their Apprenticeship programme. In effect, they have created their own “stepping stones” and simply don’t require the Traineeship proposition.

Arguably, there is also potentially a considerable overlap between Traineeships and Level 2 Apprenticeships (similar English and Maths components for example). You have to question whether a learner who may have reached an acceptable level of competency during a 12 week job placement and also achieved a Level 2 Functional Skills qualification in English and Maths, would gain much more from then starting afresh on an Intermediate Apprenticeship programme. Personally I doubt it and I suspect that many major employers have reached a similar conclusion.

A Four Point Plan To Kick-Start Traineeships

As a born optimist who firmly believes that the difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is simply a question of how you use them, I’m keeping the faith with Traineeships and still believe that they can play a key role in tackling the skills crisis. But to achieve that, we need some new thinking and a new plan. So for starters, here’s my proposal:

  1. Drop the 12 hour per week training restriction on 18 year-old JAS claimants. It serves no purpose
  2. Similarly, drop the 8 week restriction on job placements for JAS claimants and encourage employers to offer a minimum of 12 weeks. Two months is simply not long enough for a young person to get to grips with the complexities of the work environment
  3. Challenge the 400+ employers who have signed up to the Employer Ownership Trailblazers Scheme to also champion Traineeships  and produce a one-page plan to make the programme a success in their sector
  4. Reposition Traineeships as modules within a Level 2 Apprenticeship.  Learners who successfully complete a Traineeship would have the added motivation of knowing that they were also well on their way to completing an Apprenticeship programme

Could it work?  I don’t see why not. So let’s stop kidding ourselves about the programme being “off to a good start”. It clearly isn’t and we need to take corrective action now, not in 12 months’ time when it will be too late.

 

 

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

 

 

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This blog was first published by Westminster Briefing and many thanks to them for doing so.

I have always believed that Apprenticeships were not so much about a qualification, but more an opportunity for young unemployed people not just to get a job, but to develop a successful career. Many of these people are, for whatever reason, carrying a negative experience of education and Apprenticeships have represented a chance to re-engage with them and show that learning can be both valuable and fun.

However, I always felt that the Apprenticeship ladder, now stretching through to Level 6 and 7 qualifications, was missing a vital first rung. Last year, when the government quite rightly implemented a series of quality improvements to the Apprenticeship framework, the bar was set even higher.

I was therefore delighted when at the end of 2012, the government announced a consultation process for the proposed Traineeship programme. Here I felt was that vital missing link and the key to unlocking the potential of Apprenticeships. The suggested content of the course – robust work experience, employability skills and a focus on Functional Skills in English and Maths – seemed totally appropriate. It was also clear that employers would become the beating heart of the programme. This was a proposal which seemed sensible and timely in light of the recently published Richard Review of Apprenticeships. Moreover, rather than the procrastination and continued delays which blighted the implementation of Functional Skills, the government seemed committed to having the programme up and running within a rapid if demanding timeframe.

So far, so good. But sadly, since the plans were published early in May this year, concerns and confusion have started to creep into what should have been a very straightforward concept. Firstly, the government chose to initially limit Traineeships to 16-18-year-old learners. Like many of my colleagues across the sector, I was bitterly disappointed by this decision. Whilst it barely seems fair to seek priorities amongst GREETS (I prefer “Getting Ready” to the negative connotation of NEETS – “Not in Education, Employment or Training”), surely it is the 19+ age group that is most vulnerable, most disillusioned and most likely to become unemployable without the appropriate skill training?

So when the government reversed this decision as part of the recent Spending Review, there was widespread relief and a feeling that a level playing field had now been set. It was therefore particularly frustrating to be presented with a revised Framework for Delivery document shortly thereafter. This was because the release of the framework revealed that eligibility criteria for 19-24 year olds would be more demanding than for 16-18 year olds, with learners in the former group deemed ineligible for Traineeship funding if they had already achieved a Level 2 qualification.

Leaving aside the flawed rationale behind these latest restrictions, which appear to suggest that for some reason 16-18 year olds are more likely to need to complete a traineeship, these differentials in learner eligibility will simply plant more confusion at a time when clarity is desperately needed. There is common agreement that employers are central to the success of Traineeships and our experience, having worked with a wide variety of major companies, is that they want programmes which are simple and straightforward to manage and which do not disadvantage specific groups of learners.

It is particularly ironic that these latest restrictions were made public the day after Nick Clegg announced a review of options available for 16-24 year olds, following the release of a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research. This found that the plethora of existing schemes was failing to deliver sustainable results. By adding unnecessary restrictions to Traineeships, I believe we run the danger of simply adding to this list.
Whilst I don’t believe that Traineeships will provide a cure-all-ills panacea for the problem of youth unemployment, I remain convinced that they could play a major role in providing young people with a genuine chance of a career. To do that we need a scheme which is easy to understand and manage and which treats all participants as equal, no matter what their age or previous achievements

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

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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

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With those 5 words, Steve Jobs defined his vision for the iPod.  It is easy to see how such a vivid yet ultimately simple picture would have inspired his workforce. What I don’t know is to what extent Apple employees were involved in creating that vision or were simply told what it was.

I raise the question because recent research is showing that levels of employee engagement are falling, not just in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe and the USA. At MindLeaders, my previous company, we consistently obtained scores above 90% in surveys where we tested employee engagement. I believe that was partly because like Steve Jobs, we had a very clear vision of where we wanted to take the company. But more importantly,  that vision had not simply been articulated to our people, they had had the opportunity to help create it and to contribute significantly to the culture and values which underpinned that vision. It’s a philosophy and a strategy which we will duplicate within our new company, Creative Learning Partners, as it builds and develops over the coming months.

So in the light of the current heated arguments about reforms to the UK education system and the U-turn over the EBacc, the first thing I wondered was whether Michael Gove had a genuine vision for the system and more importantly, could he articulate it to all the stakeholders in a few inspiring words and had he involved them in its creation? I suspect that the answers to those 3 questions are “Maybe”, “No” and “No”. Mr Gove has set out a radical agenda which depending on your viewpoint is either the kick-start that a broken system requires, or a return to the class-based system of the 1950’s. What concerns me isn’t so much as to whether he is right or wrong but the fact that he would appear to have made no genuine attempt to involve practitioners in defining his vision for education. Whilst a Conservative Education Minister and the teaching unions are hardly likely to be bosom pals, there surely should be greater efforts to find some common ground.

Take for example, what to my mind are two  of the biggest problems we face in the UK – the deficiencies in basic maths and English skills in young adults and the huge disconnect between the needs of employers  and the skill base of potential employees.  Few people would argue about the depth of this crisis so is not possible to seek a common vision as to how we address this issue and then agree a comprehensive strategy to implement it? I would argue that currently all we are seeing is a series of piecemeal initiatives without a common thread and with only grudging support from those whose job it is to make them work.

So I worry about the proposed Traineeship programme due for implementation in September this year.  Potentially I think it is a hugely exciting development but where does it fit in to the overall plan (assuming that there is one!). Whilst I welcome the inclusion of a discussion period currently underway, the danger is that that this discussion will take place in isolation since few of us are party to where this initiative sits within the wider context of our education and skills system.

Sadly our Education system, like our other great institutions, will always to some extent be a political football, subject to the philosophies of the party in power. But that shouldn’t prevent us from being given the chance (if we wish) to buy into a shared vision. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do that at the moment because I have no idea what that vision is. We can’t all be a Steve Jobs but we can all paint pictures and share them and our political masters should be doing so far more frequently.

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

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