Figures showing that an average of just 127 people started on the government’s new youth unemployment traineeship scheme every week have been described as “deeply disappointing”.
Shadow Junior Education Minister Rushanara Ali hit out after official figures showed that the programme saw 3,300 starts in the six months following its launch in August last year.
It is the first time traineeship numbers have been published and comes after statistics showed 912,000 young people aged 16 to 24 were unemployed in November last year to January — down 29,000 on the previous quarter.
The government said the traineeship figures may not be reliable, and insisted the programme was “off to a good start”.
However, Ms Ali told FE Week: “It is deeply disappointing that despite there being 912,000 young people unemployed, there have only been 3,300 traineeship starts in the last six months. These latest figures show David Cameron and Michael Gove are neglecting young people and failing to provide access to high quality vocational education.”
The numbers were published as part of the latest Statistical First Release (SFR), which came out on Thursday, March 27.
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesperson said: “Provisional data show traineeships are off to a good start with young people reaping the benefits.”
Traineeships, which combine work experience with maths, English and employability training, were designed help to 16 to 24-year-olds without experience or qualifications into work.
The government has previously said it had not set any targets for the number of traineeships, but in November — before any figures had been released — Ofsted’s FE and skills director, Matthew Coffey, nevertheless described uptake to the programme as “disappointing”.
The Department for Work and Pensions later relaxed a 16-hour rule that limited the amount of time Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants could train every week and keep their benefits.
Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “There’s been a slow start with traineeships, but the removal of the 16-hour rule will help make a difference.”
An Association for Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) spokesperson agreed amending benefit rules was important. He said: “We need to increase the opportunities available and improve on these numbers.”
The SFR also showed the provisional number of 25-plus apprenticeship starts for the first half of the academic year plummeted from 93,300 last year to 49,100. The BIS spokesperson linked the drop to the abandoned apprentice FE loans system. She said: “It was clear from application and starts data that 24+ advanced learning loans were not the preferred route for employers or prospective apprentices.”
The number of 19 to 24 starts also dropped, from 82,000 to 76,000. However, the number of under 19 starts rose to 71,100 from 69,600, but still down on 2011/12’s 79,100.
Break traineeship barriers
Most will have had a feeling that the numbers would have been low and so it proved.
Just 3,300 traineeship starts is far from a successful opening six months.
Despite great fanfare to get the programme up and running, problems were never fully ironed out.
Right up until March 1 — eight months after the programme had started — 19-plus trainees faced losing their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if they did more than 16 hours of training a week.
Meanwhile, a 12-hour rule limiting the amount of training that 18-year-olds can do every week and still claim remains in place.
And there’s also the issue of an eight-week rule, which limits the amount of time JSA claimants can spend on any work placement — although it can be extended to 12 weeks if a job offer is likely.
But with Neet figures remaining stubbornly high, and with the marker of 3,300 starts in six months laid down, the government needs to act to break down traineeships’ barriers to success.