Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Blunkett has said positive role models in the workplace could provide the path back into education and training for young people who would otherwise fall into a life of anti-social behaviour or drugs.
Speaking in London as the Government launched its action plan Together We Can, Mr Blunkett said for alienated 16 to 17-year-olds who had dropped out of school or college, workplace mentors would provide the leadership and direction needed to get back on the path to skills and better careers.
Blunkett said that education and training should be the "main focus" for 16 to 17 year-olds, but added that for those alienated from school, work place solutions could help get them back on track..
He said: “When 16 to 17-year-olds are outside the world of work or skills, their lives can enter a downward spiral, as the only voices they hear are those leading them into a dark world of drugs, gangs and anti-social behaviour.
“Our job is to ensure we offer them a way out, away from the wrong sort of role models. Once they get into the workplace they will be surrounded by older people, who can mentor them, provide guidance, and offer a route into that crucial education and training for their future.”
Adrian Snook, Operations Director for The Training Foundation said that workplace mentors, in this context, could face some very significant challenges.
"Effective coaching and mentoring skills are by no means ubiquitous within British business and some form of specialist training for workplace mentors is likely to be required in order to address the special needs of alienated young people," he said.
"The Secretary of State should also remember that employers are hedged in by a forest of employment related legislation which could hamper workplace mentoring. There are also some potential risks and liabilities associated with confusing the conflicting roles of mentor, supervisor and employer."
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was speaking at the end of a one-day conference launching the 65-point action plan http://togetherwecan.homeoffice.gov.uk/ Together We Can.
The plan aims "bring government agencies and the public closer together" by tackling eight key areas, including building safer communities, revitalise neighbourhoods and improving health and well being.
The Training Foundation has a free online learning programme specifically designed for young people entering the workplace www.readyforwork.org