The challenges of training young people – Dan Canavan offers some inspiring stories of success
The importance of tailoring coaching and mentoring methods to engage the individual is widely understood and implemented throughout the training sector. However, what is considered best practice when the individuals in question come from less privileged backgrounds, struggle to focus in a classroom environment and lack motivation in working towards a positive career?
An analysis on the lack of motivation of NEETs or young people from less privileged backgrounds has been assessed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in recent years.
The February 2013 report1 outlines key findings. For example, the fact that many young people feel unmotivated because they have had a poor experience in education or when they have wanted to engage in learning but have faced a number of preventative barriers – such as a lack of qualifications or failing to meet entry requirements.
When meeting these barriers, young people struggle to move forwards in a positive manner and their lack of motivation increases. In fact, according to the 2015 Youth Index from The Prince’s Trust2, this lack of motivation or position within the NEET group can actually increase levels of depression and anxiety, where 53 per cent of NEETs confirmed they felt ‘inadequate on a regular basis’, 52 per cent felt ‘anxious about everyday situations’ and 62 per cent advised they felt ‘nervous about meeting new people’.
Tutors from Staffordshire-based social enterprise, PM Training, face the challenge of helping struggling young people on a daily basis. Through their experiences, they have developed individual teaching styles to engage the students, encourage respect, and establish a high success rate of qualified apprentices, who would have otherwise fallen by the wayside and joined the growing numbers of NEETs across the UK.
Having started his professional life as an apprentice at PM Training, engineering tutor Jak Forester, has experienced first-hand the troubles and concerns that many of the apprentices share. This experience not only makes Forester extremely connected to the apprentices but also ensures he is in a strong position to overcome an overriding lack of motivation among the learners, which he considers the main issue in tutoring and coaching at PM Training.
Forester explains: “As [the organisation] operates an open door policy without entry requirements, some of the learners that we take on struggle to understand why they have to work towards a career, when they are not necessarily set a good example at home. However, once the learners understand my background and what PM Training has done for me, they are keen to learn from my positive example and get stuck in to the different apprenticeship schemes on offer.
“With engineering in particular I find hands-on or practical lessons work best in keeping the apprentices continuously engaged – and from here I use a range of tasks to assess how well the students are able to learn from example.”
John Adams, a painting and decorating tutor/assessor, also joined the company through the initial apprenticeship scheme as part of the ‘under 16’s group’, after being excluded from two schools. Adams also finds that many of the students show him respect once they learn of his background and troubles as a teenager.
In addition to his own relatable experiences, he finds one-to-one support and tailored teaching techniques as the main driver for success at PM Training. By following this approach he makes sure he treats all apprentices as individuals, and takes the time to understand all needs
He said: “The majority of the students we train, coach and mentor often face problems at home but as their tutors we rarely know to what degree these problems impact on their ability and motivation. In providing additional support and understanding, we are generally able to engage them and from here we can ensure they are able to carve a career path that is of interest to them in the long term.”
Both Forester and Adams are able to set a strong example to all learners having overcome many barriers from their teenage years, such as a dislike for education and a lack of focus on what they want to achieve in life. In representing a ‘success story’, both tutors provide a real motivational drive for many of the learners, who often lean on them for guidance, support and advice.
English tutor, Ann Holmes, considers modern technology to be one of the main challenges in tutoring and coaching apprentices. The vast majority of the time, the students do not spell or write out complete words and instead undertake all written work in ‘text-speak’, with a lack
of understanding as to why words should be written properly. This is particularly notable when parents are in jobs that do not require the use of English or have failed to secure this qualification altogether.
Holmes explains: “Following the widespread use of mobile devices and smartphones, I find that many apprentices struggle to comprehend why they need to spell words correctly, when the only writing they are usually involved with is texting friends or family members. This challenge is perhaps made worse when the apprentices are intending to pursue a career that will not require them to write to a specified standard, such as painting or decorating.”
Holmes has found that one of the most effective ways to overcome this challenging hurdle is to tailor worksheets to individuals depending on their ability, and from here give them a gentle push in the right direction. She also works hard to develop other resources that enable the apprentices to find academic work easier, such as the use of coloured overlays for those struggling with dyslexia – a method that has been scientifically proven to aid dyslexics or those with visual stress to improve their reading capability and therefore anxiety around reading or written work.
Holmes is very realistic in her view that not all apprentices are able to achieve a C or above at GCSE English as many struggle with academia. This provides strong evidence against the potential Government reforms which, if implemented, may require all apprentices to achieve a C or above in GCSE Maths and English to get a place on an employer scheme.
She adds: “As they stand, the potential [pullquote]Government changes to apprenticeship entry standards are extremely unrealistic and could ostracise many young people in the NEET category[/pullquote], contributing heavily to unemployment figures. As PM Training has an open door policy, many of our apprentices simply struggle with academic work or within an academic environment – but this isn’t to say they are not good workers.
“For example, many apprentices who undertake engineering or painting and decorating schemes become brilliant tradesmen or tradeswomen. They are punctual, reliable and ideal employees to have on board, yet, for the most part, if they were required to achieve GCSE English and Maths they would not be given this chance to succeed – which in itself seems particularly unfair!”
IT tutor, Julie Sharrett agrees with Holmes’ perspective towards the potential reforms explaining. “The vast majority of apprentices who walk through the doors at PM Training have had enough of education in a classroom environment. They don’t get on well at school and they struggle with theory-based or written work.
“As a result, the proposed Government reforms are a far cry from improving the apprenticeship framework and are actually discriminating against many of the young people that could achieve successful careers through apprenticeship schemes.”
Sharrett finds negative behaviour to be one of the most challenging aspects of coaching young people from under-privileged backgrounds. To deal with this appropriately, she finds that humour often works best to diffuse the situation, which then tends to pull the student on side.
She adds: “In life [pullquote]it is very difficult to be negative towards someone when they are being kind to you – and this is the approach I take when tutoring my class[/pullquote]. I find that most students often hide what is really bothering them with rude and disruptive behaviour that can affect the motivation for the rest of the class, arousing a chorus of ‘what is the point?’
“In being light-hearted and patient, the apprentices soon see that I am on their side and that I want to help them achieve a career that they can ultimately be proud of.”
Both Holmes’ and Sharrett’s opinions toward the Government’s proposed reforms is successfully reinforced by statistics from the reports issued by the Prince’s Trust and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Combined, the report statistics and experiences of Holmes and Sharrett highlight just how many young people or NEETs may face a life of disadvantage due to the barrier of qualifications.
Georgia Robson, the 300th apprentice to be employed by PM Training, is only 17 years old and is an excellent example of a young person who was able to turn her life around through the training and support offered by the social enterprise, where she chose to undertake a painting and decorating apprenticeship scheme.
She explains: “[They] take you through a series of tasters of different courses to see what you have a knack for. That really helped me to figure out what I wanted to do.
“Since then, I haven’t looked back. My apprenticeship in painting and decorating has helped me develop my skills. Any given week could see me with a couple of other learners and our supervisor either renovating properties, or decorating new builds for the first time.
“I can do anything from sanding down and applying undercoats, to intricate gloss work or painting walls and ceilings. The feeling of seeing the job finished and finished well, is really rewarding and I am very grateful that I am now doing something I thoroughly enjoy.”
Though all tutors face daily challenges when working with students or apprentices from deprived or difficult backgrounds, there are many positives in their roles. They speak of a great sense of reward in knowing they have personally helped to turn someone’s life around for the better. They are able to build relationships and rapport with each student who is then more likely to respect the effort put in to helping them achieve their individual goals. Most importantly, it provides the opportunity to watch students grow into people they learn to like and be proud of – knowing they have succeeded and worked hard towards a goal where perhaps others have not.
In offering an open door policy, without entry requirements or expectations, PM Training has developed a strong apprenticeship programme that works closely with all young people to establish a career of choice and a sense of purpose in life that will support the move towards financial independence and future success.
CEO of PM Training, Will Nixon, says: “The very purpose of PM Training is to help improve the social, economic and environmental aspects of the local community by working hard to help the younger generation create a better life for themselves through employment.
“We create around 700 apprenticeships a year, working with around 1,000 companies. However, we also practise what we preach in our own company and we’re very proud of the 300 apprentices who have passed through our own workforce over the past six years. It is actually these employees, like Jak and John, who work the hardest and achieve the most, setting the best example possible for all new recruits.”
PM Training operates across four main sites within Staffordshire and currently employs 150 people. The training partnership was acquired in 2008 by the Aspire Group, who work in hand with PM Training to support young people across the county, who would otherwise be locked into a future of disadvantage.
A fully-referenced version of this article is available on request.