Companies won't hire them without the necessary experience but without a job they cannot get the skills they need. More school leavers are turning to apprenticeships to get their foot in the door. Sophie Hazan reports.
Forget hard hats and overalls, the uniform of the modern day apprentice is a sharp suit and pair of shined shoes.
Figures show that an increasing number of school leavers are taking up paid work experience in offices as part of a government-funded scheme to get them working.
In Leeds, 2,100 apprenticeships were completed in 09/10 with statistics from this financial year already suggesting that even more people will turn to an on-the-job training scheme during 10/11.
Consumerwatch spoke to experts at training provider Learning Innovations, which is located in Chapel Allerton, who placed 22 young people aged 16 to 18 in an apprenticeship in 2010.
The 12 month placements saw trainees working at a law firm, in administration and customer service roles or in more practical job environments such as at a hair salon.
All positions paid a minimum 2.50 an hour - companies can choose to pay more - while candidates improved their work skills, qualifications and increased their chances of getting a job.
Leeds law firm Ford & Warren took on 10 of the company's apprentices.
Sheree Wraith, operations and development manager at the law firm, said she had been pleasantly surprised.
"They came straight from school and had no idea what it was going to be like working in an office.
"They didn't have any life skills and if you ask them about how they have changed over 12 months they'll tell you that they don't recognise themselves.
"They have learned so much."
Laura Bateson, 18, who is from Cottingley, has worked as an apprentice debt clerk at the firm for the last year.
She had been unemployed before joining the firm, and has now been offered a permanent job.
The former Cockburn College student said: "Getting the apprenticeship was more a relief if anything as it gave me some direction.
"It has kept me motivated and enthusiastic and now I have a job at a law firm."
Dale Pace, also 18, who is from Armley, has been maintaining 170 computers in the IT department at Ford & Warren for the last 12 months.
He had been on the verge of becoming a plasterer but the position fell through and now he has discovered a career that he enjoys.
Dale said: "Labouring just wasn't me. I'm a very neat and tidy person and much prefer working in an office.
"It's got me out of the house and off the X Box, and I know now that I want to work in IT."
Learning Innovations' recruitment manager Steve Marshall told Consumerwatch that it was not just the apprentices that benefited from the programme.
Asked what the companies who take them on gain, he said: "A more rounded more motivated employee, who is more likely to stay with them for the long term.
"What you have to remember is that apprentices will naturally feel loyal to a firm that gave them that first chance.
"They will also have a fully trained member of staff at the end of the process – and at a bargain price as we structure the training programme and help in the recruitment process that normally takes a lot of time and money."
He added: "Because our apprenticeship schemes are becoming more popular we are asking more businesses in the West Yorkshire area to take part and take a chance on young people.
"We have found that some businesses initially have a negative view of apprenticeships as they incorrectly assume there will be increased workloads and unruly teenagers, but that just isn't the case.
"Our applicants are keen to get into work and the companies that take part benefit too."
At Ford & Warren, the apprentices were not simply making tea and coffee but getting stuck in, said Ms Wraith.
She added: "We held monthly meetings with further training and guidance in areas such as confidentiality, personal effectiveness and work ethics.
"We worked on individual strengths to improve life skills which will assist them with their future careers from important basic administrative tasks to more advanced tasks relevant to the department where they are placed.
"We prepared them for the future and wherever possible for a future with Ford & Warren.
"If we are unable to do that we make sure they have had training in their last few months which makes them more confident in the job hunting process."
By 2020 the government aims to have 1 in 5 young people undertaking an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are open to all ages.
For more information visit www.learninginnovations.co.uk or call 0113 266 5016.