Stepping stone to work is 'too rigid'
Funding chiefs have stepped in to protect a job skills scheme for young people who leave school without qualifications.
Training organisations complained that local learning and skills councils put them under pressure to complete the Entry to Employment (E2E) programme in 22 weeks - even though many trainees require more time.
Now, the quango's national office says it has clarified the rules with its local offices to ensure trainees can stay in the scheme for more than 22-weeks if necessary.
The E2E scheme was introduced three years ago for 16 to 19-year-olds who are not ready for further education or work-based learning. It provides a stepping stone to apprenticeships or jobs with further training.
Employers say the 22-week limit had been enforced more rigidly since September.
Voluntary-sector bodies such as Rathbone, which helps young people without training or work, say they do not have the same flexibility as larger training providers that run alternative courses.
According to Rathbone, which runs E2E at 29 training centres across England, local LSCs have been driving down the average time that youngsters spend on the programme, risking the possibility that they end up without employment, education or training.
Last year, a quarter of trainees who joined E2E at Rathbone took more than 22 weeks to complete the programme. This year, the average stay has been cut from 25 weeks to 20.
Like Rathbone, Community Service Volunteers tries to juggle its trainees so they spend an average of 22 weeks on E2E.
But Colin Wilson, head of training at CSV, said many cannot make the jump to an apprenticeship course after 22 weeks. "If it's a ladder, there's a couple of rungs missing," he said.
Other voluntary-sector bodies, including Fairbridge, the Prince's Trust and Rainer, avoid E2E and devise their own programmes for youngsters requiring special support.
Jenny Butterworth, spokeswoman for Fairbridge, said: "Twenty-two weeks is too much of a quick fix. It's throwing good money after bad."
The Department for Education and Skills and Connexions last year agreed to try to reduce the proportion of 16-19s in the NEET (Not in Employment, Education and Training) group from 10 to 8 per cent by 2010.
Joan Richardson, director for foundation learning at the LSC, said the council accepts that some people learn in "small steps" and require longer to complete E2E. The 22-week figure, she said, was only intended as funding guidance rather than a rigid policy rule.
"It's up to local offices how they manage work-based learning," she said.
"It's not our intention that E2E should be limited to 22 weeks. Some providers are offering 38 weeks."
The LSC hopes to clear up the confusion by running nine regional events during the next two months, although the LSC stresses that some youngsters need other options to E2E.
Ms Richardson said: "We will be working with providers and LSCs to ensure that every place that is available on E2E is used."
Richard Williams, chief executive of Rathbone, said he was delighted the LSC had clarified the position, but said it must change the pricing mechanism for E2E to avoid similar problems arising next year.