Apprenticeships key to improving UK social mobility

The provision of ‘earn and learn’ training opportunities are the secret to creating social mobility and economic growth, according to a major new report.

Engineer Teaching Apprentice Training Skills Lifelong Learning - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Employers must ensure that traditional recruitment methods are not inherently discriminatory – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

A person’s socio-economic background still dictates their employment prospects, with young people from disadvantaged families a third more likely to drop out of education at 16 to pursue lower-skilled, lower-paid and less secure jobs.

Furthermore, where a child comes from in the country has a profound impact on their prospects for social mobility, with regional disparities in the UK now wider than in any other Western European country.

At the same time, with many areas of the economy experiencing skills shortages – none more so than manufacturing and engineering, employers are increasingly looking at what action can be taken to increase diversity in their business to attract the most talented people.

According to employer-led organisation – The 5% Club, the provision of ‘earn and learn’ training opportunities such as apprenticeships is vital. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds must be made more aware of the many technical and vocational options available today.

At present, because of a lack of awareness, businesses are still missing out on some of the brightest and best talent, stifling the country’s economic growth; while also letting down young people who are most in need of support and opportunity.

Chairman and founder of The 5% Club and group chief executive of Balfour Beatty, Leo Quinn explained: “As employers, we must ensure that traditional recruitment methods are not inherently discriminatory.

“We must open up early work experience or internships to all – the first vital step into the world of work. Equally, positive careers advice in schools can tear down the perception that apprenticeships are ‘second best’.

“And we must all press government to transform the Apprenticeship Levy into a broader skills levy.”

The 5% Club report – Playing to our strengths: Unlocking social mobility for economic good – makes the following recommendations:

1. Employers must develop strong links with schools and colleges in deprived areas and increase the access young people in those areas have to workplaces, mentors and work experience. Research shows that work placements, are particularly valuable for young people from low socio-economic backgrounds, giving them access to the work environment and improving employability.

2. Employers must examine their recruitment processes to ensure they understand where talented applicants from different backgrounds fall through the cracks (for example, the unnecessary process of requesting degrees for non-graduate roles). Support should extend beyond those at entry level. Employers should also examine whether there are internal barriers within the company that hamper those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are appointed from progressing up the career ladder, as well as developing programmes that support personal development.

3. There must be an improved awareness and understanding of what apprenticeships are, what they offer and the levels available to address outdated perceptions that they are ‘second best.’ Effective careers advice should be offered throughout schools to ensure that all young people have an understanding of the range of jobs and industries they could work in. Learning about the workplace during the primary school years should also be increased.

4. The Apprenticeship Levy should be evolved into a broader skills levy, with increased flexibility to allow it to be spent on other types of high-quality technical skills training.

5. Funding for the Further Education sector needs to be stabilised. Relationships with employers must be strengthened – with both Further Education providers and employers taking responsibility for making this happen. And there must be a period of consolidation, to allow for the reforms to become established and for the sector to focus on making them a success.