From education to employment

How apprenticeship employers struggle with social mobility, and what we can do about it.

During National Apprenticeship Week 2021 #NAW2021, Amazing Apprenticeships (@AmazingAppsUK) was invited by the Social Mobility Commission (@SMCommission) to join an expert panel for a webinar entitled “Apprenticeships: a game-changer for social mobility”.

Amazing Apprenticeships is probably best known for our work with 4,500 schools and FE colleges nationwide, but we also work closely with government, leading social mobility charities and around 1000 of the country’s biggest and boldest apprenticeship employers. It was our ‘bigger picture’ insight into employer challenges around social mobility that we were on the panel to share.

The discussion was hugely valuable. The webinar was attended by around 300 apprenticeship employers, and the conversation was brought to life by a panel that also included a former BBC apprentice, and social mobility recruitment leads from the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defence.

With these challenging, far-reaching topics and those panellists, a single webinar was never going to feel long enough. That’s why I wanted to dig a little deeper into one of the questions.

“What are the most common challenges employers come to you with around outreach and hiring, and what do you think would be the biggest game-changer to make apprenticeships more accessible for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds?”

I’ll start with the first part of the question.

Every day we have open, involved conversations with apprenticeship employers of all sizes – and there are common stumbling blocks around outreach and recruitment for social mobility. These include:

  • Finding/reaching the most disadvantaged – how to share messaging with schools in key geographies, and how to reach people once they are outside of the schooling system
  • How to speak to those people, and how to address their barriers/issues with confidence
  • High drop-out rates during application processes, often due to time (for people who perhaps need to be in paid employment asap), or due to stages in the process that aren’t accessible in some way
  • People from less advantaged backgrounds self-selecting out of applying for even entry level roles at prestigious/well-known institutions
  • Cultural, familial or social biases against apprenticeships.

The answers to some of these challenges can be surprisingly straightforward, and there are quick wins here that don’t require serious capital spend or far-reaching organisational change.

For example:

  • Think about how and where vacancies are advertised. Where do the people you want to reach look? How do they consume media and how do they search for jobs? Consider the language, imagery and calls to action you’re using, and the message they send to people about the kind of applicants these roles are ‘for’.
  • Even small changes to application processes can impact how well those processes accommodate talent from less advantaged backgrounds. Changes like advertising details around pay and flexible working, and making applications skills/character traits/potential based, rather than qualifications based, can make a huge difference.

(There’s a bigger conversation here around training providers removing formal maths and English requirements as entry criteria for programmes – but that’s a topic for another day.)

What do you think would be the biggest game-changer to make apprenticeships more accessible for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds?”

My answer is simple: companies of all sizes need buy in to addressing this agenda from every level of the business.

When we talk about ‘buy in’ we mean having the willingness to platform disadvantaged voices, listen and learn, reflect on current processes, and affect change where it’s needed.

Apprenticeships and early careers teams are in a position to make changes – often small, often inexpensive – to processes that can add up to a significant culture shift, but senior level buy in is essential for ensuring that this agenda is properly respected and resourced.

Next Steps

If you’re ready to make these type of changes and are passionate about using apprenticeships to drive social mobility, diversity and inclusion in your recruitment, reach out and talk to us about The Genie Programme – Amazing Apprenticeships’ new social mobility/D&I programme.

Join sector-leading employers including Coca-Cola and AstraZeneca to learn to address the key issues with sensitivity, confidence, and drive real change in your organisation.

“We’re really excited as a business about this programme – there’s nothing else out there like it. It’s specifically for apprenticeships and early careers professionals who want to improve access to opportunity and use their programmes to drive social mobility and workforce diversity. After the year we’ve all had, it feels like this is needed now more than ever.” Sharon Blyfield, Coca-Cola European Partners


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