From education to employment

Apprenticeships delivering social mobility – follow the evidence

Secretary of State for Education, TFL trains manager, micro-SME sales admin manager, John Lewis Partnership LGV driver discuss apprenticeships

Last week’s inspiring celebrations of apprenticeships across the country served as a timely reminder to us all of the potential that they hold.

Indeed, at a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) flagship event, we heard first hand from apprentices ranging from the Secretary of State for Education to a TFL trains manager to a micro-SME sales admin manager to a John Lewis Partnership LGV driver – all proud apprentices. Each of them credit their success to the opportunity provided by their apprenticeship, with Gillan Keegan proudly calling it her ‘golden ticket’.

The apprenticeship system is intended, by design, to be employer-led, to help organisations in every corner of the country to fill the skills gaps they are experiencing, while giving people at every age and stage of their working lives the chance to gain skills. 

One of the most well-received elements of our celebration was a panel of employers and education providers, who came together to discuss the power of degree apprenticeships in driving social mobility. 

This often overlooked added-value is not notional or presumed – it is grounded in evidence. CMI’s recently released research The Future of the Apprenticeship Levy drew on the experience of more than 800 management apprentices to demonstrate how they are changing the make-up of our workforce. It found that 71% of CMI’s management apprentices come from families where neither parent went to university and 39% of degree apprentices are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared with 36% in the UK labour force and 27% in higher education.

Some choose to caricature management apprenticeships as MBAs on the cheap. And yet, the majority of management apprentices do not have degree or postgraduate qualifications of any kind. This is levelling up in the people sense of the phrase.

Evangelical about degree apprenticeships

Our expert panel brought their own insights into the benefits they have seen, the tangible impact of offering apprenticeships and pointed to some of the improvements they would like to see, notably with the advice available to young people.

We heard calls that echo the voices of many working in this area – for more targeted support for SMEs, less complicated administration and better ways of ensuring that apprenticeships reach underserved communities so that they too can benefit from the same level of opportunity – they too can reach for the same ‘golden ticket’.

It was encouraging to hear that employers see their apprentices as being on a continuous learning journey while also providing them with the chance to address skills shortages in their respective industries -levelling up in the place sense of the phrase

Stuart Brocklehurst, Chief Executive at Applegate Marketplace, told the audience that he was ‘evangelical’ about the value of degree apprenticeships to regional development. He added that they are especially vital to providing opportunities in areas of deprivation where young people might be held back from moving away to university by both cost and family expectations that they will start earning a wage when they turn 18.

 “I run a technology business working on artificial intelligence, which I sold last year and I couldn’t have done it without degree apprentices.” 

“We don’t have a university right on the doorstep. So unless there are degree apprenticeships, these people don’t have the chance to study for a degree and be everything they can be, and that would be criminal. It’d be criminal in terms of denying them the chance to fulfil all they can do, but also as a country, the contribution that they can make to society, and to the economy.

Creating career paths

Kathryn Austin, Chief People & Marketing Officer Pizza Hut Restaurants UK, remarked how Pizza Hut’s Level Two apprentice intake is 90% comprised of people who would be classified as NEETs (not in education, employment, education or training) when they join the scheme and many of them require considerable support. She said employers need to see benefit in taking on lower level apprentices, putting in the time to help them develop and progress for the longer term benefit of their business.

“So our first job is to get them through foundation skills for English and maths, which can be quite daunting for those students. We’ve got some tremendous examples of people that started with us literally with no qualifications at all.” 

Building soft power skills

Austin stressed that part of their approach is to help people progress through apprenticeship levels so that they can take advantage of the longer term opportunities that the hospitality industry provides and develop their existing workforce.

“So actually providing an apprenticeship to that entry level enables you to empower social mobility, but at the same time actually create career paths. So I think we have to work harder. We have to take more people in at the lower levels and then bring them through and up and that’s what we tried to do.” 

James Kelly, the chief executive of education provider Corndel, said an apprenticeship can hold the key to delivering social mobility by instilling the interpersonal and communications skills that employers are crying out for and that build the confidence of younger workers, regardless of background.

“It’s really ironic that we have very expensive fee paying schools that spend a fortune helping young people gain those interpersonal skills. And through apprenticeships, we have the ability to build all of those. I’m not going to call them soft skills, or power skills, but skills that really enable you to progress, get on and work with people.”

Levy debates blurring the big picture

One of the oddities of the current debate is the ferocious attack on apprenticeships when the reality is that the employers who have put in the focus and effort they are delivering for their employees and the future workforce. More should be done to support and encourage more employers, especially SMEs, into the system. 

Naturally, those largest employers who pay more on the levy than they are able to take out will protest against the method of funding. But let’s not let an argument over levy contribution and distribution obscure the fact that the apprenticeship system is delivering so much good and has even further potential from here. 

By Anthony Painter

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