The CEO of OCR tackles the UK’s crippling youth unemployment problem
There are just over one million “NEETs” – people Not in Education, Employment or Training – aged between 16 and 24 in this country. We need to get them into work. But there seems to be a gap in training and qualifications that means these young adults are not being taken on by employers when they leave school.
I believe traineeships can fill that gap. Before joining awarding body OCR, I was a further education college principal and I’d worked in government. That gave me a feel for what the government was trying to achieve with traineeships, and what an end solution might look like.
Ultimately, a traineeship should help someone who was a NEET to reach the point where they get an apprenticeship, or go into further learning, or into sustainable employment. That means making sure traineeships give young people the right qualifications, work experience and career confidence.
Workplace skills matter. Talk to anyone dealing with NEETs and you find that many of these young adults are not “oven-ready” for work, especially those who have never experienced employment. They have yet to develop an understanding of how important it is to be on time, be appropriately dressed, and to do what people ask you to do. A lot of young people starting a traineeship will need intense coaching about the world of work.
Alongside these workplace skills, qualifications are important to credit achievement and progression. Providing traineeships appealed to us at OCR because we offer the range of qualifications needed to make this work.
So while the government was deciding what a traineeship should be, we set up a programme based on what we believe are essential for successful traineeships: a mix of work experience and qualifications, with an emphasis on core skills like maths and English, as well as employability. A traineeship should also include modern job-seeking skills, such as social networking and creating an electronic CV.
MY KEY IDEA
A great number of young people in the UK are Not in Education, Employment or Training – so-called NEETs. Traineeships can close the gap between being a NEET and finding an opportunity to progress, by offering a mix of work experience, personal skills training and qualifications. Businesses should be more open to taking on trainees – they will be surprised and rewarded by these committed young people. Government should cut restrictions that stop more from doing traineeships.
Our pilot took place in Thanet and Gravesend, two areas of high long-term unemployment in Kent. We took on 25 individuals. After the 13-week course, almost all found apprenticeships, employment or further education opportunities; one got a job with an estate agent after selling a £400,000 house during his work placement!
Our trainees talked a lot about how the traineeship gave them new confidence and skills. They had all applied for jobs before the traineeship, but no business would consider them. Given an opportunity to take work placements as part of the traineeships, the employers came to realise that these people had potential. A significant number of the trainees were offered jobs by employers who had initially taken them on for work experience.
Through the pilot in Kent, we’ve proved that traineeships work and launched our own Cambridge Traineeship programme. The policy is there, the funding is there, now we need people to embrace this – both employers and training providers.
We at OCR can help colleges and training providers. They package our qualifications together to offer their own traineeship programmes. We’re a not-for-profit organisation, and our remit is to support good-quality education.
But there are still barriers to the widespread adoption of traineeships. A big challenge is getting employers engaged and willing to take on trainees for work experience. There is a lot of upfront work involved for training providers in trying to convince businesses to offer work placements.
Employers on our pilot admitted that it’s easy to forget how scary it is to start work. Yet once they had these young adults in their businesses, they saw how much they could contribute, because they are people who want to work.
From a business perspective, taking on a trainee is like getting the chance to interview someone over 12 to 14 weeks, while helping to shape them. It means that by the end of the traineeship you could take them on with confidence in their abilities and personality. Plus, you make your contribution to reducing the youth unemployment rate.
There are things that the government could do to support traineeships. The rule whereby you lose your Jobseeker’s Allowance if you work for 16 or more hours a week gets in the way of work-based training. The government could change that.
It could also open up entry to training opportunities. It has expanded the age range for those eligible for traineeships from 16-18 to 16-24, but it still excludes people with certain levels of previous learning. These restrictions should be lifted.
I believe traineeships are the way to match NEETs with the opportunities they need and very often deserve. I hope employers and politicians reading this agree.