Steel city forges closer links with employers

Council programme brings apprenticeship-hungry young people together with employers.

  • Disadvantaged young people get support to help them access opportunities
  • One in five attendees gain apprenticeship as a result of a council-run event


The development of apprenticeships is at the heart of Sheffield City Council's strategy to support disadvantaged young people into employment.

The number of apprenticeships being created for young people in Sheffield has grown in recent years, bucking the national trend - 8.7 per cent of the city's 16- and 17-year-olds are apprentices compared with eight per cent in the Yorkshire region and 5.9 per cent across England as a whole, according to Department for Education figures published in October.

The council's Apprenticeship Ready programme has been key to this growth. It works with every secondary school, academy and an alternative provision school, alongside further education colleges and sixth forms in the city, talking to pupils in years 11 and 13 about the wide variety of apprenticeships available and supporting them to prepare and apply for positions.

Rachel Crowder, school placement officer at Opportunity Sheffield, the council's employment and skills service, says more young people are considering apprenticeships as an alternative to university.

"It was almost expected that year 13 students would go to university, but over the past three years that has changed because of the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and higher degree apprenticeships," explains Crowder.

"Higher university fees have also made the apprenticeship route more appealing for young people."

A significant part of the programme involves working with disadvantaged young people and those at risk of becoming Neet (not in education, employment or training). Young people are referred to Crowder from schools, youth offending services and social care teams. They will have expressed an interest in the apprenticeship route but face barriers to accessing it - some may have failed to complete their schooling or left without any qualifications.

"We provide information advice and guidance to ensure an apprenticeship is the right choice for them," explains Crowder. "We assess their abilities in English and maths, which tells us if they are capable of completing an apprenticeship. It will also highlight areas where they may struggle so we can assess the classroom and workplace support we may need to put in place."

Preparation includes workshops on CV and letter writing and interview practice. Meetings take place at the council's Moorfoot Building or Star House, where careers advisers, community teams, social care and youth justice workers are based.

To minimise barriers to accessing the service, every effort is made to arrange Apprenticeship Ready meetings for a day when a young person is visiting another service at Star House.

Those who gain an apprenticeship spend one day a week at a college or training centre. There is regular monitoring of placements so that problems can be addressed quickly. Part of this is managing the expectations of employers, says Crowder, some of whom "think they can get a 17-year-old who can instantly fully understand the role".

The main event for the Apprenticeship Ready programme is Apprenticeships: Be Inspired. Held in March, the council-run event brings together hundreds of young people and employers from across the region. Many are small and medium-sized businesses, but Mercedes Benz, Santander and HSBC also attended in 2018.

"Young people attend with a detailed CV and are able to ask about vacancies," says Crowder. "Everyone who expresses an interest is contacted in June to be told if they have been successful, and we support the employers with making those decisions."

Last year saw attendances by young people and companies rise by around a third and the event is set to grow further.


In 2017, of the 700 school and sixth form students that attended the Apprenticeships: Be Inspired event, 136 gained an apprenticeship as a direct result.

Of the 900 students that attended in 2018, 182 gained apprenticeships, a success rate of 20.2 per cent.

Crowder says the progress of the apprentices, including whether they are offered a job at the end of the programme, will be tracked and fed into school "destination data".

Apprenticeship Ready was shortlisted for the CYP Now 2018 Advice & Guidance Award.

This article is part of CYP Now's Apprenticeships Special Report. Click here for more

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