21/03/2016 07:00 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Apprenticeships Can Benefit Whole Communities, Not Just Individuals

Young people and employment were back on the agenda this National Apprenticeship Week. It's part of the Government's plan to make the apprenticeship status more desirable and valued as real training for real jobs, and not a cheap labour programme or a low skilled job creation scheme.

The number of NEETs - young people not in employment, education or training - is dropping, it currently stands at around 12%. But these figures don't tell the whole story. If you live in one of the UK's most disadvantaged areas, that figure can be twice as high. The fact is, if you live in one of these communities, you're less likely to gain employment and get on in your life.

At the same time, the number of people completing apprenticeships in the sport and leisure industry has significantly dropped. Between 2010 and 2012 over 34,000 young people completed apprenticeships within the industry. Between 2013 and 2015, this halved to just 18,000.

In the world of Doorstep Sport, sport delivered on the doorstep in disadvantaged communities, the personality and skill set of the leader can make the difference between an average kickabout and a life changing experience. The intention is to bond young people into a group that enjoys sport, treats each other well and grows its own leadership. Time after time employers in the community activation and leisure sector struggle to recruit staff with the right skill set to run Doorstep Sport. Candidates come forward with either coaching skills or with community activation and youth work skills, but not with both. And both are needed.

For the last eight years Doorstep Sport has grown a network of volunteers in disadvantaged communities that are using sport to make a real change. This provides a double benefit. They don't just help their peers in their local community to get more active, but gain the qualifications and the skills they need to move into employment, education or further training. To date, these volunteers have earned over 8,000 qualifications and awards between them. Employers also say the best coaches and leaders are those recruited from amongst the participants, people who have grown up to benefit from the warmth and safe-but-stretching environment of a community sports project.

Take Oscar as an example, a young lad from London. At age 16, he was drifting in and out of young offenders institutes and struggled to find his direction in life. He was encouraged to volunteer with his local Doorstep Sport club, which was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands. As a volunteer, he gained a range of sports qualifications which have helped him get a job as a paid coach delivering weekly PE sessions at a pupil referral unit through the London Sport Trust. Now 23, he's even been inspired to teach yoga and is in the process of setting up his own company.

Learning through sport has made all the difference to Oscar.

We took these two issues - the need for disadvantaged young people to access high quality training and the employers' need for a half-coach, half youth worker hybrid and held them close when the chance to create a new Apprenticeship Framework came from the Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

We're working with a consortium of fifteen employers including Salford Community Leisure, Birmingham City Council and Street League to create the training for exactly this type of worker. This is the first time an apprentice will be trained to work on and design sports programmes that impact both physical and mental health, personal development, and community betterment. By using smart ways to test skills and abilities we will ensure that disadvantaged youngsters who have not succeeded at school can achieve their qualifications.

We believe that this apprenticeship will break down the barriers for young people who want to work in community sport but don't have the opportunity. Our experience shows that valued coaches and leaders come from investing in and upskilling members of the local area who understand their local communities.

National Apprenticeship Week may be over but we must not forget those who stand to benefit most from apprenticeships: disadvantaged young people. And we know that if you give youngsters a chance, they will run with it and go on to inspire the next generation to lead healthier, more active lifestyles.