Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council: Mentoring for apprentices

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council provides a mentoring service for apprentices in the private or public sectors. This is part of the Council’s employment and skills team and links with wider services to support harder-to-reach young people, including care leavers and those with disabilities.

Background and context

Sandwell is the third largest borough in the West Midlands. Just over two-fifths of Sandwell’s 16-24 year olds (40.6 per cent) are from ethnic minority backgrounds. In addition unemployment among 16-24 year olds is 12 per cent. It has a high prevalence of mental health disorders amongst young people aged 5-16 (10.7 per cent). It is also an area of high deprivation including families of generational unemployment and worklessness, therefore even those with parents and or family at home may not have a support structure to assist and motivate them.

Description of activity

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council provides a mentoring service for apprentices in the private or public sectors. This is part of the Council’s employment and skills team and links with wider services to support harder-to-reach young people, including care leavers and those with disabilities.

A mentor will review the progress of the apprentice around every 12 weeks during their apprenticeship, as a minimum, in line with their apprenticeship qualification. The mentor has an objective viewpoint and is non-judgemental in their work with the young person. The intensity and frequency of the support provided varies dependant on the needs of the individual. Holistic support can include budgeting skills, housing support, mental health, bereavement, and motivation.

This can be particularly important for those without parental or family support as the mentoring offer can provide the person with someone who can advocate and support them to achieve their objectives and aspirations.

Impacts and outcomes

The mentors build a relationship with the young person, developing rapport, gaining their trust and understanding the drivers and challenges for them. The service also serves to act as a reality check for the young person, as often promises are made to the young person which are unfounded, such as guaranteeing sustainable employment after their apprenticeship. 425 young people have been supported in the last 3 years, while progression from the apprenticeships is not recorded, many go onto jobs within their employer, with other employers supported by the LA team, to university or other training.

Other issues may need resolving at earlier stages, which could be creating barriers for the young person in securing sustainable employment. The mentor can support them to overcome these, in order to improve their future career prospects. Mentors offer mediation between the young person and their employer as well as providing support with managing their qualification including the relationship with the training provider.

The employment team delivers a ‘Next Steps’ course for all Council apprentices prior to leaving the Council which covers applying for jobs, interview skills and employability. Offering expertise and providing industry knowledge of local opportunities and can support apprentices to progress into a higher-level apprenticeship or another job opportunity.

In Sandwell, some young people have progressed onto an apprenticeship after completing their supported internship programme.

Successes and lessons learnt

Barriers and challenges to the council delivering services include:

  • resources and funding is continually under pressure during annual budget rounds
  • complexity of provider base – with many small work-based learning providers and employers involved in apprenticeships
  • communication – continually seeking ways to engage with harder-to-reach young people.

The most common barriers for hard-to-reach young people in accessing employment, training or education opportunities include:

  • access to skills, qualifications and experience
  • financial viability (affordability of opportunities versus benefits)
  • personal situation (i.e. mental health, home life, confidence and aspiration).

Research from early support indicated that some young people needed help to challenge their employer to provide them with a comprehensive apprenticeship. In some cases, young people were being asked to undertake menial tasks and were not gaining the necessary employment skills.

An example of young person with a disability achieving a positive outcome through support demonstrates the achievement of the service. This young person with learning disabilities, had been in the education system to the age of 23, but providers were not accepting the young person for an apprenticeship. The Council suspected providers were not accepting the young person because of a fear of the level of challenge they may face. A mentor advocated on the young person’s behalf, and together with support from the Apprenticeship Service, they secured a Level 2 Customer Service Apprenticeship with the Council. The young person worked within the library service and was provided with weekly mentoring meetings. They achieved their apprenticeship, using a computer and phone, during COVID-19 lockdowns, something they had never been able to use before.

Additional support that is provided to some young people, depending on their circumstances, includes referrals to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Access to Work to pay for a Job Coach, supported internships and the Black Country European Social Fund IMPACT project.


Young people's voices

The following testimony recognises the value of support provided. This female apprentice studied Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, from the age of 18 to 20, in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools at a local primary school. She had always dreamt of working in a school but lacked confidence in herself and in her communication skills. 

Thank you for the opportunity you supported me with, it really helped me develop as a professional but as my own person as well. I’ve become a more outspoken and confident person because of this role and the people who mentored me, and it’s taught me to have more respect for myself and stop doubting myself as much.