- It offers council and employer supported apprenticeships for vulnerable young people
- Apprenticeship opportunities provided through the store doubled in the last year
Stockport Apprenticeships Store, the UK's only independent apprenticeship hub, has helped thousands of young people looking to gain experience in the workplace.
The initiative, funded by Stockport Council, has become well known in Greater Manchester as a "one-stop-shop" for young people, training providers and employers needing apprenticeship resources and advice.
Store manager David Casserly believes it is this reputation that has contributed to the hub's success. "Not only are we known in the area for young people but because we work closely with schools and colleges they know us as a resource," he explains. "The same is true for parents and also employers who know that if they want to find out anything to do with apprenticeships they can give us a call."
The team's five staff members, which include a manager and senior officers, have expertise in apprenticeships as well as working with training providers.
"We've also got some ex-apprentices on the team who have seen what apprenticeships can do for them and can speak to young people on a peer-to-peer basis," says Casserly.
The store aims to help disadvantaged young people in the area get experience in the workplace through its supported apprenticeship programme. This is open to looked-after children, those whose special educational need or disability mean they require an education, health and care plan, and other vulnerable young people referred by the council. Referrals are also made through close links the store has built up with agencies dealing with disadvantaged young people.
Visits to the store are set up for groups of young people interested in becoming apprentices, and individuals can also make appointments on their own.
"These young people might not have any work experience or they may have other issues that could stop an employer from taking them on," explains Casserly.
Interviews are held with the young people to assess how "work ready" they are before a placement is organised either within the council or another local employer. For the duration of their apprenticeship, these young people become employees of the council and are paid a salary by them instead of their employer.
Casserly says funding for the programme is ringfenced with 14 young people supported in 2018/19.
"Originally it was worked out on the basis the young people would be 16 to 18 and their apprenticeship would be about 12 months," he says. "However, the new standards are longer and the older age group that gets referred to us is smaller. So that's about the limit we can work with at the moment," says Casserly.
For employers who take on apprentices, there is an expectation that their individual circumstances must be considered.
"From the employer's perspective, it takes the financial burden off them because the council pays the wages, but we do make sure they know these young people are coming to them with varied needs," Casserly explains.
For older apprentices, the store works closely with the Job Centre as well as staff at the council's children's and young people's directorate which is located nearby.
The store holds regular "sector" days where young people who have registered their details on a national database are invited to meet employers offering live vacancies.
Casserly says the number of young people who walk into the store remains fairly steady throughout the year but numbers increase in September and January "because a young person may have just left school or done a term at college or university and find it's not for them".
Casserly says precise data is hard to collate for apprenticeship numbers because too often young people lose contact with the store once they are in work.
In 2017/18, there were almost 6,000 contacts at the store, of which nearly 3,000 were by potential apprentices, an increase of around 1,500 people from the previous year.
The number of apprenticeship posts created by the store for 2017/18 more than doubled to 303 from 157 posts for 2016/17.
A similar increase was also recorded for apprenticeship posts created by employers based in Stockport, which rose from 108 in 2016/17 to 250 for 2017/18.
The number of young people who started apprenticeships dropped slightly in 2017/18 to 181 (202 in 2016/17). Casserly believes the actual figure should be higher but was affected by having less resources to track outcomes.