Are apprenticeships really for all?
I was delighted to see the Government’s recent ad campaign promoting the benefits of apprenticeships and giving much needed air time to the many and varied opportunities that exist. It’s great that Apprenticeships are getting exposure but at the same time I was disheartened to see the adverts perpetuate the age old stereotype that Apprenticeships are for young people and feel that the Government has missed a huge opportunity to broaden the appeal and target a much broader demographic.
One of the biggest failures of the apprenticeship system in recent times has been their ability to widen access and provide pathways to skills and employment for all parts of society. Despite the rise in numbers of apprenticeship starts over the past decade certain groups have seen little real benefit. BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) young people are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts and this situation worsens when you look at young people with a disability. Almost 50% of young people in the UK with a disability are unemployed. This is something that we as a nation should be ashamed of.
By not featuring any Disabled apprentices in its adverts the government has missed a huge opportunity to address this head on. Apprenticeships are a fantastic vehicle to provide the extra support required when you are faced with a disability. At Barclays we have leveraged our programme to provide far greater access to jobs across our business for people with both physical or mental health disabilities. Before we started our programme the percentage of new recruits with a declared disability was very low at only 3% and this was something we set out to address using the more supportive approach an apprenticeship enables. We now have over 10% of our recruits with a declared disability and this is rising as we get better at building relationships with specialist organisations such as Remploy and promoting ourselves to this group.
We have learnt a lot of lessons along the way about how to be more attractive to this particular talent pool. In particular, understanding how traditional recruitment methods often do not make sufficient allowances for both mental and physical disabilities whether that is our recruitment website design or the interview/assessment process itself. We have learned that our normal approach to recruitment has to be adapted to make it work for all.
The second group that fail to make an appearance in the adverts are older people. In the UK today there are over one million people over the age of 50 who are unemployed but who wish to be in employment. There are many reasons why people find themselves in this group including forced redundancy or having to leave work to care for others.
With the removal of the 16-24 restrictions on funding following the recent apprenticeship reforms it is perfectly feasible to hire apprentices of any age onto new Apprenticeship Standards and given the number of school leavers will fall well short of the number of predicted jobs required by UK Plc in the future, businesses will need to start to look more widely at where they find their apprentices. At Barclays we have started to focus on this particular talent pool and have hired over 60 “Bolder” (Barclays Older) Apprentices into key parts of our business. The skills and life experiences they have brought have been remarkableand they are already adding incredible value to our business.
As companies begin to think about how they invest their Levy from April next year I hope that they give consideration to attracting as wide and diverse a pool of talent as possible. The Apprenticeship model is a fantastic way of supporting anyone from any background to develop a skill. There should be no barriers to learning new skills whether that be physical, mental or age barriers.
I truly hope that one day we will see an apprenticeship ad campaign featuring a 60 year old or a blind apprentice and that we have a system that reaches and supports all.
Mike Thompson is Director of Early Careers at Barclays.