Jane Hickie

The government has made a sizeable investment to underpin the Prime Minister’s “Opportunity Guarantee” announced last June to give every young person “the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement” to boost the economy and bounce back from the pandemic. The potential financial commitment to Kickstart, apprenticeship employer incentives and traineeships is close to £3bn which is hardly pocket change.

A lack of coherency between the range of government-backed initiatives are threatening to undermine the Prime Minister’s commitment

However, a lack of coherency between the range of government-backed initiatives are threatening to undermine the Prime Minister’s commitment. The announcement about the Kickstart scheme in the Chancellor’s Plan for Jobs back in July last year arguably broadsided some in government who struggled to articulate where the new scheme sat within the existing portfolio of programmes. It also reopened some pre-existing tectonic policy plates between the DWP and DfE which have hampered providers trying to develop progression pathways to take individuals into employment and onto skills training.

Unfortunately, the lack of proper skills training on Kickstart is yet another example of a long-term lack of joined-up thinking between government departments to properly prepare and support young people in the transition to employment and into further education. For 16 to 18 year old participants on Kickstart, there is no formal commitment to training aside from some generic employability skills. 19 to 24 year olds may be eligible for subsequent training through the Adult Education Budget, but this was never made clear at the start and appears to be an unintended benefit rather than an integrated approach baked into the design from the start.

The pandemic has also highlighted the frustrating speed of deliverability at times that government can work at to deliver on bold and aspirational commitments

The pandemic has also highlighted the frustrating speed of deliverability at times that government can work at to deliver on bold and aspirational commitments. With Kickstart after a relatively prompt introduction from a standing start, the programme seems to have hit a logjam following significant employer demand. We’ve seen a row back on using gateway intermediaries and only a few thousand young people actually out on their paid work placement. Having seen apprenticeship opportunities being initially displaced, some Kickstart employers have become disillusioned with frustrating delays and they are circling back towards offering apprenticeship opportunities, which itself is not a bad unintended consequence. After all an apprenticeship is a full-time job with a structured programme of high-quality training attached, as opposed to a 6 month paid work placement, leading to a better outcome for both the individual and the economy.

In the Budget, Rishi Sunak continued to throw his weight behind traineeships which are an important programme for young people and not just a short-term solution for responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Traineeships themselves should act as a blueprint as they effectively bridge the gap between employment and skills and remain a highly effective pre-employment programme.

Traineeships are the first proper programme that takes unemployed young people, provides them with a work placement and technical training with which they can transition into a job and career

Last year AELP urged a strong degree of caution with the DfE exploring a repositioning of traineeships as a full-blooded pre-apprenticeship programme which they have never been, remembering that the three outcome aims of the programme include progression into work, further education or an apprenticeship. The latest development of sector-specific traineeships is not a new concept and many providers have been running highly effective informal sector-specific traineeships in adult care, childcare, hospitality, retail and many other sectors for many years. However, having the option to closer align sector-specific traineeships with apprenticeship standards, (subject to avoiding any funding rule pitfalls on recognising prior learning) can make traineeships the first proper programme that takes unemployed young people, provides them with a work placement and technical training with which they can transition into a job and career.

Finally, on apprenticeships, how very welcome it was to see a substantial increase in employer incentives in the Budget. For employers taking on a new hire 16 to 18 apprentice, the total incentives available for the next 6-month period equate to £4k per young person. Even with the increase to the apprenticeship minimum wage coming in April, this now roughly equates to 60% of the salary cost of a typical apprentice on a level 2 apprentice which is a very attractive proposition for employers. We must though ensure that the routes into apprenticeship are firing on all cylinders to enable the best outcomes for employers and most importantly young people too.

Jane Hickie is chief executive of Association of Employment and Learning Providers

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