Apprenticeships can be a key driver of social mobility, but their potential remains largely untapped.
Whist there has been a big focus on the Government’s target to deliver three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture: that apprenticeships should deliver quality outcomes that support progression for young people from all backgrounds.
The social mobility agenda is crucially important, and apprenticeships can play a key role in improving the life chances for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Overall employment is high, but so too is the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).
A focus on apprenticeships is key to create opportunity for young people who may have left school with little or no formal qualifications.
For young people who are not ready to undertake an apprenticeship, programmes like pre-apprenticeships and traineeships are equally vital, but much more needs to be done to ensure progression towards apprenticeships.
One significant barrier to the uptake in 16-18 apprenticeship opportunities is the widespread variance in the quality and accessibility of careers advice and guidance throughout the UK.
The new careers strategy sets out proposals to expand the scope of careers advice in schools and colleges and embeds a commitment to social mobility at its core.
Ensuring that learners from all backgrounds are aware of the range of apprenticeship opportunities will be the crucial first step.
The provisions made in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 to grant colleges and apprenticeship providers access to the school’s system to promote technical education opportunities will be crucial. But equally important is the need to ensure that there is a mechanism to secure this access.
To date only two of the ten largest multi academy trusts have complied with the requirement to publish their policies on how providers can promote these courses to school learners.
Perhaps suggesting that there is way to go before all learners are aware of the range of apprenticeship opportunities available to them.
But even with knowledge of the options available to them, to really achieve impactful social mobility apprenticeship opportunities must be available which offer clear pathways for progression.
More needs to be done to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds onto apprenticeships in areas with higher earning potential.
The "State of the Nation" report from the Social Mobility and Chid Poverty Commission found that most apprenticeship—especially for the under 19s—are those with the lowest earning potential.
But perhaps even more alarmingly, the report also found that almost all (97%) 19-24-year-olds start apprenticeships at qualifications levels below what a natural next step would be if apprentices were following an academic track.
The need therefore to ensure that apprenticeships provide solid lines of progression into sustainable employment is crucial.
Another significant barrier is parental involvement. Often young people go to their parents for advice on career options, but most parents do not feel equipped to advise them adequately; research from EY shows that half of parents worry that their level of understanding of today's careers landscape may hinder their child's chances.
Interestingly, 95% of parents feel that more young people doing apprenticeships straight out of school is a good thing for the UK, but 25% of parents would refuse to consider any non-university led progression routes.
This speaks to the prevailing sentiment that designates apprenticeships as something for “other people’s children.”
Breaking down the barriers around who can undertake an apprenticeship will be crucial in changing parental perceptions; better support and guidance is needed for parents to increase the accessibility of apprenticeships to a broader range of learners.
Apprenticeships can also provide a significant driver to advance social mobility for those currently in work.
The latest DfE statistical release shows that in the last quarter of 2017 degree apprenticeships rose by 27%.
An expansion of higher and degree level apprenticeships would make a huge difference to help social mobility for those currently in work.
But equally important is the need to secure apprenticeship opportunities for young people.
The current apprenticeship levy funding system has generated incentives which encourage employers to focus their programmes on higher level apprenticeships, usually favoured by those 19+, at the expense of intermediate levels, more often undertaken by 16-18-year olds.
Both are important, and key drivers of social mobility.
But there is a need to ensure—now that employers have more control over how apprenticeship funding is spent—that a holistic approach to advancing social mobility is supported at both ends of the spectrum.
Overall, apprenticeships can be a real driver of social mobility and a means to create better outcomes for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The emphasis in apprenticeship provision needs to move away from a focus on programme enrolments to look at the quality of apprenticeships, and how they are enabling learners to progress and succeed.
Apprenticeships can be a crucial means by which a more socially mobile and inclusive society is achieved, but it will take a lot of hard work, and we have a long way to go yet.
Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group and Laura-Jane Rawlings, CEO, Youth Employment UK CIC