Barclays is determined that there should be more apprenticeships and that young people have the skills they need to be successful in work, writes Lynne Atkin.

Figures for the early part of 2012 suggest that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds entering apprenticeships is declining compared with the same time last year.

These figures highlight the ongoing challenge that school-leavers face when they move into the world of work, particularly as apprenticeships become more popular and more competitive.

While it’s great news that apprenticeships are on the rise overall, it’s vital that employers create opportunities for younger apprentices too.

From the employer’s perspective, the message we hear over and over again is that the barrier to hiring young people directly from school is their relative lack of skills and understanding of the workplace — three-quarters of employers have told us that school-leavers’ awareness of the business world is either poor or very poor.

But beneath this figure is a strong appetite to do more to prepare young people for the workplace.

Small businesses, however, are almost excluded from this for two reasons: the difficulty of establishing a relationship with a school and a cultural bias that stops students considering start-up and small businesses as attractive employers.

The truth is that employers can do a lot more to address the skills gap between school and work through initiatives such as offering work experience and working with training providers.

With training in essential workplace skills, and help navigating career options, school-leavers will stand a much better chance of achieving their job aspirations. Indeed, research from the Education and Employers Taskforce has found that young people who have skills training — such as CV writing or work experience — on average earn up to 18 per cent more than those without.

Barclays’ apprenticeship programme addresses the issue by including pre-apprenticeship training to ensure candidates are ready for their role from day one.

This must be followed up by on-the-job industry-specific training to prepare the recruit for a full-time job at the end of the apprenticeship.

This requires real investment, and the best way to maximise this investment is to ensure that there is a full-time job ready when the apprentice has reached the required skill level.

Recognising the appetite among smaller businesses for the structures and support to offer apprenticeships, we’ve recently launched the Bridges into Work programme, which aims to support employers across a broad spectrum of industries to create 10,000 apprenticeships by 2015.

But we realise that more has to be done if 16 to 18-year-olds are going to compete with their older, more experienced, counterparts.

To help build these foundations we’ve also launched LifeSkills, a curriculum-linked programme that helps young people in school develop the skills they need to be successful in work.

We’re bringing together schools, young people and local businesses with the goal of equipping one million young people by 2015 with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. This includes creating 50,000 work experience opportunities this year alone.

I’m delighted that companies including McDonalds, Waitrose, ISS and Centrica, are already on board as partners, and we’d like to encourage businesses of all sizes to do the same, sign up and offer work experience.

When the age of participation is raised later this year, employers will have a real opportunity to help reduce strain on the FE system while developing their talent pools.

We recognise real change cannot be achieved by one party alone, which is why we’re committed to doing all we can and creating more ways for businesses to get involved.

Lynne Atkin, HR director, Barclays Retail and Business Bank