Opinion: Hands up anyone who knows what a traineeship is?

As National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, Barnado's chief executive Javed Khan turns the spotlight on how traineeships can help some of the most vulnerable young people

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National Apprenticeship Week came and went with a flurry of much-needed publicity for these vital skills schemes. You’d be hard pushed, however, to find a mention of their quieter, younger, but equally important sibling amongst the debate – traineeships.

For the most vulnerable young people, such as care-leavers, getting an apprenticeship can seem almost impossible. Growing up in care can often mean school is disrupted, making it tough for students to get the grades they need to be considered for an apprenticeship. It’s therefore hardly surprising that just over a third (37 per cent) of care-leavers manage to pass five GCSEs at grades A*-C – but this is often not representative of their skills and potential.

If a care-leaver is lucky enough to make the interview shortlist, then they face further barriers. Growing up in care can knock young people’s self-esteem, making it tough to pitch their skills at interview. Added to this, care-leavers can lack the soft skills vital for making a good first impression. This is because many young people rely on advice from a parent or close adult to remind them to dress appropriately for interview, maintain eye contact with a prospective employer and offer a firm handshake. Many care-leavers may not have this readily to hand.

Introduction to the workplace

Traineeships were introduced by the coalition in 2013 as a solution to help some of the most vulnerable young people to become "job ready" and give them a route to get on to the apprenticeship they seek. Traineeships give participants up to six months' work experience, and the chance to take a course to improve their English and maths skills. In turn, this helps young people to develop their self-confidence and build soft skills. Now that work experience is no longer compulsory through school, traineeships can be an important and scarce opportunity for introducing some young people to the workplace for the first time.

Unfortunately, many young people and employers still don’t know what a traineeship is. To make matters worse, through our work, Barnardo’s staff know that sometimes young people who are really keen to build a career are completing one traineeship after another without going on to access an apprenticeship place. For a care-leaver desperate to get a job, this feels like taking two steps forward and one step backwards. They’ve learned the soft skills they need to integrate into the workplace and build up their confidence, only to be told they need to start the process all over again. This was not what traineeships were designed to do.

Rebranding needed

To make sure government investment in traineeship places isn’t wasted, we’d like to see traineeships rebranded as pre-apprenticeships and more closely linked to full apprenticeships. We feel that where a young person successfully completes a traineeship, they should be offered an apprenticeship place.   

We know many employers are keen to give vulnerable young people a chance but naturally can have concerns about how they would "fit" their business and what support they would receive. Pre-apprenticeships would enable employers to get a real flavour of how their potential new apprentice would slot into their team while accessing vital support from specialist organisations such as ourselves, which we know is so often key for successful transition into the workplace. For young people, it would stop them from becoming disillusioned after bouncing from one short term unpaid post to another, as our services suggest has been happening in some places.

It’s been inspiring to see government, business and the third sector unite to promote National Apprenticeship Week. Now, we’d like to see those apprenticeship places opened up to the most vulnerable, to ensure their hard work preparing for work pays off and they don’t fall by the wayside.

Javed Khan (pictured) is chief executive of children's charity Barnado's. He tweets at @JavedKhanCEO

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