Purpose: This paper problematises the experience of trainee teachers in further education (FE) colleges in England. It focuses on colleges as employers and developers of their own teaching staff, 90 per cent of whom are trained "in-service", while in paid employment. The paper aims to explore how a shift towards more expansive workplace practices could better develop these teachers and contribute towards enhancing the learning culture in FE. Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on data gathered from two instrumental case studies of FE colleges focusing on the experience of in-service teachers training in the workplace. Using Fuller and Unwin's expansive-restrictive framework, the paper draws on qualitative data from interviews with trainee teachers, teacher educators and human resource managers. It critiques the current practice of colleges as employers and considers alternative strategies for workforce development. Findings: This research finds that in-service trainee FE teachers are expected to cope with heavy workloads almost immediately upon commencing employment and that these trainees are required to quickly make the transition to full practitioner. Consequently, opportunities to develop are restricted, often leading to conservative practice. There is evidence of the prioritisation of expedience over the development of professional knowledge and creative practice, a scenario that this paper challenges. Research limitations/implications: This is a small-scale qualitative research project based upon two colleges within a large and diverse sector of employment. As such, its findings do not claim to be representative of workplace practices experienced in all FE colleges. However, the research gives informed insight into some of the challenges trainee teachers are likely to face during the early stages of their employment. Practical implications: The paper identifies strategies to challenge current practice and to enhance the work-based learning experience of trainee teachers. Originality/value: This paper considers FE colleges primarily as employers and explores the consequences of their employment practices on new teachers as both trainees and employees.