The next Government should develop a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship, concentrating on the needs of 16 to 24-year olds, helping them prepare for an apprenticeship and gain the skills businesses need.
The Coalition Government introduced traineeships for both 16 to 18-year-olds and those aged over 19. Colleges have welcomed this initiative and worked hard to recruit trainees and engage local employers, with whom the trainee has to spend some of their working week. Despite this, 80% of colleges say it is difficult to convince employers to take on a trainee and 36% say the same about apprentices.
Meanwhile, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds becoming apprentices has declined. This is because in most sectors businesses are reticent about employing an apprentice this young, especially when there might be someone older available with more experience. In addition, research has shown that only 17% of 11 to 16-year-olds had actually heard of apprenticeships, with the rest, therefore, unlikely to pursue it as an option.
To address this increasing concern, traineeships should be converted into pre-apprenticeship training, specifically created to prepare 16 and 17-year-olds for a full apprenticeship. This training should last two years, be set at Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and include the soft skills so desperately needed by employers. It would, of course, include a work experience element, and build on the concept of study programmes and the raising of the participation age in education or training to the age of 18.
Where particular sectors wish to continue to recruit 16 and 17-year-old apprentices, for example in hospitality, catering or hairdressing, they should be allowed to continue to do so.
However in other areas, such as construction, engineering and plumbing, employers have shown little willingness to recruit people aged 16 or 17. The next Government should work with those sectors to understand exactly what skills these young people lack. This proposal would provide this age group with a genuine alternative to university at the age of 18.