The announcement on Monday by the chancellor of the exchequer at the Conservative Party conference of a £500 million jobs support package has had a mixed response from training providers across the West Country.
In the main, the extension to the employer apprenticeship incentives until January 2022 is seen as a positive move, and will hopefully encourage more employers to offer apprenticeship opportunities.
Any support for employers in closing the skills gap is welcomed. The extension of the incentives and Kickstart will inevitably help thousands of employers and employees alike.
But many providers are concerned at the impact the Kickstart programme is having on apprenticeship and traineeship starts.
One local provider commented, “We are seeing more young people choosing an option that could be seen as a short-term solution, Kickstart, rather than a long-term, career pathway option, an apprenticeship.
“We are struggling to fill vacancies, and employers are becoming very upset that they cannot attract a young person into taking up an apprenticeship with them.
“Are we missing a golden opportunity to wed these two programmes together for the benefit of all?”
One aspect of the current slew of initiatives, which has caused animated discussion across the many video calls I attend, is the fact that Kickstart provides a salary to the participant, whilst traineeships are unpaid. This is seen as giving the Kickstart option an unfair advantage.
Training providers are wondering whether to engage in the recent 16 to 18 traineeship procurement at all. That’s because they see Kickstart as directly affecting their likelihood of achieving the numbers they’d need.
Providers are considering whether to engage in the traineeship procurement at all
This is a real shame, as traineeships are an excellent way for young people to experience a sector or job role, or to gain much-needed confidence within the world of work.
It is difficult to understand the government’s traineeships and apprenticeships targets, given this insistence on offering competing programmes and pathways. It is directly impacting our national flagship programmes.
There are currently hundreds of unfilled apprenticeship vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship website and there is high employment across the south west.
Competing government programmes are creating real challenges in the apprenticeships space, leading to more and more disillusion and disappointed employers.
Employers are desperate to fill skills gaps and this is particularly pertinent to the health and social care sector, one of the key priority sectors across our region.
Kickstart could have been used as a vehicle to encourage interest in the sector, and of course progress on to apprenticeships and employment – but this doesn’t seem to have been the case.
The Devon & Cornwall Training Providers Network has been working closely with a large gateway organisation to support individuals on the Kickstart programme with wraparound support and training.
To date we have supported more than 150 employers across a range of sectors, but have yet to see any from the health and social care sector engaging with the Kickstart programme.
In an area where the lack of people entering health and social care is of real concern, we would have thought that employers would have been coming forward in their droves.
If we are to support employers in filling skills gaps, while also giving young people access to industry-standard training, then there must be coherence and parity of funding across these competing programmes.
It is also vital that the learner is not forgotten in all this. Are skills being gained? Is there progression?
One worry is that once the scheme ends, there will be young people without a recognised qualification and no job offer. This can’t be right.
We need a huge push from the DWP, colleges, independent providers and employers to convert as many young people on these different programmes into apprenticeships. Win win!