Apprentices need help getting the right mental health support in place to give them the best chance of retaining employment once qualified, says Chris Kingsbury

It is great to see the mental health of young people so high on the agenda. This is something I notice increasingly as I attend conferences and seminars across the UK. However, we still need a culture shift for them to feel it okay to talk openly about their mental health and seek the right support.

Many young people don’t realise they are experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health or are not aware that there is something wrong. They are also afraid to openly share what they are experiencing.

With the boost in apprenticeship numbers that will accompany the levy, training providers, colleges and employers are looking at their infrastructure and ways they can support young people with mental ill-health.

If mental health is not addressed appropriately, it can have a negative long-term impact on people’s lives. Statistics have shown that when someone with a mental health condition falls out of work it is harder for them to secure another job – more even than someone with a physical disability.

To ensure equality of opportunity we have to do three things:

Provide access

First, we need to make sure that they have access to tailored, individual support.

Providing mental health champions or mentors is one way. Others are: engaging with local community and mental health teams, seeking support from local NHS provision, or facilitating access to support groups. Colleges must also ensure student services can signpost staff and students to the appropriate services.

An apprentice with mental health challenges should have the same career opportunities as anyone else

Challenge stereotypes

Second, we should be challenging preconceptions of mental health. Colleges and providers can help by creating a positive environment that allows open conversation about mental health and creates a culture of support, not stigma.

I have already started to see some great examples of this. For instance, Total People, a not-for-profit apprenticeships and work-based training company, with which we worked on a series of video blogs about mental health aimed at staff and apprentices.

The videos are now posted on all its internal sites and are shown during inductions, meaning that apprentices are fully aware of the support available and can access it when needed.

Addressing mental health in a variety of contexts is vital to normalizing the topic and encouraging young people to access support services when needed.

Educate staff

Third, we should be ensuring that employers, colleges and training providers have a strong understanding of mental health in the workplace. These institutions need a greater appreciation of the challenges that young people experience, coupled with knowledge about how to offer an appropriate system of support.

My role at Remploy is to work with organisations to create a culture in which apprentices feel it is natural to talk to someone about their wellbeing and gain the relevant support.

Social taboos combined with this lack of knowledge can mean we shy away from offering opportunities to young people with mental health difficulties, but education about how support functions in an apprenticeship or college setting can build the confidence of learners and training providers alike.

The Access to Work Mental Health Support Service, funded by the UK government and provided by Remploy delivers a tailored programme of vocational support to apprentices. Since 2011 it has supported more than 7,000 people, with more than 90 per cent retaining employment within the first six months.

An apprenticeship is such a fantastic opportunity enabling young people to build a long lasting and fruitful career. It is critically important that young people facing mental health challenges have the same opportunity to complete their apprenticeships as their peers.

Chris Kingsbury is partnership lead for the mental health support service at Remploy