The government’s announcement that 19 to 24-year-olds will, along with 16 to 18-year-olds, be able to do traineeships has boosted hopes of tackling youth unemployment, says Stewart Segal

Let’s be clear first that traineeships represent a major opportunity to tackle the NEET issue.

The Spending Review announcement that from August 2013, the programme will cover 16 to 24-year-olds is excellent news.

We may be disappointed that from the onset at least, the Ofsted grade requirements may be unnecessarily restricting the provider supply base. And judging by the size of the 2013-14 contract allocations for independent providers, only a limited number of young people are going to benefit to begin with.

But we have to start from somewhere and recognise that we are operating in the toughest spending round in 30 years. It is the potential of traineeships to make a major difference over the longer term which we should welcome.

For the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the key win in the programme’s design is the flexibility that it gives to providers.

They can give the individual a personalised programme of training and work experience based on the young person’s real, identified needs and make the person attractive to employers.

This approach will help to secure young people either a place on an apprenticeship or a job where they should receive some form of further training.

Using Ofsted grades alone for provider eligibility is not the best measure”

Apprenticeships are the optimum outcome, but all job outcomes should be regarded as good.

At the recent AELP national conference, one of our North West members reported that his young clients want a job above all else and therefore it is pleasing that traineeships will give them the opportunity to secure one. The new programme adopts many of the principles we have supported: flexible structure (ie the ‘black box’ approach); firmly focused on work; mix of work skills and work experience; and key skills such as English and maths. For it to succeed, it must be based on good initial assessment, flexible support for learners and a focus on outcomes.

The announced extension of the traineeship programme to age 24 will ensure a sufficient scale and profile to address the big issue of youth unemployment.

The extension should bring in many more work-based learning providers able to engage with enough employers who are willing to offer work experience to young people. The adding of the 19 to 24 cohort means that many apprenticeship providers and with them their very large employer client base should now be able to offer support.

We recognise the programme should be of high quality, but using Ofsted grades alone for provider eligibility is not the best measure. We are happy to work with the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency to look at ways to widen the delivery while maintaining high quality.

Otherwise we are excluding employers who have good working relationships with providers that are restricted from delivering the programme. The other significant downside of the current restrictions is that they are encouraging more subcontracting than is necessary.

Our proposal is to maintain the Ofsted grade one and two as a first threshold, but for grade three providers to have a wider set of benchmarks to provide the evidence that they can deliver a high quality programme.  Some examples of this evidence might be Ofsted grade one or two for this specific area of work, excellent success rates, and evidence of good delivery of Department of Work and Pensions programmes. Once approved, a grade three provider might also expect a more regular scrutiny of their outcomes.

Our member providers already engage with 638,000 employers on apprenticeships and other skills programmes. We believe that by working closely with the government to improve on the solid foundations already laid, a wide range of sectors and a high number of small and medium-sized enterprises can become involved in traineeships. We must grasp the opportunity.

Stewart Segal, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive