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Apprenticeships & social mobility: you can help apprenticeships reach their social mobility potential

A young man fixes a bike

The Social Mobility Commission’s new toolkit: ‘Apprenticeships that works for all’ has been launched today (14 October). This blog explores the current apprenticeship landscape and sets out why we developed this toolkit. View the toolkit

We hosted a virtual toolkit launch event on Thursday 14 October, where a panel of experts explore key challenges around apprenticeships and social mobility. Catch up below and download the slides.

For employers on a mission to promote socio-economic diversity and inclusion, offering a range of entry points to your organisation should be a priority. Looking beyond traditional graduate schemes can help diversify the pathways into your organisation, particularly for those less likely to have gone to university.

Few non-graduate routes offer as much value, especially to those at the beginning of their career, as apprenticeships.

Whether you’re a young person starting your first job or an experienced worker changing career, apprenticeships offer you the opportunity to gain the skills you will need while also being paid.

One of the many benefits of apprenticeships is their unmatched potential for boosting social mobility and for helping employers to build more diverse and skilled workforces. In 2015, A CIPD survey of employers found that “firms regard apprenticeships as an ideal means of preparing young people for the world of work” – no doubt, this is why apprenticeships are so high on employers’ agendas (55% of large employers reported offering apprenticeship programmes.)

Apprenticeships need to do more to reach their social mobility potential

Despite the apparent opportunities of apprenticeships, the apprenticeship system needs to do more to meet this promise.

In 2020, our report “Apprenticeships and social mobility – Fulfilling potential”, found that disadvantaged learners felt the decline in apprenticeship starts between 2015/16 and 2017/18 more acutely. More privileged starters saw a fall of 23%, while for those from disadvantaged backgrounds it was 36%. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this.

The gap between disadvantaged and more privileged learners doesn’t stop at entry. We found disadvantage gaps at every stage of the apprenticeship journey, from the quality of training for disadvantaged learners to the likelihood of completion. Disadvantaged learners with an apprenticeship also earn less on average than non disadvantaged individuals – a trend visible regardless of the level of apprenticeship they secure.

What can employers and providers do?

More than ever, we need an apprenticeship system that delivers not only skills and opportunities but also social mobility. Employers and training providers rely on apprenticeship schemes to provide new opportunities, upskill people from inside and outside their organisation and contribute to a more innovative, inclusive workforce.

And yet, without an effective strategy for delivering your apprenticeship programme and tailored support for your learners, your scheme might run contrary to the principles that initially drove the decision to offer it, and mean you’re missing out on untapped talent..

The Social Mobility Commission has launched a new toolkit to help employers and training providers to design apprenticeships that deliver on their social mobility potential [link].

Whether you want to understand how to design an effective scheme or you want to sense-check your current efforts, our new toolkit includes guidance through each stage of the process, including the six ‘must-have’ areas of focus for any effective apprenticeship programme:

  • Data: Data is your first step to an effective strategy. With good data, broken down by the stage your apprentices are at, you can get a clearer picture of the potential barriers and target your interventions where they’re most needed.
  • Culture: Norms, assumptions and relationships are some of the invisible forces that shape apprentices’ experiences in the workplace. Use this opportunity to get everyone involved, from senior leaders to frontline staff and delivery partners to create a shared vision and practices for an inclusive and visionary culture in which everyone can flourish.
  • Outreach: Build relationships with the people you want to apply to your apprenticeships at an early stage. Look for opportunities to connect and work with schools and FE Colleges – particularly in social mobility ‘coldspots’.
  • Hiring: Remove the barriers that put people from low socio-economic backgrounds off from applying to your apprenticeship programme – whether that’s hours that don’t match the reality of a learner’s circumstances, poor pay and working conditions, or unnecessary qualification requirements.
  • Progression: Make it clear what progression within your organisation and industry looks like, and take time to communicate with your apprentices to find out what their ambitions are.
    Advocacy: Talking about apprenticeships, how you’ve used them to promote socio-economic diversity, and why this agenda is important can inspire action in others. Make sure to share your experiences publicly.

The support you offer your apprentices can go a long way

Create an ecosystem that supports your apprentices to connect and adapt: you can’t cover it all alone. Connect them with mentors, buddies and, importantly, other apprentices. Sometimes there’s questions you’d rather ask a peer than your line manager.

Offer your apprentices as much support as you can: don’t assume they will ‘naturally’ settle into your organisation – especially if they’re in a minority in your team, new to the industry or entirely new to the world of work. Check in with apprentices regularly about how they’re doing and proactively explain how things work if they are in doubt.

Collect data on socio-economic background. Explain why and be clear that data will be treated anonymously: apprentices can feel particularly concerned about being judged, especially if it’s their first job.

Plan ahead! Have a plan in place for how your apprentices can progress after their training: if there aren’t opportunities within the organisation, talk to others in the industry to identify the next steps for your apprentices. Attractive progression opportunities will not only enable more people from working class backgrounds to take on an apprenticeship, it will also make it easier for people to complete their training if they know the potential next steps.

Our new toolkit, Apprenticeships that work for all is available now. Read more about the steps you can take to ensure that apprenticeships are working for your business and for social mobility generally.