The government introduced traineeships in 2013 as a stepping stone for young people leaving school to either get into an apprenticeship, or directly into work. They offer a means for school-leavers to gain valuable work experience while filling in any academic gaps with the core subjects of maths and English. Provided by businesses and aimed at young people who are unemployed or have little or no work experience, traineeships give 16- to 24-year-olds a clear pathway into work. The programme offers the chance to gain specific skills in a job function the trainee is interested in, as well as basic digital skills if needed, and employability support such as how to write a CV and find a job. The scheme is unpaid but businesses typically cover a trainee’s expenses, such as for lunch and travel.
And the traineeship scheme has been incredibly successful: since 2013 it has helped nearly 120,000 young people get on the career path, and recent figures show that 66% of trainees get a job, take up an apprenticeship or go on to further study within six months of completing their programme.
The success of the scheme was recognised in Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s Plan For Jobs. Announced in July 2020, the Plan For Jobs included – alongside support for apprenticeships, the Kickstart and Restart schemes – a £111 million boost for traineeships, to increase the number of young people able to access the invaluable, high-quality opportunities they provide.
In January 2021, Sunak announced a further incentive for employers to take on trainees: a £1,000 cash bonus to support businesses with core costs such as uniforms and transport. The government sees traineeships as essential to its strategy to reduce unemployment among young people, to mend the growing skills gap and boost the economy after the adverse effects of the pandemic. A recent government update explained: “As the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19, these programmes will be more important than ever in helping businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills they need to recover and grow – both now and in the long term.”
About the cash incentive, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “My number-one priority is to support, protect and create jobs, which is why for the first time ever we’re giving businesses £1,000 to cover the cost of trainee work experience, because we know that traineeships are a proven way to give young people the skills and opportunity they need to be ready for work. We also know that our young people will be vital in the national effort to recover from the pandemic, so I urge businesses to seize this opportunity and help us harness the talent of our young people and offer hope for the future.”
Traineeships can now last from six weeks up to a year, although typically they last less than six months. The timeframe was increased to 12 months in order to allow young people with particular needs more time on the programme, broadening the effectiveness of the scheme.
Well-known, major employers including Wahaca, the colourful Mexican restaurant chain, Hilton Hotels and Starbucks are already offering hospitality traineeships, while Specsavers, Edinburgh Woollen Mills and the British Heart Foundation, among others, provide experience in retail. Small businesses around the country also offer traineeships in everything from construction and early learning care to marketing and social media. No matter which career a young person is seeking to enter, there will be a traineeship available to suit them.
However, the government has yet to reach their target. A Plan For Jobs progress report published in September 2021 revealed that there were 17,000 traineeship starts last year, just 46% of the government’s 36,700 target. Nevertheless, this has not deterred Sunak from pursuing the goal of enabling more young people to access the scheme.
The same report detailed measures the government is taking to ensure that traineeships address recognised skills and labour gaps, and form part of a larger strategy to resolve these. For example, the first-ever construction traineeship in bricklaying was introduced in July 2021, with graduates eligible for a new fast-track apprenticeship. These two programmes sit alongside an £8 million investment in construction and engineering construction Skills Bootcamps. Together, these schemes form a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges currently facing the construction industry.
As the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency explained when additional funding was originally directed towards traineeships in July 2020, the emphasis of the scheme is on employment. They explained: “We want to see flexible content and qualifications that prepares trainees for progression to apprenticeships and jobs through a direct line of sight to the occupational standards.” Why? Because: “We want traineeships to move young people towards work or an apprenticeship more than ever before.”
Despite an initially slow uptake of the scheme by employers, the government continues to place a spotlight on traineeships as a proven method of supporting young people into lasting work.