Apprenticeships for all

Sandra Kerr OBE, Business in the Community Race Equality Director, welcomes the recommendation from the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships that more should be done to encourage those from underrepresented groups take an apprenticeship.  Find out how you can take action by utilising our member led and workplace based insight.  

Last week I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships at the House of Commons. I was very pleased to see that a key recommendation of the report is that ‘More should be done to encourage those in underrepresented sectors to take on an apprentice, particularly women, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, BAME and disabled people. All schemes should include mentoring for apprentices.’

We know that despite high application rates among BAME applicants, this is not reflected in the number of BAME apprentices; 28% of applicants are from a BAME background, yet only 10% of those start apprenticeships1. As apprentices can earn more over their career lifetime and this may have a significant impact on social mobility – particularly as BAME young people are more likely to not be in employment, education or training compared to their White counterparts. And with a looming 7.5 million skills gap2 in the next five years, it’s vital that employers make the most of all the talent they have available. So what can employers do to increase the number of BAME apprentices they employ?

Firstly there is a need to engage schools and parents around the value of apprenticeships. Our ‘Aspiration & Frustration’ research shows that some BAME families undervalue apprenticeships, whilst young people say some schools and teachers are putting them off. Early positive engagement about the value of apprenticeships at school could help to change these perceptions and give young people the opportunity to build skills and find a career via an alternative route. Engagement with successful role models who began their career journey as an apprentice can also inspire young people to take up an apprenticeship. Additionally, SMEs and supply chains should also be involved in this as it will enable them to draw on a wider range of diverse talent and ensure their organisations reflect the communities they operate in.

We also need an accurate picture of BAME candidates at every stage of the application process. By evaluating data on the number of candidates at each stage and why they drop out, employers can put steps in place to address these gaps. This could include diverse interview panels where possible or unconscious bias training.

Finally, I welcome the report’s focus on the importance of mentoring. Our Race at Work report provides insight that mentoring is highly valued by BAME people and our Diversity Benchmark shows that mentoring is key for supporting BAME employee retention rates – something which is key to increasing BAME representation at senior levels. This should be built into apprenticeship programmes at all levels as it would give apprentices opportunities to talk through challenges and enable them to progress within the organisation.

And of course, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to thinking apprenticeships are only for school leavers. Business in the Community’s age at work campaign is an advocate of apprenticeships as an opportunity for older workers to gain the skills needed for a changing working world and to continue the next phase of their career. Race campaign Champion member and Business in the Community Responsible Business Award winner Barclays is an excellent example of how employers can open up their apprenticeship schemes to people of all ages, and we would encourage other employers to learn from them.

The world of work is changing, and we need to ensure that employees are equipped to succeed. Apprenticeships offer that opportunity, but we need to make certain that people from diverse backgrounds are enabled to attain the standard needed not only to get a place but also to remain with the organisation. It is great to see employers such as our Champion member KPMG leading on this issue – now we need more businesses to follow their lead and put apprenticeship diversity front and centre.


1  2017 Annual APPG on Apprenticeships report 

2  Business in the Community age campaign issues