Apprenticeships offer numerous benefits to learners, including the opportunity to earn while you learn, which is especially important for disadvantaged apprentices. They can also help organisations of all sizes, in all industries, build diverse and talented workforces.
However, research shows that the majority of apprentices are not from lower socio-economic backgrounds. So what can employers do to support social mobility through their apprenticeship programmes?
As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2023, we spoke to Harry Morgan, Skills for Jobs Lead at Microsoft, and Jessica Leigh Jones, co-founder and CEO of iungo Solutions, about how employers can reach people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure their apprenticeships are building a diverse workforce.
If you missed it, you can watch the recording below, and read on for our recap.
Think outside the box
Apprenticeships can be a great way to invest in new talent, and upskill your current workforce. Harry reminds us that they are “Not just for 16-25 year olds, and not just for manual jobs!” Every organisation, no matter what your industry, can benefit from apprenticeships. You can widen your intake by considering what skills are required for roles across the business – for instance, technology is no longer just for tech businesses, all successful businesses require tech expertise to help them get there – from football to food to fashion.
Target from the onset
“Talent is everywhere, but opportunity often isn’t” says Jessica. “Sometimes we have to create those opportunities, or at least make them visible. If we can make those opportunities visible, we can unlock that hidden talent.”
There are a number of ways that you can work to attract more apprentices from lower socio-economic backgrounds, including targeting recruitment in social mobility ‘cold spots’, or working with external partners, such as charities, to reach different demographics.
You could also consider running some outreach programmes in schools and further education colleges, encouraging learners to consider apprenticeships as a future option.
Implementing some of these outreach options can help to ensure that apprenticeships “create prosperous communities around us by engaging hidden talent.”
Visit our Organisational Directory to find partners that can support you.
Recruit for potential
One key way that you can make your apprenticeships more accessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is to consider your essential criteria, and how you are asking potential apprentices to show their skills.
“Qualifications are great in terms of demonstrating the skills that you’ve got,” says Jessica, “but they’re not necessary.” Think about whether a specific qualification is the only way that an applicant can prove their ability – could you ask them to demonstrate a skill in a task at interview, or show their aptitude in a different way?
You could also consider offering more Level 2 apprenticeships, as they often don’t require any pre-existing achievements in English and Maths.
Think about ways that you can make your apprenticeships inclusive after the hiring process is complete too. Where possible, try to build in flexibility around job location and working hours, which can help to recruit those from social mobility cold spots, and those who may have, for example, caring responsibilities.
Support your apprentices
One of the key ways you can support your apprentices, and open up the opportunity to an even wider talent pool, is to build in flexibility for home working, location and job design.
Think about how you can offer pastoral support to your apprentices, for example, through staff networks, mentoring programmes or buddy schemes. These can help apprentices from lower socio-economic backgrounds build confidence, and feel like a valued member of your organisation.
If you have a number of apprentices across your organisation, you might consider setting up an apprentice network. Connecting apprentices at different stages, at different levels and in different roles can provide brilliant peer support, and model a variety of career pathways in your organisation.
Harry thinks that the key to creating a good environment for apprentices is to “see them as a full time employee – give them proper projects and space to learn.” He believes this is essential as it’s “likely that [apprentices] will be there long term and become a leader in your organisation.”
Think about progression pathways
Apprenticeships aren’t just for entry level employees, or school leavers either. Designing clear progression pathways is a great way to make apprentices feel valued, and allow them to see their future within your organisation. If you build a pipeline for apprenticeships from Level 2 upwards, you provide an opportunity for apprentices to continue their development and eventually become effective leaders in their area.
Creating a culture of continual learning is also a great way to retain staff, and help those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to progress. Jessica talks about having an ‘everyone is an apprentice’ mindset at iungo, and senior leaders modelling the importance of continual learning for everyone in the organisation.
To make sure you’re being as inclusive as possible, ensure that your training opportunities are open to self-selection, and that managers talk to employees regularly about training options.
It’s great to see lots of employers taking advantage of apprenticeships and bootcamps to upskill and develop the skills they need in their workforce.
Whatever your organisation does, you could benefit from apprenticeships in areas such as digital skills. Harry summed it up perfectly, saying “No matter your industry, chances are technology is going to enable your organisation to thrive and apprenticeships are a great way to get those skills into your industry.” And remember that it’s not just school leavers who can take advantage – apprenticeships are “for everybody, at every age and stage.”
If you want to find out how you can do more to support social mobility through apprenticeships, our Apprenticeships Toolkit provides practical tips and actions to diversify apprenticeships and increase social mobility.