Yesterday, the prime minister promised to offer an “opportunity guarantee” that will give “every young person the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement”. This highlights yet again the Government’s commitment to the apprenticeship program. Since 2010, 2 million new apprenticeships have been created, employer’s National Insurance contributions for apprenticeships under 25 have been abolished and of course, the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced.

This latest announcement is a very positive one and, whilst the details are still unknown, it is clear that this will be hugely beneficial to students, employers and industries and sectors across the country.

This will inevitably go some way to mitigate the concerns raised in the recent report by the Social Mobility Commission- an independent Government body with a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the UK and to promote social mobility in England.

The report made the following comments:

  • It highlights a 36% decline in people from disadvantaged backgrounds starting apprenticeships, compared with 23% for other groups.
  • Only 13% of degree-level apprenticeships (the most expensive apprenticeship option) go to disadvantaged apprentices
  • On average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The commission’s report also says that most of the benefits of apprenticeships are going to those from wealthier backgrounds.

However, it did stress that apprenticeships are “one of the most effective means of boosting social mobility for workers from poorer backgrounds – if they can get into and through the system”.

This is why it is RISE’s view that the system be re-focussed to encourage more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access apprenticeships.  This would require robust information, advice, guidance and employability support for individuals to compete with confidence to secure an apprenticeship and the availability of sufficient high quality apprenticeship opportunities from employers.

For those who do secure an apprenticeship, there are many benefits. The evidence shows that apprenticeships give a bigger earnings enhancement for disadvantaged learners by boosting employment and reducing the gap in earnings between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged learners. There is a 16% earnings premium at age 28 for disadvantaged women with an intermediate apprenticeship, compared with 10% for non-disadvantaged women. They also act as a ladder of social mobility by allowing individuals to gain skills in a non-academic context. They can upskill and reskill workers, giving a second chance to those already in employment.

In terms of degree apprenticeships, RISE believes they are a valuable offering providing an alternative route, allowing students to gain a degree level qualification whilst being paid, gaining practical skills and graduating with no debt at all. This is no surprise as employers are highly selective in recruiting those they consider a best fit for their premium apprenticeship vacancies. More needs to be done to encourage employers to broaden their recruitment horizons to capitalise on those from a wide range of backgrounds, embracing diversity and bringing new ideas to the workplace.

RISE shares the view of Steven Cooper, joint deputy chair of the Social Mobility Commission, when he says: “Strategic action and direction are needed to target the system better on disadvantaged communities and improve the system’s value for money.”

The question is how?

RISE believes that some form of government intervention is necessary and appropriate here. The report lists 6 recommendations:

  1. Increase the share of apprentices from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds to pre-levy level.
  2. Increase the proportion of starters from disadvantaged backgrounds at advanced and higher levels to comparable levels currently prevailing for non-disadvantaged apprentices.
  3. Eliminate the disadvantage gap in levy support for starters at higher level
  4. Ensure the average planned duration of comparable apprenticeship programmes are at least as long for disadvantaged learners as for non-disadvantaged learners (with no shortening of planned duration compared to current levels)
  5. Reduce incidence of non-achievement for all socio-economic backgrounds to levels comparable to those in other education sectors.
  6. Ensure completion rates for comparable apprenticeship programmes are the same for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged learners (and comparable to completion rates in the wider education arena).

It is hoped that by improving the system in this way, the system can be futureproofed so that more apprentices than ever before can benefit from a system that enables them to learn new skills and secure a long-lasting career.


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