Apprenticeships on the rise – but not for everyone

5th March 2017

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, Learning and Work Institute has released research showing women, people from lower income families, and ethnic minorities face a participation penalty in apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are a proven way for people to build careers and employers to gain the skills they need. That is why the UK Government has the target of 3 million apprenticeships in England by 2020.

Our research highlights stark inequalities in access to apprenticeships:

– People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are half as likely to succeed in their application.

– Women are more likely to be apprentices in low paid sectors, which risks entrenching the gender pay gap rather than tackling it.

– Young people eligible for Free School Meals are up to half as likely to undertake an Advanced Apprenticeship.

In addition, our research shows 40% of firms that will pay the Apprenticeship Levy, a tax on large employers to fund Apprenticeships introduced in April 2017, are based in London and the South East. This could mean future growth in training is concentrated in these regions. The rest of the country, including the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, could miss out on the training needed to rebalance economic growth.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, commented:

“Apprenticeships allow people to earn while they learn and help employers meet their skills needs. So we welcome the Government’s commitment to expand apprenticeships – our analysis shows they are broadly on track for their target of 3 million by 2020.

“However, our research shows a substantial participation penalty for many groups. People from BAME backgrounds are half as likely to succeed in their application; women are more likely to be apprentices in low paid sectors; and people from lower income households are less likely to access Advanced Apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeships can be ladders of opportunity and engines of growth. But only if they are of the highest quality and open to all. We need to do much better.

“We are proposing an Apprentice Premium. Like the Pupil Premium in schools, it would target extra support at those most likely to be underrepresented and sectors prioritized by the Industrial Strategy, Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. We also need a much greater focus on quality, ensuring that our apprenticeships match the very best in the world, genuinely improve skills, and prepare people for their careers.

“We must act now, otherwise we risk hitting the 3 million apprenticeship target but missing the point of creating them.”

Sue Davidson, Support Staff Development Manager at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, who last year won a Festival of Learning award for Employer of the Year for their apprenticeship programme added:

“Our scheme, that brings over 300 apprentices into the Trust every year, has successfully reduced the gaps in the workforce caused by high sickness, retention and performance issues that necessitated back fill with agency staff with the inherent additional costs – over £100k in the first year of full activity.

“When apprentices have completed their course, over 90% move seamlessly into a substantive post and continue to grow within the team that they have learned with. After one year, our retention rates for ex-apprentices are higher than in the general Trust population in equivalent grades.”

Matt Hamnett, Principal of North Herts College and winner of TES campaign of the year for their approach to apprenticeships, added:

“I strongly endorse the conclusions of Learning & Work Institute. If we are to build a vibrant, highly-skilled economy able to compete on the global stage we must make sure that apprenticeship reform delivers the skills we need – not just the apprenticeship starts required to deliver Government’s target.

“I am equally supportive of the report’s findings on access to apprenticeships. We fail a nation of young people if we do not make sure that planned growth in apprenticeship numbers creates opportunities that would not otherwise exist for talented young people from all parts of our society to realise their potential in the world of work.”