Apprenticeships vital to improving prospects for disadvantaged people

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Apprenticeships and other “earn and learn” programmes are key to improving social mobility and addressing the UK’s productivity gap, a report from campaign group The 5% Club has claimed.

The Playing to our Strengths report argues that employers are currently failing to develop “the brightest and the best”, which risks stifling economic growth and reducing opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It proposes that there should be greater variety in the level of apprenticeships offered, including a focus on intermediate apprenticeships, and better promotion of what apprenticeships are to address outdated perceptions that they are “second best”.

Employers are also encouraged to forge links with schools and colleges in deprived areas to increase the access disadvantaged young people have to work experience, which the report says is particularly beneficial to the employability of those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Other recommendations include:

  • widening the scope of the apprenticeship levy into a broader skills levy, allowing it to be spent on other types of technical training;
  • increasing flexibility in the 45-60 day specification for T-level work placements, which would ensure more employers are able to engage with them;
  • rethinking the “default” practice of offering informal work experience to children of friends and family, which the report says reinforces social inequalities;
  • increasing education of the workplace during the primary school years; and
  • increasing the number of schools that allow employers to speak to children about the range of employment opportunities on offer.

Leo Quinn, chairman and founder of The 5% Club – which urges employers to employ 5% of its workforce in “earn and learn” positions within five years – said: “Business leaders and government urgently need to join forces to address the lack of social mobility in the UK today.

“Central to this is raising awareness amongst young people from less advantaged backgrounds about going down the route of ‘earn and learn’ to start building long-term careers while being paid. Many of our key industries are crying out for skilled workers to train on the job – so it’s a tragedy if we fail to reach those who desperately need this chance.”

The report also recommends that employers look at whether there are any internal barriers to appointing and promoting those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They should also consider programmes that support their personal development.

“As employers we must ensure that traditional recruitment methods are not inherently discriminatory,” said Quinn. “We must open up early work experience or internships to all – the first vital step into the world of work. Equally, positive careers advice in schools can tear down the perception that apprenticeships are ‘second best’.”

Justin Madders MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, commented: “By widening access, organisations benefit from an increased pool of skills and experience; the more a company’s staff reflect their customers the greater understanding they will have of their wishes.

“Having diverse workforces, which encompass many different talents, backgrounds and experiences is crucial if we are to develop dynamic organisations.”

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