Steve Woolcock, Barnardo’s head of employment training and skills, talks about how best to support vulnerable young people into work.

A perfect storm of rising tuition fees and low pay for graduates has led to a rapid rise in applications for apprenticeships, as young people seek an alternative to academic qualifications. Competition to gain an apprenticeship will get even tougher from April 2017 when young people on Universal Credit must ‘earn or learn’ or lose welfare benefits.

The 3m new apprenticeships by 2020 across England promised by the government in the Summer Budget, funded by a new levy on large employers, offer the government a golden opportunity get more disadvantaged young people into work.

But some young people are being denied this opportunity to achieve their true potential. They want to get on in life but too many placements go to people age 25+, some of whom are already in work. Too few placements go to people who are in or are leaving foster care, who would really benefit from an apprenticeship.

Through no fault of their own, children in care face unique challenges. Disruptions at home and school is reflected in the grades they achieve, so they may lack the basic entry criteria for apprenticeships. Care leavers can also experience emotional and mental health issues as a consequence of their experiences, adding an extra barrier to finding sustainable employment.

To level the playing field, when an employer considers whether to take on a disadvantaged young person, their potential to complete the course and do well in it should be considered alongside their entry qualifications.

Our experience of working with employers across the country indicates they want to make apprenticeships accessible for disadvantaged young people. However, many employers struggle to provide the additional support these young people need to thrive.

Barnardo’s apprenticeship programme provides young people with the skills and support they need to achieve great results. Often care leavers don’t have parents to guide them, so our project workers and trainers help with all aspects of entering the work place. This includes basics like turning up to work on time, and organising their day to day life, including accommodation. This extra help reduces the likelihood that they will drop out.

It is unreasonable to expect business to look after young people without a little help. So, in future, we’d like to see government make this kind of support more widely available, by using some income from the new apprenticeship levy to set up a support fund for disadvantaged young people.

The support fund could be used to offer employers an incentive to encourage them to take on vulnerable young people and offer the extra guidance they need. By making it easier for employers to take on a disadvantaged young person, the support fund would level the playing field for those with the hardest start in life.

For some young people, just getting your foot in the door can be a real challenge. Government, business and the third sector need to work together to ensure the most vulnerable aren’t locked out of the job market.