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Halfords : and Prudential criticised over unpaid traineeships

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09/12/2017 | 07:47 am

Halfords and the financial services company Prudential have been criticised for employing young jobseekers without pay for six weeks or more under a government-backed scheme.

Some smaller businesses and training providers are pushing schemes that last as long as six months.

All the companies provide traineeships, which are designed to offer 16 to 24-year-olds a mix of work experience and classroom-based training in maths, English, and skills such as IT, teamwork and CV writing. Participants can continue to claim benefits if they are eligible, but are otherwise unpaid.

Traineeships, which were introduced in 2013, are under the spotlight as jobcentres across Britain prepare to sanction potentially thousands of young people if they do not agree to take up a traineeship, apprenticeship or work experience.

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Halfords runs a two-month scheme in partnership with Qube, which involves 25 hours a week working in store and three at a training centre. Since the scheme launched two years ago, it has hosted 115 trainees, 45 of whom were taken on as apprentices by the retailer at the end.

Prudential runs a 14-week traineeship with six weeks in the business. It said three out of 10 people enrolled on a test scheme in March had gone on to join its apprenticeship programme and it was currently reviewing the outcome of the scheme.

The provider Smart Training works with numerous smaller businesses including coffee shops, and hairdressing and nursery companies, to run traineeships that last as long as six months.

Employment rights campaigners and experts criticised the use of sanctions to force young people into unpaid work experience.

David Webster, an honorary senior research fellow at Glasgow University and a benefit sanctions expert, said compulsory placements were likely to lead to lower-quality training schemes, without helping people into work.

“Because referrals are made under threat of sanction, the jobcentre doesn’t bother to make these things suitable or realistic. People end up just being abused, really. Only if activities are voluntary can you be clear that they have value to the participant,” he said.

Gail Cartmail, a Unite assistant general secretary, said: “These schemes are clearly not about training, but forcing people into unpaid work. The fact that well-known brands are operating these schemes to boost their profits is especially alarming. These schemes are a worst-case scenario and fall far short of the assurances Unite was given when these traineeships were introduced.”

Details of the traineeships emerged after Poundland was criticised for employing jobseekers without pay for up to two months under a deal with the government.

Under the youth obligation scheme, which was introduced at the end of April, 18 to 21-year-olds who have not taken on any kind of work experience for six months after signing on can lose their benefits if they turn down all three options.

Youth obligation is part of the controversial universal credit system that is now fully operational in 101 jobcentre areas across the country, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

A government spokesperson said: “Many employers don’t offer young people roles because they lack the experience. Through our youth obligation, we are also making sure that every young person receives the support they need to find work, including arranging work placements to boost CVs.”

Joe Crossley, the business development director at Qube, said Halfords operated a “short, sharp programme” that had supported into work 45 people who probably would not have a job otherwise.

“A lot of young people on traineeships have never worked. They don’t know how to present themselves or how to dress or not to use their mobile phone. They have to develop those skills and [to do so] in six weeks can be a challenge,” he said.

Crossley said the threat of sanctions via the youth obligation scheme was not likely to be helpful, because the scheme thrived on offering employers young people who were keen to work and get on.

He added that longer programmes threatened to bring the traineeship scheme into disrepute.

Susan Duncan, the operations director at Smart Training, said it takes an average of three months for participants to get into work, during which time they might do a range of different placements.

Employers involved in the scheme are offering a “social service”, according to Duncan. “Traineeships are not work. A lot of people have not given these young people a chance, but we have a 78% success rate of them moving into something – whether that’s an apprenticeship, a job or further education,” she said.

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