Why simply hiring apprentices won’t lead to more diverse talent

The Social Mobility Commission published their report on Wednesday, Apprenticeships and Social Mobility, and found that the current apprenticeships system is failing disadvantaged young people. MKF’s Strategic Lead for Talent, Simon Reichwald, shares his insights on why we must do more to ensure we don’t fail this section of early talent, as well as some ideas as to how to make this happen.

Report findings

With the introduction of the Levy in 2017, it was hoped that this would increase the access to apprenticeships and improve their popularity. The report found in fact, that there has been a 36% decline in people from disadvantaged backgrounds starting apprenticeships, compared with 23% for other groups. It further highlighted that:

  • Only 13% of degree-level apprenticeships (the most expensive apprenticeship option) go to disadvantaged apprentices.
  • Only 63% of disadvantaged males successfully complete apprenticeships, compared with 67% of the more privileged.
  • On average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.

Actions for creating immediate impact

What we can do tackle this issue is twofold:

The ‘push’ – Create a more targeted approach to our apprentice hiring strategies, which means constantly evolving & improving what is already in place, and leveraging technology as a force for good. Underlining it all, our focus must be to encourage, inspire and support under-represented talent, so that they know about, apply for and secure apprentice opportunities.

The ‘pull’ – We must show young people that they belong, so they want to be and work within a company.

Here are some ways we can create a targeted approach for apprentice attraction and generate greater social mobility.

Accessing mentors through tech

Mentors are widely seen as important, and peer to peer mentors further adds to their impact. We need to give young people access to people like them who have secured a wide range of apprenticeships, such as those highlighted by the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network. However, what is missing is the access to them, and this is where technology can provide digital mentors and buddies.

Using data to improve targeting

This means working with schools & colleges that are in the less privileged areas of the UK. All too often, well-meaning organisations work with local schools. Unfortunately, the decision is often driven by convenience, or the children of senior employees are being educated there.

Targeting can be improved by running virtual events and activities to deliver to a greater number of young people, as well as removing the geographical barrier and physical space needed to host the students.

Targeted work experience

Conducting specific work experience programmes with a social mobility focus is another must. For example, the legal sector’s Prime programme, or the accountancy profession’s Access Accountancy programme, are just two of those which we are proud to support.

Employers must leverage digital to do and reach more all across the UK, as Cisco and TCS have done, not just stay local to their offices.

Smarter work experience in action

Providing opportunities through work experience is valuable. We must also use technology to stay connected with those students afterwards, and support them in the run up to and through the application process for permanent roles. This will truly maximise value and impact for all.

By engaging with people like them over a period of time and experiencing the world of work, young people can build a sense that they could and would belong there.

Support them on their journey

Making them a journey for young people is what will drive real impact. If they engage with mentors, it could lead to work experience, and in turn secure an apprenticeship.

To truly drive social mobility through apprenticeships, we need to accelerate awareness, understanding and access to all levels of apprenticeships. As the social mobility foundation report highlights, higher level apprenticeships are still too heavily filled by middle-class students. This shows that these opportunities aren’t being sufficiently promoted to talent from lower income backgrounds.

Evolution, not revolution

In conclusion, the Government can do much to help but to see the scale of impact that is needed, employers must play their part. The good news is that it involves much of what is being done already – a better use of technology and refocusing on what is already being done, with a more integrated approach.