By Olly Newton, Executive Director, Edge Foundation
This year’s Youth Employment and Skills Summit organised by Learning and Work Institute was particularly timely as young people continue to weather the huge uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was my pleasure to chair this session on a topic I am very passionate about – expanding high quality apprenticeships and technical education for young people.
My first guest, Anna Morrison, Director of Amazing Apprenticeships, started with a sobering reminder that we are seeing fewer young people accessing apprenticeships. The pandemic is partly to blame, of course, but this was a trend that had already started before Covid-19, as revealed by recent research for Edge by Warwick’s Institute of Employment Research and it has hit disadvantaged groups particularly hard. Anna was optimistic about some of the results from Youth Employment UK’s recent Youth Census, which showed that 88% of young people had received information about apprenticeships, a big improvement down in large part to the work of great organisations like Amazing Apprenticeships. But only a quarter of those young people were considering applying and Anna was keen for us all to understand that gap and what additional motivation and support is needed to close it.
Steve Latus, Head of Traineeships at the ESFA, joined me to share some of the excellent recent successes of the programme. Traineeships are flexible education and training programmes lasting between 6 weeks and 12 months that include a work experience placement and work preparation training. They have really risen to prominence this year with an extra £126m injection from the Chancellor to support more young people. The programme already does an excellent job of providing opportunities for groups that are under-represented in apprenticeships with 33% of participants coming from a BAME background and 23% having learning difficulties or disabilities. But Steve isn’t resting on his laurels – he’s ambitious for the programme to go further and faster with a more diverse range of young people and even greater progression from traineeships into apprenticeships.
That progression will be helped by an innovation in the programme being piloted by partners like John Cartwright, Head of Construction and the Built Environment at Hartlepool College. John joined us to explain how his team has been leading a pilot of occupationally-focused traineeships. Building on a strong heritage of offering excellent apprenticeships in areas like bricklaying, architecture and quantity surveying, John and his team wanted to do more to help a diverse range of young talent prepare for these opportunities. In partnership with local businesses, CITB and Steve’s team at ESFA, John ran a traineeship focused on bricklaying in which young people had the opportunity to build a bungalow and double garage while meeting and working with real employers. It was a real ‘try before you buy’ experience on both sides, with young people getting a chance to test out the industry and employers getting an extended opportunity to meet and work with their potential future employees.
So what were the key take away messages from this inspiring session? Apprenticeships and traineeships can offer real opportunities for a diverse range of young people to prepare for and secure exciting careers. Local solutions and connections are what work and we need to make sure the system is providing the funding, space and support for inspirational colleagues on the ground to develop the programmes young people and employers need. Above all, it’s time to focus (or re-focus) on collaboration not competition – between providers, with employers and other organisations. We all need to pull together to ensure young people get the opportunities they need to succeed.