With one-in-five people aged 16 to 24 out of work, traineeships are the government’s new hope for improving young people’s skills and knowledge to thrive in the employment marketplace. Rob Wye looks at the English programme and compares it with the one on offer in Wales.
Traineeships are the latest in a series of government initiatives aimed at improving the skills and employability of young people in England.
They have existed across Europe for some time under various names, with differing economic and social factors inevitably affecting their success in tackling youth unemployment.
A little closer to home, traineeships have existed in Wales since 2011, and a comparison of the two systems offers an insight into whether the policymakers in England have got it right.
Simplicity is a yardstick by which education and training providers measure the effectiveness of a programme, and the design of traineeships in England is considerably simpler than some of its European counterparts.
While funding rates and eligibility differ depending on age, the make-up of an English traineeship is the same across the board — a quality work placement, English and maths, and work preparation, undertaken for between six weeks and half a year.
However, as the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ chief executive, Stewart Segal, recently expressed, the restriction of traineeship provision to providers rated outstanding or good by Ofsted diminishes the potential for the programme to reach as many young people as it could.
This is especially pertinent in more deprived areas, where Ofsted grades may not necessarily take into account the learners’ distance travelled.
Welsh traineeships are funded by the Welsh government and the European Social Fund and, unlike England, trainees are paid a wage.
The impact of payment cannot be underestimated, incentivising and motivating young people to invest their energy in a programme, which in turn will undoubtedly impact on outcomes.
Another difference is that those not ready for work can take part in community projects to build their confidence and competence in working with others, while learners with more experience can study up to level three through the Steps to Employment programme. This flexible approach ensures learners have the best chance of finding employment.
A recent review of the Welsh traineeships and Steps to Employment programmes highlighted that, as always, improvements can be made.
The lack of improvement in Welsh learners’ English and maths skills is less likely to be replicated in English traineeships, where numeracy and literacy are central to the programme.
Traineeships in Wales can be confusing for both providers and learners as they are available at different levels with different names and age restrictions, flexibility around work experience and qualification levels, and no minimum or maximum durations.
Traineeships in Wales are only available in eight sectors and through 16 providers, whereas in England, traineeships are available in any area where an employer can provide a high quality work placement.
An informal survey of Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (Cache) providers indicated a lack of desire to jump straight into traineeship provision, instead waiting to see if the benefits would outweigh the costs.
Considering the plethora of policy and funding reforms over the last 12 months, the reticence is understandable.
However, traineeships have the potential to be of enormous benefit to sectors such as childcare, where employers are predominantly micro or small and medium enterprises.
The mooted changes to the apprenticeship funding system could see these organisations unable to afford the cost of delivering apprenticeships, whereas traineeships may provide a more cost effective way of future-proofing the workforce.
Each system has its benefits and drawbacks, but undoubtedly traineeships are a positive step towards reducing youth unemployment.
By incorporating the rigour and flexibility of both programmes, the solution both governments are seeking may be found, giving young people the skills, confidence and motivation to take their first steps into sustained employment. That can only be of benefit to all involved.