By Fiona Aldridge
In the years prior to the pandemic, even as the overall number of apprenticeships starts were falling, we saw a steady increase in the number of employers offering apprenticeships at levels 4 and above; the introduction of the levy and the increasing availability of standards at higher levels was key to this growth. More young people and adults too recognised that higher level apprenticeships could help them develop the higher-level skills demanded by the labour market, support their career progression, and provide greater access to work-based training, while limiting its impact on their personal time and finances.
For government, their ambition to grow both the number and quality of apprenticeships was accompanied by a commitment to widening access and to ensuring that programmes at all levels could support social mobility for people from diverse backgrounds. Learning and Work Institute research published earlier this week, shows that while some progress has been made, there is still much more to be done if we are to address the under-representation of apprentices from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) and apprentices living in disadvantaged areas of the country – enabling the programme to truly meet its potential to support social mobility.
Our analysis shows that while there was some variation by apprenticeship level and standard, in general in 2018/19:
Employers and apprentices suggested a range of measures that could better enable the apprenticeship programme to support social mobility, including:
Of course, since this research was undertaken, we have seen a significant fall in the number of apprenticeships – as a result of the pandemic – and we will need to look closely at what impact this has had on the profile of, and outcomes for, apprentices. Our analysis shows that supporting social mobility will require more than simply trying to get back to where we were. Instead, we will need a greater ambition and a more concerted effort by government, employers, and providers to engage and support under-represented groups in accessing apprenticeships.
Dr Fiona Aldridge, Director of Policy and Research, Learning and Work Institute