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Traineeships: challenges and opportunties

We recently hosted a roundtable attended by employers, training providers and policy makers to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by traineeships as a route to employment.

27 April 2022

Last year the Chancellor announced a further £126m for traineeships in this academic year, with the aim of providing ‘vital’ support to help young people secure work. Here we outline some of the key discussion points, including what needs to be done to reform the traineeships system.

“I didn’t even know traineeships were a thing until I did my own research on post-16 options; but even then, due to the fact that no one ever spoke about traineeships, I never thought of it as something to consider for my future until my mentor introduced me to it”
– Sadia, trainee

Traineeships have the potential to provide young people who have prior lower attainment with valuable skills, training and experience necessary to enter the workplace. They are steppingstones to good jobs and higher earnings in the future.

The Government is currently reviewing and revamping Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications, with traineeships very much a key part of that. Done well, a traineeship – a 6 week to 6 month training programme, with built-in 70 hours of high quality work placement – can provide a gateway to future career progression. They build functional skills, deliver insight into particular careers, and vitally, provide work experience.

But there are some fundamental challenges that will need to be overcome if traineeships are to become the success that they should be.

Visibility

Traineeships are largely invisible to both young people and employers. For many school students, traineeships aren’t presented as an option. Apprenticeships have suffered from a similar lack of visibility, often being the poor relation to more tradition routes, especially University. Traineeships are arguably even less talked about.

Sadia’s experience demonstrates just how poorly traineeships are communicated in schools. It wasn’t until Sadia was forced to remove herself from mainstream education due to mental health concerns that she learned about traineeships. She remembers apprenticeships being discussed at school,  but recalls how all students were steered away from them due to limited progression routes into higher paid employment. Sadia was lucky enough to be linked with a mentor to support her needs during her gap year who explored traineeships as an option for her.  She’s never looked back.

For employers, traineeships are often perceived to be in competition with apprenticeships and T-levels. There are only so many social mobility programmes that an employer is willing to engage with, and with the lack of communication surround traineeships, they often slip under the radar in place of structured apprenticeships.

Flexibility

One of the big barriers to delivering successful traineeships is the requirement for 70 hours of work placement. Not only is this a barrier for the trainee, particularly as there is no requirement for the employer to pay the trainee for their work, but for employers it can often present a logistical challenge.

Incentives

Traineeships are not a guaranteed route to employment, though there is strong evidence that the majority of trainees progress on to further training or employment. Of course they can provide a vital stepping stone, but they are a less obvious route into paid employment than, say, an apprenticeship or even an employability programme.

The lack of wage presents problems. Whilst many employers pay for travel, meals and other expenses, few pay a salary for the work done. This can be a real disincentive for a young person and make other paid options, including low-paid, unstable work, a preferred option.

For a young person, looking to gain their first step into a career, a programme that has no salary, no short term gain and a perceived limited impact on their long term earning potential, is always going to struggle.


What needs to happen?

For traineeships to succeed and to provide that bridge for young people from education to employment into meaningful roles, there needs to be:

  • Greater awareness – for young people and employers
  • Greater flexibility – such as the possibility of moving the work experience element of traineeships online, meaning a young person from anywhere in the country could undertake a placement with a company based in an entirely different location. This would tie into the ‘levelling up’ agenda and ensure
  • Greater relevance and benefits: young people and employers need to see the benefits of traineeships – the key routes into apprenticeships or work post-traineeship.

With record vacancies and historically low employment, supporting school leavers into early technical careers through traineeships in high-growth sectors such as digital can only be a good thing.