The Department for Work and Pensions Minister, Justin Tomlinson, visited Centrepoint last week to see first-hand the positive impact traineeships are having on homeless young people’s personal development and employment opportunities. Our Centrepoint Works programme offers high quality traineeships in construction, catering, hospitality and customer service, setting young people on a path to lasting employment.
In 2018/19 we have supported over 300 learners, including those who completed the traineeship programme. Traineeships help under-25s to gain the skills and qualifications they need in order to secure an apprenticeship or a job. The programme includes functional skills such as Maths, English and IT, as well as employability skills such as teamwork and effective communication. Crucially, the course also covers soft skills such as presentation, attendance and punctuality to prepare young people to maintain a job long term.
Justin Tomlinson MP visits our Dean Street centre.
A Missed Opportunity
Young people aged 18-21 who claim Universal Credit may be subject to the government’s Youth Obligation Programme – an intensive regime of support, designed to provide the skills and the experience needed to move into sustainable employment.
The problem is that the government have not been keeping track of the outcomes of those taking part. Centrepoint has found that the programme is not well adapted for disadvantaged young people and many still find themselves out of work.
After six months, those still on the programme and claiming Universal Credit are encouraged to take up a traineeship or a similar work experience. However Centrepoint’s research has found the vast majority of young people (92%) are not receiving this opportunity. Meanwhile 42% of businesses say they would like to increase the number of positions they offer to disadvantaged young people. So why are traineeships on the decline?
Investing to unlock potential
While apprenticeships have recently received considerable government backing, less has been done to promote the traineeships brand. According to government statistics, in 2017/18 twenty times more people started apprenticeships compared to traineeships. As a result, the government has to ensure employers better understand the benefits of traineeships and their ability to unlock a wealth of potential.
Traineeships enable employers to observe candidates in the workplace and evaluate their potential, making it less of a risk than recruitment. To encourage businesses to offer traineeships, additional financial assistance should be provided to cover the costs of ongoing support. This will help ensure young people successfully transition into work.
If the government is serious about helping young people who may otherwise have limited opportunities, they should invest properly by opening up funding from the apprenticeship levy – over £3 billion of which has gone unused.
A system that works for disadvantaged young people
Disadvantaged young people stand to benefit most from traineeship opportunities, but delivery needs to adapt better to their needs. Learners are required to complete a minimum of 100 hours of work within six months. If they fail to complete the programme, or have an unexpected break in their learning, then they’re unable to enrol again.
This disadvantages those who are unable to reach completion due to circumstances out of their control, such as problems ranging from unfair eviction to poor mental health. To give homeless young people a better chance at completing the programme, it should be flexible enough to allow them to re-engage when their life is back on track.
Increasing access to traineeships
Traineeships do not include reimbursement for expenses, such as travel, meals, equipment and books. This can make them unaffordable for young people who do not have financial support from their family and who are trying to get by on the lower Universal Credit allowance.
To help cover the costs, 16-19 year olds can apply to a Universal Credit bursary fund. Centrepoint would like to see this fund extended to include under-25s, as we know the benefits our own bursary scheme can have on young people’s chance of success.
To ensure more young people can benefit from traineeships, the Department for Education should change the eligibility criteria as currently only those qualified below Level 3 (equivalent to two A levels) are able to apply.
As an example, this means if a young person has been encouraged to gain a higher level qualification by taking a BTEC Level 3 in Music or Dance, but failed to complete their GCSE Maths and English, they are unable to apply for a traineeship due to their level of education.
At Centrepoint, we believe a young person should be able to apply if they’d benefit from a traineeship.
Recognising homeless young people’s success
Lastly, it’s worth noting that finishing a traineeship is not considered a success in itself. For a traineeship to be recognised as a successful outcome by the Department for Education, the learner must follow a set progression route including gaining employment of over 16 hours per week or starting an apprenticeship.
Finding the right next step for a homeless young person is vital as they need to be able to support themselves independently. For those looking to move on from supported accommodation, an apprentice wage is not enough to cover the cost of rent. Young people may also be reluctant to take on a zero-hour contract as the variation in income could affect their Universal Credit claim.
Although it may take greater time and care for a homeless young person to progress to the next stage of their career development, they should still be given the opportunity to complete a traineeship and to have their achievement recognised.