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Charlotte Bosworth

OCR

Director of skills and employment

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Traineeships: Towards a positive future

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Would changes to funding approaches for traineeships produce better outcomes or a more consistent experience for our young learners? Charlotte Bosworth, Director of Skills and Employment at awarding body OCR, comments on the recent government consultations.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee (BIS) launched its consultation into traineeship funding in June this year. The consultation proposed to change funding for training providers based on measuring a trainees’ ongoing progression into an apprenticeship, employment or further training post-course.

It is hoped that such a change will encourage better results and more positive outcomes for young people. The government has clearly placed traineeships at the heart of its effort to tackle levels of youth unemployment and has seen the number of people enrolled onto associated courses rise significantly in recent years as a result. The central question however, is whether a bespoke funding approach designed specifically for traineeship programmes, rather than the current arrangements used for standard further education courses, would be better suited to those providers offering vocational alternatives.

As part of a key awarding body and a stakeholder in the ongoing development and success of the education system, I have given much thought to the issues raised by the consultation exercise, and am keen to encourage the ongoing debate ahead of the release of the consultation’s findings later this year.

In answer to the central question concerning whether or not a greater focus is needed on positive outcomes, given that the focus of traineeships is to secure progression into apprenticeships, work or further study, then finding a mechanism to reward providers that are able to secure these destinations makes good business sense, encouraging competitive spirit amongst providers whilst improving the experience for students. Indeed, I would argue that positive outcomes post-traineeship is a clearer indication of quality programmes than pure retention or completion figures.

It should be remembered that some guidance currently exists for outcome-related traineeship funding for 19+ learners that complete qualifications and/or secure a job. The current gap in outcome-related funding exists in the 16-19 age groups, where non-academically minded students could most benefit from a vocational alternative. The government must therefore be careful not to create additional barriers that could dis-incentivise providers and employers currently offering traineeship programmes or places.

Consistency is key

The issue of consistency of funding between age groups is a most important one, underpinning this whole debate. The current divide between funding arrangements for 16 to 18 and 19 to 24 age groups is in itself, artificial, as most learners that require a traineeship programme have the same basic needs, irrespective of age. Furthermore, differences in funding rates and learner eligibility criteria will provide a barrier to the effective take up of the programme, negatively impacting upon those who require our support most. The search for greater consistency in the programme management – including funding arrangements and eligibility criteria – is vital, and could most simply be addressed through a single programme contract, similar to the current arrangements for apprenticeships.

In seeking to create greater consistency, I recommend the adoption of the funding approach currently used in the 16-19 traineeship model, rather than the qualification/learning aim led programme that is currently offered to 19+ providers.

Traineeships have an important role in re-engaging young people within the learning environment, gaining their trust and building confidence so that they feel enabled and empowered to progress into apprenticeships, employment or further learning. Given their focus on work experience, work preparedness and a basic grasp of English and maths, the focus of such courses should not be to prepare young people for a specific occupation, rather, they should provide students with essential and – absolutely key – transferrable work skills that young people really need to in order to enter and progress within work.

Of course, progression into apprenticeships, employment or further learning are the target outcomes following completion of traineeships, but in order to do this government policy should be more joined up in offering clear succession routes that are not hindered by policy or funding barriers. If a learner is able to access a traineeship at age 16, then there should be a mechanism to ensure progression into an apprenticeship should the learner wish to, on completion of the course. Indeed, consideration must be given to the case to providing incentives for employers who take on younger apprentices or support further learning more actively within their institutions.

As traineeships help young people to re-engage with the broader learning environment, we must also ensure that our definition of ‘progress’ is more clearly and openly defined. Traineeship programmes are in themselves, designed for people with little or no relevant work experience, but by exposing students to learning and providing them with active work experience, a course may well awaken an interest within a young person that leads to a different pathway than that expected at the start of the programme. Such positive outcomes need also to be recognised.

One of the biggest changes is a reworking of the work experience requirements, which seeks to remove barriers and allow more flexibility in how it can be done. Work experience is now expected to be between 100 – 240 hours, however, it is recognised that longer placements could be necessary to fully prepare a young person for work but this would be based on individual need. There will no longer be a need for work experience to be a minimum of six to eight weeks delivered consecutively.

The Government has now released its 2014/15 Traineeship Framework for Delivery, which seeks to expand on the traineeship framework, taking effect in August this year. The main driving change centres on identifying the lead employer for work placements within four weeks of the trainee starting the course, providing focus for the traineeship in order to provide the best experience possible. Traineeships still remain one of the most valuable tools in helping learners who are caught in a cycle of long term unemployment due to a lack of work experience. This has been clearly evidenced in the pilot scheme run by OCR in association with KATO, back in summer 2013.

Finally, a word of warning. While the principles and motivations behind the consultation’s definition of ‘successful’ outcomes appear reasonable, we must also examine the potentially perverse incentives that they create, i.e. an institution or training provider’s disinclination to enrol those trainees who need the most support and who also may have potentially low prospects of employment.

Overall, I am in favour of any move to improve the prospects for young people via education solutions enabling them to obtain the skills and confidence that makes them ready and able to make a positive contribution to the workplace. Traineeships have an incredibly important part to play in this, and we hope that the current consultation around funding such qualifications will help support our overall aim to create a more joined-up, bespoke and consistent learning experience for young learners.

I await the government response to the consultation with interest.

Charlotte Bosworth is director of skills and employment at OCR

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Charlotte Bosworth

Director of skills and employment

Read more from Charlotte Bosworth
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