From education to employment

Traineeships, the case for change

Iain Salisbury, CEO, Aspiration Training Ltd

A couple of weeks ago I sat in Westminster, listening to fellow providers and employers involved in Traineeships.

What hit me hardest was the lack of any debate or argument.

I was attending a meeting with AELP and the Shadow Skills Minister, Gordon Marsden MP, and I was expecting a range of opinions on what was wrong with Traineeships and how the government should fix them, but all I heard was clear consensus on both the immense value of Traineeships and what needs to change.

So what is a Traineeship?

“Traineeships are designed help young people who want to get an apprenticeship or job but don’t yet have appropriate skills or experience.”


Sounds good and many people reading this will be more than familiar with them, however a key problem we have is too many people who have never heard of Traineeships and there is a lack of promotion on what was a flagship government programme.

Traineeships have been all but forgotten it seems and that will ultimately lead to many young people and employers not being able to benefit from the programme.

Beyond promotion of the programme there were three clear areas which were letting Traineeships down:

  • The allocation of funding and ability for providers to grow the provision
  • What the programme is measuring
  • The funding rules that lead to poor service for learners and employers

Many people have spoken about the importance of funding Traineeships properly so I won’t labour the point but, to be clear, the unit funding is not a problem, it is the long-term planning.

Funding should be allocated over multiple years allowing a steady growth in the programme.

Traineeships feel like a gamble; if we grow learner numbers will we get paid?

Will we have sufficient funding next year to fund even a stable occupancy of learners?

If we want a successful programme, plan it and fund it.

Even if funding is a difficult area to tackle the key things for me, that is completely within the control of the ESFA, is how we measure the success of Traineeships and what the funding rules are that govern them.

So how should we measure a programme that is “designed help young people who want to get an apprenticeship or job”?

Maybe on the success of learners getting an apprenticeship or job at the end of the programme would be the right way?

Indeed, for the past few years, the then SFA intended to measure the programme in this way but this year they have decided it is better (or easier) to measure on qualification achievement rates.

This is not the point of the programme and it is not what employers want.

We know the “soft skills” we help our Traineeship learners’ gain and the ability to act the right way in a work environment, is what employers demand and that is what makes the difference in getting these young people into work.

Many of these young people have had a poor experience of studying for qualifications, they tell us they feel written off, stupid and even the thought of studying for a qualification in classroom is enough to make them turn and run.

We build confidence, we show them a different way and it works.

In our Traineeship Programme, over 80% go into work and many of them into apprenticeships.

What gets measured gets results.

We want jobs and apprenticeships for our Traineeship learners and that is what we should measure.

The current measures mean young people who would benefit from the programme are effectively excluded from participating and we measure the collection of certificates and not progression into jobs.

If we put the funding and measures to one side we now need to look at the rules.

Funding rules are important and we need good controls on programmes ensuring value for money.

However, there are too many rules that end up simply stopping good practice and are counterproductive.

What is needed is a responsive programme.

As with most things in life, and certainly in programmes for harder to reach young people, one size doesn’t fit all.

So here are my top three things we should be allowed to do on a Traineeship Programme, and I should add learners and employers find it hard to believe these common-sense things are not allowed:

  1. If an employer wants to pay the learner whilst they are on work experience, that should be allowed.
  2. If a job is secured prior to 6 weeks on programme, this should be celebrated not, as it is now, been seen as the provider failing as the young person is not on programme long enough.
  3. If in some cases it takes longer than 4 weeks to prepare a young person to go on work experience placement, then so be it.

Not everyone starts from the same place, some people need more time and support than others. 

Let me give you an example, Joanne was a learner that at the start of the programme had such high levels of anxiety it meant she couldn’t speak to strangers.

After six weeks with a lot of support and encouragement she started a placement, her Mother was amazed, Joanne said we had changed her life, under the funding rules this was a failure as Joanne should have started placement within four weeks.

Rules lacking in common-sense means the programme loses credibility, we risk damaging social mobility by, in effect, preventing providers from working with the learners that need the most help.

We should remember Traineeships are a great success with higher rates of young people going into Apprenticeships and other jobs than many longer and more established programmes.

We can make it even better though by:

  • Promoting this great programme and committing to it with a long-term funding plan.
  • Measuring the right thing, the thing we really want this programme to achieve; getting young people into Apprenticeships and jobs.
  • Let providers do the right thing for their learners, let them teach them the skills employers want and support the learner’s complex needs and not tie them to qualifications and artificial timescales.

Most of all when the experts who deliver this programme, the learners and employers they work, all agree on what needs to change, listen to them, act and together we can make things better.

Together we can continue changing young people’s lives for the better.

Iain Salisbury, CEO, Aspiration Training Ltd

About Aspiration Training Ltd: A specialist training provider focused on delivering high quality Traineeship and Apprenticeship programmes across England and Wales. 

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