The Sutton Trust Apprenticeship Summer School returns for a second year this summer and the Amazing Apprenticeships team are looking forward to supporting the programme and providing expert advice and guidance to the young people participating. Their founder and director, Anna Morrison CBE, shares her thoughts on what more we can all do to widen access to apprenticeships to encompass those that most need them.

Even before the pandemic, stats around social mobility and diversity and inclusion within apprenticeships showed that the system was leaving behind those from the most disadvantaged background. While this trend has not changed, reports widely acknowledge that apprenticeships will be key to creating social mobility and economic growth.

Amazing Apprenticeships has continued working with schools, colleges, employers, and training providers throughout the pandemic.  Our website has been busier than ever, and we have facilitated numerous webinars and workshops, enabling interesting discussions, debate and questions being posed by those supporting young people.

What has been hugely encouraging is the high levels of interest from teachers and careers professionals to access the very latest information to support their students. They can see that demand and competition for apprenticeships is increasing and they are keen to ensure that their students are prepared to respond when the opportunities arise. They are also telling us that they are concerned about access to apprenticeships for young people who are facing multiple barriers.

It is equally encouraging that through our conversations with employers, many are telling us they see the pandemic as a turning point within their organisation, an opportunity to do things differently and to start to address diversity and inclusion challenges in a new way. The Amazing Apprenticeships’ Time for Change series of free workshops has connected thousands of employers to experts, helping them to understand the importance of widening access to apprenticeships as way to approach social mobility, disability, mental health and youth matters.

So, we have the pieces of the jigsaw. We have young people that want to work. We have teachers and careers advisers wanting to support them. We have employers saying that they want to diversify their workforce, and we have apprenticeships as the vehicle to make it possible.

What are we missing? Why is it so slow? Where do we start?

Amazing Apprenticeships has spent the last 18 months undertaking a big piece of research around this for the Genie Programme, a social mobility and D&I employer programme specifically for apprenticeships and early careers professionals. We have found that there are generally two ends of the spectrum when it comes to employers;

  • The first is that they do too little. There is a paralysis because the agenda feels too complex and sensitive, and they fear getting it wrong.
  • The second is that people who are passionate about this agenda want to do everything – they want to change the whole company culture and take on the world.

Is there a middle ground?

Absolutely – it’s all about being aware of what you can do in the position you are in. Open yourself up to listening and learning about this agenda, cut through the noise and get to the important factors. Learn about what you can do in your position to push the agenda within your organisation. Use your  understanding to shape recruitment activity and review attraction, challenge the norm and show just what a more diversified recruitment drive offers in terms of talent pool, tweak how you retain and progress disadvantaged talent and remember that successfully filling a position with the right candidate is just the start.

Whilst the world is grappling with economic recovery, we have a unique window of opportunity to look inward and challenge that change within our organisations – it could be that you already sit in the camp already committed to taking on the world and you simply need small tweaks to keep the momentum, but if you sit in the first camp and are looking for the insight, knowledge and confidence to pitch for change, arm yourself with learning and start with the tweaks.

What is certain is that we are spotting the desire by individuals and whole organisations to take action, to make a difference and to start to address the inequalities that exist in access to apprenticeships. Whatever your role in the apprenticeship landscape, if you continue to learn, vocalise and search for opportunity then the wave can begin to reshape and shift the dial.

Anna Morrison CBE is the director and founder of amazingapprenticeships.com, a leading organisation in the education sector, founded to tackle misconceptions about apprenticeships and technical education and promote the benefits.

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