Michael Sandel called the division of society into those with academic qualifications and those without them ‘the tyranny of merit’. Though there are many examples of highly successful people who did not go to university, that divide exists for most. It becomes even more relevant at a time like our own, when there are high barriers to finding a job or an apprenticeship. 

But lack of experience, as well as academic credentials, creates division, too. There are many young people with or without degrees who lack the basic soft skills that come from experience to thrive in a job. This is to the detriment of those young people, to the businesses they could work for, and to everyone else who wants to see young people flourish and the economy boosted by that talent. There are up to 900,000 people between 16 and 24 who are due to leave school, further education or higher education and enter the labour market in England this year.

Traineeships—skills development programmes with built-in work placements—are an effective means to fight this ‘tyranny of merit’, and make sure not only that young people can find work, but that businesses in the UK are not deprived of talented young people. It is a way of supporting the youth of today and your bottom line tomorrow. And this is poorly understood: there is a sense sometimes that a business is doing a favour to a young person by inviting them for a work placement.

A traineeship can last from between six weeks to a year, though most of them end before six months have passed. Because it is funded by the government, there is no cost to the business that offers a traineeship, but that business still benefits: offering successive traineeships is like building a conveyor belt of high-quality recruits with the exact skills needed for your sector. More, you can mentor a trainee so that they come to fill whatever gaps you have in your company. In other words, you can ‘create’ your ideal candidate. And that is to say nothing of the many benefits that come from being a mentor.

For the trainee, the benefits almost go without saying. The trainee effectively undergoes an extended job interview, building a relationship with the organisation, developing hard and soft skills, and gathering experience. In a phrase, trainees become ‘work-ready’ in a matter of months, not just to the advantage of the organisation, but to any business in that sector and others.

Itec Training Solutions have been delivering traineeships for decades in Wales, tackling youth employment and helping people who do not have appropriate skills, experience or opportunities to find work. But there have been fewer periods in that time when tackling youth unemployment has been as urgent as it is now. We are at a critical moment in the rebuilding of the country post-Covid, and we need all hands on deck. Businesses who offer traineeships therefore have the chance not just to show their CSR credentials, and not just mould talented young people into the perfect candidates, but to play a part in our post-pandemic recovery. And all of this is fully funded.

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