New Lords traineeships equipping the young with skills for work

ICON Training

ICON Training - Credit: Archant

As the UK economy begins to show signs of recovery, the pressure on large and small businesses alike is starting to subside. The benefits of austerity, however, aren’t extending enough to the young and unemployed, as a recent report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills reveals.

Precarious futures? Youth employment in an international context was published last month and explains that while youth unemployment rates have fallen over the past year, they are still alarmingly high compared to their adult equivalents.

Specifically, youth unemployment has been more than three times higher than adult unemployment for more than a decade, a ratio higher than in most other European countries. This, the report continues, “confirms the existence of structural barriers that are obstructing young people from finding and sustaining jobs, and progressing their careers”.

In most cases, the problem is obvious. Talk to any group of frustrated, unemployed young people and they’ll tell you the same thing: every job requires experience, but how are they supposed to get this experience without a job?

The government, for its part, is placing increasingly heavy emphasis on apprenticeships – paid jobs that incorporate on and off the job training – and last August introduced a free new scheme called Traineeships. In essence, these act as a precursor to increasingly competitive apprenticeships, offering work experience and job-skills training and, crucially, guaranteeing an interview with an employer at the end of the course which could lead to either an apprenticeship or employment opportunity.

Danielle Mohammed is marketing and communications co-ordinator at Icon Training, which for the past 20 years has specialised in providing government-funded apprenticeship programmes with interested employers. Recently, Icon has partnered with Middlesex County Cricket Club to offer its first traineeship scheme in London, which takes place over eight weeks. The application process is open now and if this pilot goes well, the scheme will open the gate to more in the future.

For young people particularly, Mohammed believes traineeships can teach skills that apprenticeships can’t: “Because learners also get work preparation training, they get help with practical skills like CV writing and job applications. A traineeship is unpaid, but for those eight weeks they build up their experience, they get a qualification and they get prepared for work.”

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Even if traineeship participants do possess these skills, there is another major positive: “They’re guaranteed an interview with the employer, so they have a great opportunity to get an apprenticeship or employment. During those eight weeks, they have the advantage over other people going for the apprenticeships because they’ve got in there and have the chance to try and impress the employers.”

Across the UK, the current rate of 16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training (neets) is 13.5 per cent. The lowest figure since 2008, it suggests that the long-delayed recovery from the recession is finally under way. One of the key reasons for this fall is that in the 2012-13 academic year, 510,200 people started apprenticeships in England – 230,500 more than in 2009-10.

In London the rate is even lower at 11.4pc and in Camden borough, significant progress has been made, with current estimates standing at 4.6pc, down from 7.2pc in May 2013.

Camden’s newly appointed cabinet member for youth, Cllr Georgia Gould, explains how in the next four years, the council aims to eradicate the problem of neets completely, with apprenticeships being a vital part of the plan.

“It was our manifesto commitment under the Labour authority that we would have 1,000 new apprenticeships. It’s 100pc a huge priority for us because if a young person is unemployed, the scarring effects stay with them for the rest of their life. That wasted potential is terrible: it affects our communities and really damages that young person’s life.”

As part of its ongoing efforts, the council is currently accepting applications for Camden Summer University. A “great opportunity for young people across Camden to get new experience, try out new things and broaden their horizons”, the summer university offers people aged between 13 and 19 (up to 25 for students with learning difficulties) the chance to try out free activities which range from fashion design to film production and cookery.

While the course offers qualifications that participants can work towards, Gould says that it also helps tackle some of the causes of youth unemployment. “I think experience is one thing, but there are also skills; young people with literacy and numeracy abilities are really important and schools obviously do a lot of work around that. Then there are even broader strengths like the ability to communicate, and something like the Camden Summer University really helps with that.”

With the high level of tuition fees increasingly making university financially unviable for many families, the importance of apprenticeships, traineeships and experience-building courses such as the summer university is growing every day.

The number of apprenticeship providers is growing too. In Camden, the work of the National Apprenticeship Service is supplemented by the council’s own borough-specific service and all across London, new projects are opening up. In Hornsey, social enterprise company Building Lives has just opened a new construction training academy to provide 50 new apprenticeship jobs for 16 to 64-year-olds in a range of construction trades over the next two years. Similarly, King’s Cross Construction Skills Centre is now celebrating 10 years of offering jobs, apprenticeships and short courses to the local community.

The logic behind these projects is clear. At a time when London’s demand for new housing is outstripping supply, apprenticeships and traineeships not only produce jobs but also an immediate service to the parts of the economy that need it most.

As the relatively new traineeship schemes begin to establish themselves in London, they may just prove a key piece of the jigsaw in solving youth unemployment.

To sign up for the new Icon training courses at Middlesex County Cricket Club, visit To sign up for Camden Summer University courses, visit