Report Overview

Access to apprenticeships for young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds is an ongoing problem, particularly among the most sought-after apprenticeship opportunities. Previous research by the Sutton Trust has highlighted the access gap at degree apprenticeships in particular, with access challenges similar to university itself.

If we are to tackle these access gaps, we need to increase both the level of demand among young people for such apprenticeships, and the efforts of employers to reach such young people to offer them these opportunities.

To get a reflection of current provision and gain an understanding of what is being considered best practice we conducted interviews with a variety of employers, universities and outreach delivery organisations. We then surveyed recent apprentices to understand the information and support they received before starting their apprenticeship, and the gaps that remain.


The proportion of apprentices aged 25-54 who were already working for their employer.

1 in 4

The proportion of young apprentices who found the apprenticeship application process difficult to navigate.


The proportion of young apprentices who received no information before starting their apprenticeship.

Key Findings
  • Access to the best apprenticeships for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds continues to be an issue. An increasing number of degree apprenticeships are going to older apprentices, and they are also more likely to be taken up by those in more affluent areas. Apprenticeship opportunities for young people overall continue to decline.
  • Apprenticeships for over 25s are substantially more likely to be offered to existing employees, rather than advertised as new opportunities. 68% of apprentices aged 25-54 in our survey reported they were already working for their employer. Such apprentices were also more likely to have come from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
  • 14% of respondents aged 16-24 reported that they did not receive information or outreach before starting their apprenticeship. This was higher for those starting with a new employer.
  • For those aged 16-24, salary information was the most popular response when asked about the information apprentices would have liked to receive before they started their apprenticeship.
  • 1 in 4 young apprentices found the apprenticeship application process difficult to navigate, with those from a working class background more likely to report this compared to those from middle class backgrounds.
  • When asked about what could have encouraged their friends, peers and-or classmates to choose an apprenticeship, almost one in three (31%) of young apprentices said better information and support from their school.
  • Almost 1 in 5 (22%) said that their friends and family were unsupportive of their decision to do an apprenticeship. Those from a working class background were less likely to have friends and family that were supportive of their decision.
  • Apprenticeships outreach is much less developed than outreach conducted by universities, and is done in a variety of ways across employers, with little evidence as yet on effectiveness.
  • Partnerships with other organisations are seen as key for reaching larger numbers of young people, as well as those from specific groups, whom an employer may not have the experience or means to access.
  • Apprenticeship outreach spending appeared very low when compared to graduate outreach and recruitment costs.
  • Virtual outreach has been prominent over the last year, which has had pros and cons. As long as students could get online it has proved to be a good level up for students and has allowed more conversations to take place with teachers and parents. However, virtual fatigue and low turnouts have proved to be a challenge.
Tips for Employers


  1.  Recognise that time, capacity, and resource is required to deliver effective outreach.
  2. Work experience placements are a key element. Employers should ensure that where possible, work placements return to pre-pandemic levels, or higher, but also that the most promising aspects of online provision are retained and built upon, particularly in terms of expanding geographic reach.
  3. Useful information should include topics seen in our polling as sought after by apprentices:
    a. Salary information
    b. Career opportunities that available after completing their apprenticeship
    c. Grade requirements to access apprenticeships
    d. Understanding the balance between work and study
    e. More information on how to apply to apprenticeships
  4. Partner with others where needed. Partnerships can be the best way of achieving scale and reaching target groups via trusted organisations. Once it is known who is under-represented within the workforce or apprenticeship programme, work with suitable partners to reach these audiences. The Social Mobility Commission have compiled a useful directory.
  5. Highlight the experiences and voice of apprentices themselves to young people. However, endeavour to ensure such apprentices reflect the backgrounds of the group you wish to target, so young people can see themselves reflected.
  6. Consider accompanying outreach with targeted travel bursaries, including for interviews, as well as contributions towards necessary equipment. Lack of funds as a result of travel costs and low wages can be a key barrier to young people taking up apprenticeships.
  7. Target teachers and parents, as well as young people themselves. Reaching and educating those who are key influencers on young people’s decisions is important so they have the knowledge to support informed decisions.
  8. Outreach should include younger age groups so that students are fully aware of which subjects are relevant to specific sectors and what grades are needed for certain apprenticeships. This will help students come to an informed decision over time.
  9. Work with schools to identify the right timing during the school year to deliver outreach activities. University admissions work to a regular annual timetable. Consider how recruitment timelines fit in with key decision points for young people in the school year.
  10. Track and monitor the diversity of the workforce, including apprentices, in order to help see any gaps in applications, hires, progression or retention, target outreach towards particular groups, identify organisations to partner with, and track progress over time. Including socio-economic background in diversity monitoring is also key. To learn more about how to measure socio-economic background take a look at our Employer’s Guide.
  11. Where possible, build in processes to track the effectiveness of outreach to help evaluate success and share best practice.