Job Centre Plus (JCP) staff have been set a “target” of 10,000 traineeship referrals amid concerns the youth unemployment programme had not been promoted to benefit claimants because it extended their time out of work, FE Week can reveal.
The figure, to be achieved within 12 months from August this year, was disclosed in documents released following a Freedom of Information request.
It is split into “planning assumptions” [see below] for England’s 28 JCP districts, but a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said they did not represent targets despite, according to the documents, telling JCP staff to “ensure steps in place to achieve allocations.
There had been concerns that JCP staff were not putting benefit claimants on the programme because it affected their search for paid employment in the meantime.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal said: “We have heard of many examples of where JCPs have not referred clients because they are concerned that traineeships are too long and will delay people getting off benefits.
“Providers are creating flexible programmes that ensure young people get the skills they need to sustain employment in the long term and JCP must support this process. It is good that JCP will set targets for referrals, but this should not become a numbers game.”
The Statistical First Release published on November 26 showed there had been 10,400 traineeship starts during 2013/14 — the programme’s first year.
Dr Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for development and research at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “We have found that referrals to traineeships, by JCP staff, have been relatively low.”
She added: “We are in the process of capturing the good practice that exists between JCP and traineeship providers and will use this to develop support materials to help work coaches identify suitable participants. This will be invaluable in improving levels of awareness and understanding among JCP staff. It will improve partnership working between local JCPs and providers.”
Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager for the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “We are discussing with DWP how colleges can support JCPs in achieving these targets.
“We’re pleased to see the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [BIS] and DWP working more closely as this allows for a more holistic approach in supporting people who are unemployed.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “There are no targets, but we want to help as many young people as possible to improve their skills and move into work. Traineeships are key to this, so as the programme grows we will be referring more young claimants to it.”
He declined to comment on claims about JCPs not referring clients to traineeships. A BIS spokesperson declined to comment.
A job for now or job skills for life?
Just under a year ago FE Week reported how Job Centre Plus (JCP) staff were turning 18 and 19-year-olds away from traineeships because enrolment would put their benefits at risk.
So it’s an odd situation to now hear of JCP staff having apparently turned potential enrolments away from the programme because it might actually extend their time claiming benefits.
This would have presumably taken place because chasing a job, any job, might appear more attractive to JCP staff than claimants developing lifelong employability skills while remaining in receipt of benefits.
But, in the week Ofsted revealed its view of traineeships as being one in which “the numbers involved are extremely low,” we learn the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now appears on board to push the programme.
Its target (let’s not kid ourselves it’s anything else) of 10,000 referrals will come as welcome news to the providers putting their time and effort into a programme that should always have had the full backing of those in charge of JCP staff.
These are the very staff who regularly deal with those for whom the traineeship programme was developed — young people with little or no job experience and employability skills.
It’s wrong to deny these people the chance to develop the essential skills to win and hold down a job.