Traineeships – untapped potential?



Traineeships, the skills development programmes that include a work placement, have been a hot topic throughout 2021. With the deadline for a new government cash incentive fast approaching, we thought it was high time we talked about traineeships in more depth. How successful have they been? What challenges do they face? Have cash incentives made a difference? And, most importantly, what can we do to ensure traineeships reach their full potential in the future?


The stats

As with all types of training, the pandemic has certainly impacted upon the number of traineeship starts. The academic year of 2019/20 saw an 18.8% drop in the number of traineeship starts from the previous year. With a drop in starts occurring every year since 2015/16 however, it appears that the pandemic isn’t solely responsible. So, what can be done to help these pre-employment programmes to flourish and get them back to the number of starts seen in 2015/16?


1. Commercial viability

A key factor for success in any government support scheme is to be able to recognise the value that the scheme has provided amongst the intended beneficiaries.

Ruth Johnson, BDM at Bud said “In order for a new system to flourish, all intended parties must feel the benefit. If any of those parties are not buying into that system, in this case the training providers, employers or learners, then the chain starts to break. Whilst there have been pockets of success with traineeships, it has not been widespread.”

In 2017, 85.3% of 19-year-olds had achieved a Level 2 qualification or higher. Consequently, the percentage of young people eligible to take a traineeship was fairly low. In the 2019/20 academic year, only 12,100 traineeships were started. This, combined with their short duration, gives an indication as to why providers struggle to make traineeships commercially viable.


2. Employer resistance

It is thought that employers believe the benefits of traineeships don’t balance with the investment. Ruth said “To use a well-known phrase, perception is reality. From the outset traineeships have been viewed as work experience in a shiny wrapper and I feel this perception has stuck. Generally, employers are not keen on work experience and have never felt it’s productive for them. Whilst the principle of traineeships is a very good one, they weren’t originally received in the way that was hoped. If traineeships are to truly take off, then we must first look at how to re-package traineeships, optimise their value and effectively communicate their benefits.”

Apprenticeships offer employers an additional set of hands for a relatively long time with the apprentice becoming more valuable over the period. Traineeships are much shorter and the trainee requires a high level of supervision, only just becoming productive when the programme ends. It could be argued that employers are investing in a pipeline of talent for the future when taking on trainees, but this argument seems hard to sell.


3. Lack of progression

Many providers have seen a lack of learner progression from traineeships. In the 2018/19 academic year, the conversion rate for traineeships to apprenticeships was 26.1%. With such low progression rates onto apprenticeship courses, many feel traineeships are not delivering to their full potential.

Ruth said “Whilst the conversion rate for traineeships to apprenticeships appears low, perhaps we are looking at things in the wrong way. We often see education as linear and as such we expect learners to progress through the levels i.e. Level 2, Level 3, Level 4 etc. Perhaps what is actually needed is more bespoke programmes for individual learners. Some learners, for example, may benefit from starting with an apprenticeship and then taking a ‘booster’ course which is the equivalent of a traineeship in duration. There’s no doubt that the conversion rate is a key statistic which needs further investigation, but perhaps we must first look to the courses themselves and see what fundamentally needs changing.”


4. Little demand

Those providers who have delivered traineeships over the past 8 years have reported little interest amongst learners. Traineeships are predominately aimed at those who have not achieved a Level 2 qualification. Apprenticeships are promoted in many schools as an alternative to the traditional academic route, but traineeships are mentioned far less frequently. If young people are to buy into the benefits of a traineeship then they need to be communicated to them.


Government incentives

What about the £1,000 employer cash incentive in January? Has that had any effect on the number of traineeship starts? It was hoped that this incentive would help the government to reach its target of tripling the number of traineeship starts by the end of this academic year. Has it been successful so far? Between August and January 2020/21, 8,800 new traineeship starts were recorded. Whilst this is a 4.8% increase compared to the previous year, the number of traineeship starts are still falling short of government targets.

More government incentives are now being introduced for training providers to deliver traineeships. Contracts worth £100,000-£300,000 are available with a total of £30 million being offered for providers delivering traineeships. It’s hoped that a total of 43,000 traineeship starts will be achieved this year.


The solution

So what can be done? How can the sector pull together to demonstrate the value of traineeships to learners, providers and employers? What incentive can be given to young people to make them want to partake in a traineeship? And how can schools promote traineeships as a credible route to employment so that young people see them as adding real value?

Ruth said “If traineeships can be branded in such a way that young people see them as an exciting opportunity, then the demand will follow. This will require the providers, employers and schools to promote them. There’s no doubt that traineeships and other pre-employment schemes need a clear communications plan, particularly for parents. With traineeships being targeted at the younger demographic, it’s likely that parents will play a part in a learner’s decision to take a traineeship. Communicating the benefits of traineeships to parents will, therefore, be crucial.”

Perhaps the more challenging task will be showing employers the benefit of traineeships. If the conversion rate to apprenticeships increases, maybe employers will see traineeships as providing more value? Offering a more personalised approach to traineeships may help with this. But how can this be done?


Disruptive Technologies

Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Artificial intelligence. We’ve all heard of them. But how can they help increase traineeship starts? These latest disruptive technologies will not only help offer a more personalised approach to traineeships but may also reduce the workload of employers making them more likely to take trainees on board.

Augmented and virtual realities could be used to provide learners with a unique and engaging experience. By offering learners the chance to undertake tasks in a risk-free environment, these technologies could certainly reduce employer workload and increase the likelihood of them taking on trainees.

Artificial intelligence could also be used to provide learners with a more engaging learner experience. With Bud, thousands of pieces of data are collected from every learner, every day. This data is providing the foundation for artificial intelligence that will one day enable us to know the best content to give each learner to match their learning style and optimise success. If traineeship success rates increase, perhaps more learners will be capable and motivated to progress to an apprenticeship thus creating value for the employer and the trainee.

There is no doubt that several barriers will need to be overcome in order to make traineeships a success. With such a powerful motive at the core of traineeships, however, there is certainly hope that this qualification can bring real value and improve the chances of young people both now and in the future.


Find out more about Bud

Bud supports in the delivery of traineeships as well as apprenticeships and AEB funded courses. To find out how Bud can benefit your training business, visit our website.


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