From education to employment

Tackling Inequalities and Lack of Diversity Across Apprenticeships and Skills Training

people stood in a line cheering with their arm in the air

A new toolkit will help employers and awarding bodies tackle problems with inequalities and lack of diversity across apprenticeships and technical education.

It has been published today by leading government skills agency the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) along with a new strategy for supporting employers to design more inclusive training programmes.

IfATE analysed data around age, sex, ethnicity, disability, and how skills training supports social mobility. The resulting toolkit is full of honest reflection and advice on how to make a difference.

 Data on sex: The number of females and males on apprenticeships is about 50/50, but male starts make up the majority of apprenticeship starts in construction and the built environment; 93.1%, in engineering and manufacturing this is 91.2%, in transport and logistics this is 83.9%, in digital it is 72.4%. Female starts are at their highest in education and childcare at 92.5%, hair and beauty at 91.4%, care service at 81.9%, and health and science at 74.9%.  

  • Top tips from the toolkit: Set advertising or recruitment targets to address imbalances • Review language used in job adverts or recruitment materials to ensure it is inclusive • Review flexibilities e.g., allowing greater flexibility around working hours for single parents (to accommodate childcare) is important • Use role models and promote the success stories of those who are normally under-represented.

Data on disability: People with at least one declared learning difficulty or disability (LDD) are under-represented in higher level (4 and above up to degree level) apprenticeships. Just 8% of Level 4+ apprentices have declared an LDD, compared with 14% of first-year undergraduates and 18% of working-age population. The proportion of people who reported having learner learning difficulties or disabilities was highest among those taking apprenticeships in hair and beauty at 23.6% and low for legal, finance and accounting at 8.2%.

  • Top tips from the toolkit: Familiarise yourself with the reasonable adjustments legal duty and review for your workplace. As well as physical changes to environment, can also include adjustments to working patterns, roles etc • Consider how the application process could be more inclusive. For example, apprentices on the Disabled Apprentice Network value employers who allow options like video CVs • Be proactive in creating inclusive interview procedures. Some employers use work trials for disabled applicants rather than formal interview.

Data on ethnicity: A lack of awareness is considered a barrier to all when accessing apprenticeships, however, it appears to disproportionately affect those from certain ethnic groups. For example, a survey by Youth Employment UK earlier this year found that 33% of black respondents had never had apprenticeships discussed with them, compared with 13% of white respondents. White apprentices are more likely to complete their apprenticeship than their counterparts from ethnic minorities.

  • Top tips from the toolkit: Use data to understand what representation looks like in your area and recognise when your cohort does not reflect it. Consider positive action to raise participation of ethnic minority learners e.g., setting targets • Increase visibility of diverse role models eg consideration of representation when recruiting for senior posts • Try advertising vacancies through best-placed channels e.g., faith groups, community centre, radio, or libraries.

Data on social mobility: Research into level 4 and above apprenticeships found there are higher proportions of learners from the most deprived areas in level 2 apprenticeships (lower level) and higher proportions of learners from the least deprived areas at higher levels 4-7. Apprenticeship completion rates are lower for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to more privileged backgrounds. Disadvantaged learners tend to be older which suggests low pay and the cost of travel may be a larger barrier for young people.

  • Top tips from the toolkit: Use the Social Mobility Commission’s employers’ toolkit to help attract employees from all backgrounds • Support schools to provide good quality careers advice • Collaborate with learning providers to step up access and outreach activities for degree apprenticeships, targeting disadvantaged backgrounds • Support with travel costs. This could be done directly by subsiding or indirectly by allowing apprentices to travel at off-peak times.

Data on age: Almost half of people (47.3%) who started on apprenticeships last year were aged over 25, which reflects the all-age nature of the programme but we want to see more young people. A recent survey found 25% of young people (11–30-year-olds) rated the careers education they received in supporting them to make informed choices “poor” or “very poor”. 17% of young people reported never having apprenticeships discussed with them in school.

  • Top tips from the toolkit: Work with local schools to identify the correct timing during the school year to deliver outreach activities • Sign up to the Good Youth Employment Charter to demonstrate your commitment to youth employment. • Review what is required alongside the standard entry requirements when advertising an apprenticeship. Asking for further qualifications can create a barrier for young people and some licences have age restrictions.

Equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) matters to businesses of all sizes and the economy more widely. Gender and ethnically diverse organisations are more likely to outperform competitors by 15% and 35% respectively.

Jennifer Coupland, CEO of IfATE, said: 

“Apprenticeships and technical education must work for everyone. We have dramatically improved standards through our employer-led reforms, but it’s no good if certain groups don’t benefit. Our new EDI strategy and toolkit will do a huge amount to remove barriers and help create a more inclusive talent pipeline for businesses across the country.”

Sir Robin Millar, world famous record producer, IfATE board member, and chair of the board of trustees at disability equality charity Scope, said: 

“It is vital that technical education has the furthest possible reach and offers career progression opportunities for everyone, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as care leavers and disabled people. It’s something I care deeply about as a successful blind man and long-term campaigner for equality. This will help set us on the path to a more competitive economy and fairer society.”

Ruby McGregor-Smith, chair of IfATE, said: 

“As an Asian woman in business I’ve enjoyed a really fulfilling career and feel it is vital to now support others to rise through the ranks, especially in light of the data. Apprenticeships and technical education are a great way of progressing, I would recommend them to anyone and am delighted IfATE’s toolkit will now advise employers on ways to improve their equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Related Articles