The traineeship programme has suffered from a lack of funding, “mixed signals” and a failure from the government to put its money where its mouth is, according to Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for further and higher education.
Mr Marsden, speaking to Tes at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) annual conference in London today, said the theme of the government’s FE and skills strategy must be “progression, progression, progression”, and that failing to focus on this would "deny tens of thousands of young people" the chance to improve their lives.
“I have made a constant theme of my time as shadow FE and skills minister and indeed it's true in HE as well, which I also cover, is that it’s got to be about progression, progression, progression," Mr Marsden said.
“If we don’t get a step change in the number of young people who can’t get on to apprenticeships at the moment because they haven’t got the wherewithal to do so, and don’t get that additional confidence, soft skills, enabling skills, specific skills…during the programme, like the traineeship programme, then we are not going to…get the step change which we have to get to improve our skills, productivity,” he added. “And you just look at the situation compared to our EU competitors and we are in dire straits. And that, of course, will deny tens of thousands of young people, and older people as well in some cases, better life chances.”
Mr Marsden said traineeships had suffered from “mixed signals”. “They’ve constantly either not funded it, [or] they’ve changed it,” he said. “Nick Boles ummed and ah-ed: was it for employment? And if you send out mixed signals to people then they’re not going to want to make commitments to take them up…you just need to have that clarity.”
When asked if this confusion still persisted, Mr Marsden said: “I think it does persist and the fact is you have to put your money where your mouth is. And they didn’t put any money, or mouth for that matter into…traineeships…this lack of clarity, and you just see what the impact is in terms of the falling data.”
'Turning a cloth ear'
Earlier in the conference, Mr Marsden told delegates that, in terms of opportunities for progression, the Department for Education had “turned a cloth ear” to the needs of thousands of young people.
“Whether by design or by lack of joined-up thinking, DfE and its officials have consistently turned a cloth ear to your priorities and the needs of the tens of thousands of young people who need the progression, jobs and life changes your sector can provide,” Mr Marsden said.
“As I have consistently said, it’s crucial the government utilises traineeships as a key point of entry to get far more young people competitive… traineeships were and are a fine idea but more young people need to complete those programmes if it’s to be a success," he added.