The number of young people starting a traineeship dropped for the first time this year, official figures reveal.
Between August and January, 600 fewer people started a traineeship than in the same period 12 months earlier, according to statistics from the Department for Education – the number falling by 5 per cent from 12,400 to 11,800 starts.
This is the first time the number of young people embarking on a traineeship has fallen compared with the same period in the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of apprenticeship starts in six months between August 2016 and January 2017 stands at 258,800.
Traineeships were introduced in 2013 as a gateway qualification for students hoping to move onto an apprenticeship. But providers have raised concerns that restrictive rules on benefits mean many potential trainees are being deterred from traineeships by the risk of missing out on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), while others have refused to offer traineeships because of concerns about how the programme is funded.
In many cases, providers would be required to invest in additional staffing and infrastructure for traineeships with no guarantee that government funding would be forthcoming.
'The epitome of social mobility'
Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for further and higher education, said traineeships were a fine idea – but more young people needed to complete the programme if it was to become a success. “If we are to expand the number of quality apprenticeships, that we all want to expand...then we’ve got to be able to get a larger number of young people who, at the moment, don’t compete easily for those apprenticeships because of whatever’s happened to them at school,” Mr Marsden said.
Mr Marsden, whose party's general election manifesto calls for the introduction of an “official pre-apprenticeship trainee programme” to replace traineeships, believes the main problem with the qualification is that it was introduced without sufficient incentives or marketing to entice FE providers to deliver it. “So, not surprisingly, it was very sluggish,” he added.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the drop in trainees was “disappointing” – but, with investment from government not guaranteed, eligible providers were in two minds about delivering the training.
“Traineeships are the epitome of social mobility, which is why providers are so keen to increase the number of opportunities available,” Mr Dawe said. “But this requires investment and providers can’t afford the risk if there is no certainty on sustainable funding. The government must demonstrate similar enthusiasm to really make the programme fly. We need responsive growth funding and accurate measurement of success in respect of apprenticeships, jobs and further learning.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 26 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.