Alok Sharma, Minister of State for Employment

Minister of State for Employment, Alok Sharma MP's speech at the launch of ERSA’s race, employment and ethnicity report (31 Oct) on the government’s action to support more people from ethnic minorities into work:

Thank you Kirsty and the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) for inviting me to speak today. It is an absolute pleasure.

But more importantly – thank you for publishing this interesting Race, Ethnicity and Employment report.

We have made huge progress in recent decades to improve the opportunities for ethnic minorities in the UK.

But its studies like this that help us identify where the challenges still lie.

And what we in government can do to tackle them.

I’m going to start by talking about Doctor Who.

For those of you who have heard me speak before you will know it is my go-to programme for anecdotes.

In a recent episode the new Doctor, and what a pleasure it is that we finally have a female Doctor, she and companions travelled back to 1950s Alabama.

On the eve of Rosa Parks’ historic bus protest that sparked the Civil Rights movement.

What was remarkable was not only Rosa Parks’ personal bravery.

But it was the incomprehension of the characters from 2018 when faced with the institutional racism of 1950s America.

This well-loved family programme brought the subject of racial injustice to Sunday night viewing, making it something to be talked about and not ignored.

And it showed how different the experience of ethnic minorities now is from decades past.

But let’s be clear, discrimination does still exist.

And as a recent incident on Ryanair sadly showed, so does racism.

On a personal level, when my father settled in the UK in the 70s, he was not easily able to find a job in line with his experience and qualifications.

There may have been many reasons for this. But I expect his experience may not have been dissimilar from that of others, from an ethnic minority background.

So he set up his own business and, thankfully, made a success of it.

But that was then, of course.

Now we have cause for celebration, as those from an ethnic minority background share in the booming jobs market we have created. Ethnic minority employment is at a record high.

And the employment gap between ethnic minorities and white groups is below 10% for the first time ever on record.

In fact, we are almost three quarters of the way to achieving the government’s target of increasing ethnic minority employment by 20% by 2020.

Since 2010 we have seen 3.3 million more people in work overall, of those 1.15 million were from ethnic minorities.

That means growth in ethnic minority employment of 36% – 3 times the growth in overall employment – closing the gap faster than ever before.

Cause for celebration, but not inaction.

The ethnic minority employment rate is 65.5%.

A record high, but that’s still the same level as the overall UK employment rate was in 1984.

So I welcome progress, and I welcome the increasing rate of progress.

But when people from ethnic minorities face the same employment prospects that others enjoyed decades ago, that progress will never be enough.

Tackling injustices is at the heart of the Prime Minister’s agenda.

When she launched the Race Disparity Audit (RDA) last year it was the first time a UK government looked overall at the impact of race across many aspects of life.

And we are leading the world in this approach.

The RDA has raised a lot of issues.

But above all, it has shown that we cannot treat ethnic minorities as one single group, with the same challenges.

Something I am glad to see ERSA’s report also highlights.

To give some examples.

The British black employment rate is lower than that of the British Indian community, at 67.6 per cent.

In the British Chinese community it’s 60.6 per cent, while the average rate in the British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi communities is just 54.8 per cent.

British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi workers are far more likely to be in the lowest skilled occupation groups and receive the lowest average hourly pay.

While the British Chinese community has a gender employment gap of just 6.6 percentage points, lower than the white British or UK average, among the British Indian community it’s 12.3 percentage points.

And that’s exactly why our approach is tailored to the specific challenges of different communities.

My department has identified 20 ‘challenge areas’ across the country.

These are areas where the employment gap is highest and the ethnic minority population is the greatest.

We are targeting these places with specialist support, trialling new interventions.

Including mentoring programmes and targeted projects building on existing community networks.


Overall youth unemployment may be at a record low, but it is still hard for young people to see themselves in jobs which are effectively invisible to them.

Jobs where they do not see people like themselves succeeding.

That is why our network of mentoring circles helps open their horizons, bringing young people from ethnic minorities together – voluntarily – in their local jobcentre.

These young people are being mentored in our jobcentres by major employers like HSBC and Fujistsu, giving them the self-confidence and skills and aspiration they need.

I have visited one of these mentoring programmes in north London.

And saw for myself how transformative they can be for youngsters.

Particularly when the mentoring is provided by someone from a similar background to them.

So far, 63 mentoring circles have taken place in 21 jobcentres, and more are being prepared for next year.

A lack of expectations can do more than just drain ambition and hope – it can drive young people onto the wrong path.

That is why proactive intervention can be so important in fuelling their success.


British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi women have some of the lowest employment rates in the UK.

Part of the reason for this may be cultural expectations of caring responsibilities in the home.

Determining what is a choice, and what may be the result of a cultural pressure is not straight forward.

But we must ensure that women know that when they choose to work, they can and will be valued.

That is why in Birmingham Yardley, an area with low employment rates for women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, we are reaching out to them to build a trusted relationship for the first time.

By building the women’s confidence, and their knowledge about job opportunities.

And by working in existing community networks, we can bring them closer to the labour market so they can make a choice about their future in it.

Creating full employment among ethnic minorities communities is not just the right thing to do.

It makes good business sense.

As ERSA’s members already know, an inclusive employer is also a successful employer.

And that includes the bottom line.

Full representation of ethnic minority individuals across the labour market, through participation and progression in their careers, would boost the economy by an estimated £24 billion a year.

And it’s something the whole of government is acting on.

Take my colleagues in the Department for Education.

They are working with thousands of employers and the National Apprenticeship Service to get more young people from ethnic minorities into apprenticeships, a route into almost any career from nuclear engineering to law.

We have pledged to increase the number of apprentices from an ethnic minority background by 20 per cent by 2020.

And last year 55,000 apprentices came from such backgrounds.


The more we understand about where inequality exists, the more we can do to tackle it.

So again I thank ERSA for this thought -provoking report.

It joins a huge bank of evidence, including the Race Disparity Audit and the future findings from the consultation on the Ethnic Pay Gap.

Our work to tackle inequality is ongoing, and will be for some time yet.

But arming ourselves with this evidence means progress will be quicker.

So that when the Doctor Who of the future travels back to our own time, and she and her companions find it difficult to comprehend the injustices which still exist today – that will be because we have tackled them and created a future where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed in life.

Alok Sharma, Minister of State for Employment

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page