Faced with regular reports and news stories of how some young people are ill-prepared for the world of work, last autumn the government launched its flagship traineeship programme to tackle youth unemployment. The programme, which can last up to six months, is designed to support those young people who want to work, but who need extra help to gain an apprenticeship or a job, providing them with opportunities to develop skills and gain the vital and realistic experience of the workplace that they need.
Traineeships undoubtedly have great potential. The need for a focused, yet flexible programme that supports young people to gain an apprenticeship place or access employment is well documented and there is widespread agreement that its three core components – work preparation, a work placement, and maths and English support – can make a huge difference in enabling unemployed young people to make the transition to stable employment.
Six months into the governments’ traineeship programme, however, a key finding of research undertaken by NIACE in collaboration with the Gatsby Foundation, is that while both education and training providers, and employers, recognise the potential of how traineeships could be effective in supporting young people into the workplace, a lack of awareness of the programme, particularly among employers, risks jeopardising the positive contribution that traineeships might make.
The research, Can, and How Might, Traineeships Work for STEM, within the Context of a LEP area?, has a particular focus on whether the traineeship programme might be an effective means of securing better access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) job roles for young people, although many of the lessons learned could also be applied across other sectors of the economy. While STEM skills are considered to be critical to future national growth and employment, it is widely recognised that there is a shortage of these skills in the UK workforce and that, in particular, more needs to be done to attract young people to consider careers in STEM sectors and job roles.
Worryingly, not one of the fourteen employers interviewed as part of the research had previously heard of traineeships. However, all of them could see the potential positive impact that the programme could have on addressing their labour market shortages. Given the fundamental role of employers in offering work placements, it is vital that this lack of employer awareness is addressed urgently in order to support government in its efforts to achieve greater social inclusion and much-needed reductions in youth unemployment.
We believe that traineeships can play a unique role in benefiting 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 stable employment, meet employers’ skills needs and contribute to social inclusion and growth agendas. The challenge is that this potential will remain unrealised while the majority of employers are still unaware of the programme.