Preparing young people for work by developing a pre-apprenticeship offer

Apprenticeships are becoming ever more high-profile as the Government develops strategies to tackle the country-wide skills shortage. 

The Government wants to create three million new apprenticeships by 2020 and colleges to provide two-thirds. Credit: Fotolia 
They are a job plus training, available at a variety of levels from intermediate to degree, and many students are choosing them as an alternative to further academic study. 
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Students can earn while they learn and work towards a specific trade, but this can be a challenging environment for a 16-year-old who is fresh out of school. Some young people will take to the working environment immediately, but others will need more preparation. 
This is where a pre-apprenticeship programme, based on existing traineeships, would come in. It has long been AoC’s contention that the Government should introduce this type of programme as a way to provide young people with the skills to undertake an apprenticeship, while also providing a better-skilled workforce for employers.
The concept of a traineeship is a good one. It is a course that provides education, training and work experience to help a young person, who is perhaps not quite ready, to prepare for employment.
A pre-apprenticeship programme would do the same thing, but clearly indicates that the intended destination is an apprenticeship, which is more attractive to young people.
The benefit of a traineeship is that it gives an opportunity for the young person and employer to gain experience of each other through a short-term agreement rather than an ongoing job. 
The student gains work skills and the employer has a chance to judge the trainee’s potential. At the end of the placement the employer should offer the young person an interview and feedback. This may lead to a job with this employer if a vacancy exists and at the very least provides the young person with an employer reference.
What a traineeship does not include, however, is the flexibility for it to be longer. It is currently a maximum six-month course and the student, college and employer must stick to that. But that time frame won’t work for everyone; some young people learn faster than others. For some, six months will be more than enough; others may need longer.
The Association of Colleges has always said that while traineeships are good, what is needed is a more comprehensive pre-apprenticeship programme tailored to meet individual needs – where colleges decide the length and content of the course to suit the trainee and the employer.  
Pre-apprenticeship programmes must meet the needs of a wider range of young people; those who are work ready, but have yet to find an apprenticeship, and those who would like to get into work, but need to develop their employability skills.
Students enrolling on a pre-apprenticeship could be at any level – some will have qualifications at Level 2 or 3 (the equivalent of GCSEs or A Levels) and simply require help to find an apprenticeship to suit their employment aspirations.
However, some may have Level 1 skills (less than GCSE) and require more preparation time to develop their written English and maths, communication skills and teamwork.
The publication of the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, led by Lord Sainsbury, and the launch of the Government’s Post-16 Skills Plan, offers some hope that the sector’s demands will be met. 
The review focuses technical education around 15 occupational groupings or routes starting at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE). Those young people who are not ready to access a route will start on a transition year to prepare them for progression. 
Traineeships will form part of this transition year for those young people who are aiming for an apprenticeship or employment but are not yet ready for this step. 
It is stated that consideration is being given to a more variable time period of six months to a year. This would be welcome. Rebranding it as a pre-apprenticeship programme would also clarify its purpose.
The Government wants to create three million new apprenticeships by 2020 — and colleges to provide two-thirds, but it must remember, as highlighted in the Lord Sainsbury report, that not all young people are ready for a job plus training. It needs to create a solid training scheme to support a variety of young people into work.
Pre-apprenticeships need to include opportunities to develop the skills that employers’ value; the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and customers or clients, work as part of a team, solve problems and use maths in context. 
These skills can be developed through project work, volunteering and a focus on English and maths at college. Tasters in the technical subject will also help engage the young person, bringing career aspirations to life. 
A work placement, preferably in the sector of the young person’s choice, is crucial to ensure that they can confirm that this is the area in which they want to work. 
This gives them an insight into the importance of essential work practices such as being punctual and following instructions.
Some young people will be ready for a work placement as soon as they sign up for a pre-apprenticeship, but others will need time at college to build confidence or work readiness.  
Most important is sourcing appropriate placements. The Lord Sainsbury report argues for greater investment in technical programmes and recommends enhanced funding to enable colleges to source and support work placements. 
This is vital for pre-apprenticeships too. A good work placement can inspire a young person into a career, but a poor or inappropriate work placement can put them off and defeats the object.
A strong pre-apprenticeship programme needs support from employers, with a willingness to accept trainees and students on extended work placements. This experience also needs to be meaningful; students need to have the opportunity to engage in real life tasks and projects, not just observe or perform mundane activities.
The Government must recognise that if it is to meet the target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, it not only needs young people who want to do an apprenticeship, but also those with the skills to take on an apprenticeship with an employer and complete it. 
Setting up a broad pre-apprenticeship programme will mean that both these aspects come together and create the highly-skilled workforce that is needed to strengthen the UK economy. 
About the author 
Catherine Sezen is the Policy Manager for 14-19 and Curriculum at the Association of Colleges.


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