Social Mobility Commission - Apprenticeships and social mobility

Efficiency North Chief Executive Lee Parkinson responds to report alerting that disadvantaged are left behind

Building upon its excellent body of previous work in promoting and monitoring social mobility in England, the Social Mobility Commission has recently launched its report entitled “Apprenticeships and Social Mobility – Fulfilling Potential”. The report considers the effectiveness of the current apprenticeship landscape in aiding the social mobility of young people and highlights some significant gaps in every stage of the training journey between apprentices, depending on their socio-economic status.

Earn, learn and lead

As someone who chose the apprenticeship route, amongst academic options available, I truly understand, and am passionate about, the benefits that apprenticeships provide. Apprenticeships support employability and enable individuals to gain new skills in an optimal earn / learn environment. Also, apprenticeships can provide opportunities for individuals to reskill and move into other sectors to pursue careers. This model is highly advantageous for employers as they can enjoy the efforts of the apprentice as they develop and mould them in the image and culture of the organisation to create the leaders of the future. I have always regarded apprenticeships as an opportunity for individuals to earn, learn and lead.

Catalyst for social mobility

In addition to employability I have always regarded apprenticeships as a catalyst for social mobility. In my experience I saw many of my peers moving from lesser advantaged backgrounds into trade apprenticeships and subsequently into management roles and, in some cases, such as myself, into leading executive positions. Much of that progress was down to a mix of hard work, self-belief, resilience and luck in what was a fairly simple apprenticeship landscape.

In recent times significant reforms to the apprenticeship system, including the apprenticeship levy and apprenticeship standards, have been introduced to improve the profile and equity of apprenticeships in the eyes of employers when compared to other modes of employment. Indeed, this year will see the first cohorts of T-level apprenticeships which provide a new model to encourage the uptake of apprenticeships by both employers and individuals.

So, all positive on the apprenticeship front then? No, sadly not.

This report highlights the growing gaps in the current apprenticeship system and how recent initiatives appear to benefit greatly those from more advantaged backgrounds and do not aid the social mobility of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Key findings of the report are:

- The apprenticeship levy has reduced starts by individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds

- Size of employer affects apprenticeship starts for disadvantaged learners

- The levy supports non-disadvantaged apprentices more

- Disadvantaged apprentices do not receive equal value training

- Disadvantaged apprentices are less likely to achieve the qualification or progress to further and higher education

- Apprenticeships give a bigger earnings boost for disadvantaged learners (so let’s concentrate on increasing them)

Funding for vital pathways cut

Also, aside from the findings of the report, our sector has sadly seen funding for many vital pathways into employment cut as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In doing so, many young people not in education, employment or training will not be able to find a way into the construction sector, as they will not meet the defined entry requirements for a conventional apprenticeship, thus further harming the social mobility prospects of disadvantaged young people.

Efficiency North's Social Mobility Strategy galvanised

One positive that Efficiency North can take from the report is that our strategy, as a not for profit company, to invest our own income into social value activities, including the improvement of the employability prospects of those disadvantaged or more distant from the employment market, has never been so important. In what are unprecedented economic and operating circumstances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our unswerving commitment to improving the social mobility prospects of individuals in the communities of our members and customers will be galvanised by the findings of this excellent report.

We must not allow the inequities of the apprenticeship system, nor the cuts in vital funding to support employability, to further impair the social mobility of disadvantaged individuals. In what are uncertain and worrying times we must offer opportunity and hope to those individuals that already face considerable obstacles in securing high quality apprenticeships and Efficiency North will continue to work tirelessly to do so.

Lee Parkinson, Chief Executive, Efficiency North


The Author

Written by Efficiency North

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