Traineeships are most commonly viewed as a means of taking on youth unemployment, but, asks, Fiona Aldridge, could they also help answer skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and maths?
Traineeships, apprenticeships, higher standards and better qualifications were four key priorities outlined by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock in the recently-published Skills Funding Statement.
But six months into traineeships, a key finding of research published by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) last week, was that while providers and employers alike recognise the potential of the programme in supporting young people into the workplace, a lack of awareness, particularly among employers, risks jeopardising the positive contribution that traineeships might make.
Traineeships undoubtedly have great potential.
The combination of its three core components — work preparation, a work placement and English and maths support — has been shown to make a substantial impact in enabling unemployed young people to take their first steps into the labour market.
Given the fundamental role of employers in offering work placements, this lack of employer awareness needs to be addressed urgently.
In partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, Niace has been exploring how the traineeship programme might be an effective means of securing better access to science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) job roles for young people.
While Stem skills are considered to be critical to future national growth and employment, it is widely recognised that there is a shortage of Stem skills in the UK workforce and that, in particular, more needs to be done to attract young people.
Our research was located in the Dorset local enterprise partnership area, a dynamic concentration of Stem activity.
Traineeships will be most effective if Stem skills strategies are included within local economic and skills planning
Bournemouth and Poole College manages an active engineering and manufacturing employers’ forum of more than 200 members and also recently opened a Stem centre.
The purpose of locating the research in a particular Lep area was to explore whether localised planning and implementation would further support the potential of traineeships to address local labour market needs and meet both current and projected Stem skills shortages.
The overarching recommendation of our research is that traineeships will be most effective if Stem skills strategies are included within local economic and skills planning.
Integration of traineeships (and other programmes such as apprenticeships) into these plans will enable targeted and co-ordinated local implementation, avoiding duplication of activity by different learning providers and introducing a systematic approach to engaging Stem employers, while also ensuring that the content and delivery of traineeships at a local level, meets their skills needs.
By adopting such an approach, providers will benefit by directly engaging local Stem employers in discussions about the contextualised maths provision that they would like to see delivered through traineeships.
This will also mean they are able to work more easily with employers to plan and arrange work placements that provide young people with the most meaningful and worthwhile experiences of Stem workplaces, at the start of what we hope would be lasting and fulfilling careers.
We believe that Stem-focussed traineeships have the unique potential to benefit young people, employers and the economy — both at a local level and nationally.
If planned and delivered effectively, they have the potential to provide clear progression pathways to Stem jobs, meet employers’ Stem skills needs and contribute to social inclusion and growth agendas.
The enthusiasm is most definitely there. All of the employers we spoke to could see the potential positive impact traineeships could have on, in particular, addressing local labour market shortages of skilled workers.
The big challenge is that this potential will not be realised while the majority of employers are still unaware of the traineeship programme.
Hopefully National Apprenticeship Week started the process to give traineeships a similar level of attention as apprenticeships.
Fiona Aldridge, head of learning for work, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education