10Challenge 8: The gap between school and the workplace acts as a barrier to recruiting apprentices

One of the challenges faced by employers taking on apprentices is the lack of work readiness among young recruits. This incorporates a wide range of knowledge and behaviours from answering the telephone, to dressing correctly and arriving on time, to English, Maths and IT skills. The absence of these skills is likely to become more problematic as we shift from the framework system towards the higher-threshold standards over the next two years, which have higher assessment requirements for apprentices (see page 7).88 To address these challenges, a number of local partners have sought to provide additional support for school leavers and for apprentices before they commence their training in order to bridge the gap to the workplace.

Case study 17: City Gateway, Tower Hamlets: supporting hard-to-reach youth through pre-employment training

City Gateway is a charity which tackles challenges around social and economic inequality in London, and particularly in Tower Hamlets, by working with partner organisations to create jobs and apprenticeships as well as providing pre-employment support and training for service users.89

Service users include hard-to-reach NEETS (Not in Education, Training or Employment) between the ages of 14-24 and vulnerable women, who face significant challenges in entry to work and training, including limited aspirations and low language and skills levels. Only 10 per cent of learners are able to prove that they already have qualifications when they join the programme.90 City Gateway addresses some of the biggest challenges to work-readiness through training and employability skills to enable service users to progress into sustainable employment.

Before an apprentice begins a formal apprenticeship training programme and placement, they complete a pre-employment training course which can take anything between six weeks and a year, depending on their prior attainment.88 Pre-employment training is free for service users, and there are five different routes, including business administration, childcare and IT. Training includes English and Maths up to Level 2, vocational skills up to Level 3, and interview skills. The courses include flexible entry points at Level 1, Level 2 and Traineeship.

Applicants need to have passed Level 2 Functional Skills before they can progress onto an apprenticeship, after which apprentices also attend City Gateway once a week to work towards a Technical Certificate and higher level Functional Skills, including English and Maths qualifications.

Since 2008, City Gateway has provided training and work with around 100 business, including the London Stock Exchange Group, Dentons, PwC and Credit Suisse. The completion rates for City Gateway apprenticeships are 13 per cent higher than the national average, and 84 per cent of apprentices that complete their apprenticeship move into permanent employment, training or progression opportunities with City Gateway’s careers and progressions team.88

Case study 18: Walsall Works: supporting pre-apprenticeships with council and government funding

Walsall Works is Walsall Council’s apprenticeship programme aimed at young people aged 16-24. Launched in April 2012, it supports the creation of apprenticeships with local employers, as well as pre-apprenticeships to support transition into training.93

Pre-apprenticeships are short training programmes available through training providers and colleges across the UK, and provide stepping stones into apprenticeships for those who lack the required skills and qualifications, particularly in GCSE level English and Maths. They can take between 6 and 20 weeks to compete, and focus on building up basic skills and work preparation in particular industries.88

Walsall Works offers four pre-apprenticeship schemes of 20-26 weeks training, in Sports, Health and Social Care, Book-keeping, Administration and Customer service, and Business Skills.95 As well as qualifications in the relevant subject area, they also receive level 1 qualifications in Maths, Literacy, ICT and Employability, alongside pastoral care and mentoring to support some of the barriers to work, such as low confidence and self-esteem, debt and money management, mental health problems and drug and substance misuse.96 Walsall Works have worked alongside three local training providers to support pre-apprenticeship places, which are partly funded by the local council, alongside match funding from the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions.

In the first two years of the scheme, Walsall Works supported 1,189 young people into apprenticeships, learning and employment, including 342 pre-apprentices, and worked with 479 employers and 30 training providers. Over that period, youth unemployment in Walsall reduced faster than for the Black Country as a whole, and in 2014, 70 per cent of all pre-apprentices completed their training.97

The case studies illustrate how work readiness training before beginning an apprenticeship can help apprentices, by building up their skills and qualifications, and employers by providing a pipeline of apprentices who are work-ready.


  • 88 Centre for Cities interview
  • 89 City Gateway, Training for 16-24s. https://home.citygateway.org.uk/training-for-16-24s
  • 90 City Gateway, Welcome from our COO. https://home.citygateway.co.uk/blog/welcome-from-our-coo
  • 91 Centre for Cities interview
  • 92 Centre for Cities interview
  • 93 Walsall Council, Walsall Works. http://bit.ly/1SMqL3e
  • 94 Centre for Cities interview
  • 95 Walsall Council (2012) New Pre-Apprenticeship programme. http://bit.ly/1qHFrtZ
  • 96 Walsall Council (2016) Walsall Works presentation http://www.slideshare.net/safaraz/walsall-works-presentation
  • 97 Walsall Council (2014) Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel: Walsall Works Programme Update. http://bit.ly/1V4vQbE