Apprenticeships, Social Mobility and Commercial Opportunity

Bexley Beaumont Employment Associate Alice Kinder discusses National Apprenticeship Week and highlights the important contribution which such schemes make to the lives of participants and the businesses which become involved.

In June last year, the Social Mobility Commission issued its most recent annual report

The 135-page document was a comprehensive and rather upbeat snapshot of ongoing efforts to enable individuals of all backgrounds across the UK to make a positive difference to their lives.

Out of the vast amount of information which it contained, arguably the most relevant passage actually came in the introduction. "Social mobility", it declared, "is for everyone, not just a few".

The phrase struck a simple and very particular chord for me. As a keen advocate of social mobility and equal opportunities, and one of the Law Society's social mobility ambassadors, I take great interest in initiatives to improve access to my own industry for people from a variety of different backgrounds.

However, my focus is not confined just to the legal profession, which is why I have been paying special attention to events this week, which has been designated National Apprenticeship Week.

In my view, apprenticeships and social mobility go hand in hand. Without apprenticeships, some individuals may be restricted in their opportunities to learn and progress.

As a paper published by the House of Commons' Library only last month concluded: "widening access to university has not brought the dividends many hoped for, and has diverted attention away from the 50% that pursue other routes"

In some cases, that alternative direction is out of necessity. Going to university may not only involve tuition fees and possibly debt but also the financial and social pressures of relocation, which for some individuals are simply not possible or desirable.

In 2020, the Social Mobility Commission published an index that compared the chances of a child from a disadvantaged area doing well at school and getting a job across of the local authority district areas of England. This found that there were significant disparities, with coastal areas and industrial areas being particular "coldspots". If individuals from these areas cannot access further or higher education and there are no feasible alternatives, this could limit their career opportunities.

Recent governments have certainly been keen to use apprenticeships as a means of increasing the number of skilled employees available to UK plc, most notably with the creation of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017.

The Levy is a form of taxation, requiring businesses turning over more than £3 million to pay half a per cent of the value of their payroll into a fund which can then be used by companies of all sizes wanting to offer apprenticeships,more%20than%20%C2%A33%20million.

New official figures have provided us with an opportunity to assess whether the such measures have been truly effective

They show that the number of apprenticeships started in this academic year is six per cent lower than in the previous 12 months.

Sixty per cent of those were supported by the Apprenticeship Levy.

Business leaders have emphasised that the need to promote apprenticeships as a credible alternative route to career progression is not helped by the structure of the levy not being fit for purpose and needing reform

However, whilst fresh thinking may well be required to ensure that whatever schemes do exist into the long-term meet their objectives for the broad range of individuals and organisations who stand to benefit, apprenticeships are still a fantastic way for employers to diversify their workforce.

Even allowing for current criticism of the Apprenticeship Levy, it supports employers wanting to diversify their workforce by taking on individuals from different backgrounds and of different ages.

Just over 41 per cent of all those who committed to start apprenticeships this year were over the age of 25.

Furthermore, only a year ago, the Government introduced new regulations permitting prisoners access to apprenticeship schemes to enhance their prospects of securing work upon their release, with the aim of reintegrating them into the community and reducing the chances of their reoffending

The theme of this year's Apprenticeship Week is 'Skills For Life'. At its fullest, that means using apprenticeships for people at various stages of their lives and with very diverse life experiences.

Those businesses which are alive to the potential of such schemes know that they present a dual opportunity.

They offer valuable training to many people who attach greater significance to a job than merely the chance to earn a wage.

For companies confronting challenging economic circumstances and recruitment issues, apprenticeships are another important way to remain competitive.

To discuss any of the above further, please feel free to contact Alice Kinder:  |  07526 372580