Supporting social mobility through apprenticeships

10.5 mins read time

In this article, we explore how apprenticeship training can be used as an essential tool to support social mobility. Using key reports from The Social Mobility Commission and the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, we review the government’s efforts to improve access to training and how apprenticeships not only support this goal, but provide great benefits to employers too.

We’ll consider how recruiting a more diverse workforce can provide true business and individual benefits. As a clarification, we're using the definition from The Social Mobility Commission for ‘disadvantaged’ apprentices.

“Apprentices originating from the 20% most deprived English neighbourhoods [are classed] as disadvantaged. Individuals living in disadvantaged areas are younger, more likely to be from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds, and are more likely to be affected by some form of disability than learners from non-disadvantaged areas.”


Overview of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are work-based learning programmes where apprentices can earn while they learn. The introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, and the reform from Frameworks to Standards, means there are now over 400 apprenticeship standards available, so most industries in England have access to apprenticeship training.

Apprenticeship Standards develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours of the apprentice and are aligned to their job role. They have been developed through employer trailblazer groups to ensure they are role and industry relevant and can offer a standardised approach to a nationally recognised qualification.

There are levels 2 to 7 available across a range of sectors, where training is a minimum of 12 months in length. At the end of an apprenticeship, there is an End-point Assessment period where the apprentice sits assessments to gain a pass, merit or distinction.

Apprenticeships focus on embedding training, developing a self-development philosophy and aim to stretch and grow the apprentice’s ability so they become the best they can be in their role and are prepared for their next career opportunity. Apprenticeship training can be incredibly beneficial to businesses too, boosting essential skillsets, unlocking new opportunities and increasing employee engagement.

Social mobility and apprenticeships: setting the scene

The government has worked on improving social mobility through education for many years. In 2017, it launched its Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential plan, which aimed to support children and young people to reach their full potential through different educational opportunities. At the start of 2022, employers were urged to “join the skills revolution” by getting behind some of the government's latest initiatives, Skills for Life and Ways to Work.

Apprenticeships have always been part of the plan to improve social mobility, and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy was a way to “encourage large employers to provide apprenticeships and offer a structured and substantial transition for young people from education to work" which can be used alongside government incentives to help cover the cost of apprenticeships

There was clearly a need to improve access to apprenticeships for those from disadvantaged backgrounds as “between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the number of disadvantaged apprentice starts overall fell by 36% – 13% more than the corresponding drop for their more privileged apprentice colleagues”, according to The Social Mobility Commission’s report.

The opinion that apprenticeships are still an essential educational tool is strong, however, it is disputable if they’ve acted as an effective tool to improve social mobility so far.

A clear advocate of apprenticeships supporting social mobility is The Social Mobility Commission, which partnered with London Economics to deliver a report on Apprenticeships and Social Mobility in June 2020. They clearly state at the start of the report that “apprenticeships are one of the few indisputably effective tools of social mobility currently available to the government.”

The report reviews the status of disadvantaged learners, their access to apprenticeship training, experience compared to non-disadvantaged apprentices and the increase in benefits they receive from apprenticeship training. It identified that “strategic action and direction are needed to target the system better on disadvantaged communities and improve the system’s value for money. This is an easy win for the government in its attempts at levelling up, if it can get this right.”

Lifetime's Head of Apprenticeship Recruitment, George Dee, who has nine years experience in the apprenticeship space, has shared his thoughts.

“As the largest apprenticeship training provider in the UK, we can play a positive role in increasing social mobility through our Apprentice Recruitment service. With digital poverty and a lack of apprenticeship opportunity awareness continuing to negatively impact people from a lower socio-economic background, targeted attraction has never been more important.

We work with our partners to continue to promote apprenticeships and offer incredible opportunities at all levels of the career ladder. Boosting social mobility requires collaboration and local engagement within disadvantaged communities, which is why we’ve also expanded our school engagement practices and are putting more emphasis on careers education information advice and guidance (CEIAG).

There has been an increase in awareness of inclusion and diversity for employers, and the positive impact these organisations can have on social mobility. We’ll continue to take important steps in improving our service and support the drive for unlocking talent and fulfilling potential."

George Dee, Head of Apprentice Recruitment at Lifetime
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How apprenticeships can support social mobility

The Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network stated in its report that “companies with a more diverse workforce perform better financially. Every 1% increase in the diversity rate of a workforce, can lead to a 9% rise in sales revenue. In short, a diverse workforce makes good business sense.”

Apprenticeships are one of the few indisputably effective tools of social mobility currently available to the government. By driving an inclusive culture, organisations can increase the diversity of their workforce, by using apprenticeships as a tool to improve their approach to social mobility. And there are many benefits too.

  • Reach a more diverse candidate base, who lean towards apprenticeship training over more traditional routes.
  • Make sure training and development are embedded from the start to the end of your career ladder, creating a culture of self-development.
  • Raise your organisation’s profile, as one that invests in training and development and aims to be an employer of choice.
  • Develop your future talent in line with industry-recognised training alongside your own company values and behaviours.
  • Use your levy effectively and inclusively across your organisation, to increase its impact.

Apprenticeships are often a preferred education route for those from disadvantaged or BAME backgrounds. For young people, such as those in Gen Z, apprenticeships provide another option for building careers – rather than just traditional education. People from all backgrounds can access apprenticeships, and it’s a faster route to a qualification than a degree.

Providing apprenticeship opportunities at a career entry point ensures that you attract a more diverse range of candidates and support social mobility, as the opportunity to ‘earn and learn’ is less of a barrier to entering education.

This truly benefits those candidates as “individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds completing an apprenticeship receive a larger boost in their earnings than non-disadvantaged individuals. This is particularly true at intermediate level – the first step on the apprenticeship journey.” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report.

The Social Mobility Commission’s guidance, Getting the most of apprenticeships, outlines how organisations can check they are recruiting for diversity through apprenticeships:

  • Data drives smart recruitment: use the toolkit to measure the socio-economic background of applicants and benchmark your progress
  • Remove obstacles to success: use empowering language in adverts, focus on potential rather than existing qualifications and offer to cover travel expenses
  • Check your bias and promote great values: unconscious bias is a great limiter to success, make sure you are opening up opportunities to a diverse talent pool by embedding this in your company values – it’s another great way to stand out as a business
  • Don’t do it alone: use its organisational directory to find partners that can support you on your journey and share insight into their experiences.

At Lifetime we work with our partners to support their drive for supporting social mobility through apprenticeships. As a Patron Member of the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance, we are committed to supporting candidates from all backgrounds. We've experienced the incredible impact apprenticeships have on an individual’s life, and how using the apprenticeship levy to support an inclusive workforce can bring real rewards.

Quantifying the impact

Reviewing our own internal data, we have found that 26% of apprentices who are currently working towards an apprenticeship are from disadvantaged postcodes, which aligns with The Social Mobility report’s 20% most deprived areas. This is a positive representation of the opportunities that apprenticeships create in those areas.

47% of apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds are currently working towards Level 3 and above programmes, which highlights how apprenticeships are a vehicle for career progression and growth.

In our destination survey of 1,500 achievers from disadvantage backgrounds, we found that:

of apprentices say their apprenticeship helped their career


say they are earning a higher salary since achieving their apprenticeship
of apprentices say they have been promoted since achieving their apprenticeship

Real-life example: Greene King

Greene King is one of the country’s leading pub retailers and brewers. With over 1,600 managed pubs, the business recognises the important contribution its sites can make to improve social mobility within local communities. We've worked with Greene King for the last eight years to unlock the potential of people from all backgrounds with apprenticeships.

Greene King has an established apprenticeship programme that spans from Level 2 through to Level 7, which has supported more than 15,000 team members since 2011. Apprenticeships are a key component of their social mobility strategy, which boosts career development and progression for people from all backgrounds. Greene King plays an active role in promoting hospitality as a skilled, valued career and aims to support a further 5,000 apprentices by 2025.

Greene King released its Untapping Potential Report in June 2022, which sets out new ambitions to help people from all backgrounds access meaningful, rewarding careers in local businesses. It highlights Greene King’s initiatives to support social mobility, uncovering plans that link directly with the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.

To acknowledge its ongoing work towards supporting social mobility, Greene King received back-to-back awards at the UK Social Mobility Awards – Best Recruitment Programme of the Year 2018 and 2019 and Leadership of the Year in 2020.

Charlene Troth’s journey to General Manager is a perfect example of Greene King's commitment and success in supporting social mobility. After completing college, she joined the business full-time and started her first apprenticeship. Since then, she’s continued to develop through apprenticeships, including Level 2 Food and Beverage, Level 2 in Team Leading and Level 3 in Hospitality Supervision.

Following the Hospitality Manager Level 4 programme, Charlene was promoted to General Manager. She's now an ambassador for apprenticeships, encouraging her team to take up the same opportunities that built her career and progress within the business. Her achievements have been recognised too, when she was highly commended at the 2021 Bame Apprenticeship Awards. Now, she’s looking to go even further with a Level 5 qualification.

“Throughout my journey there has been a clear career pathway, meaning I knew exactly what I had to do to become a General Manager. I have been a GM for four years and still use the theories I learned from my previous apprenticeships. I've learned the differences between being a leader and a manager, which has been vital to my success. It’s shown me how powerful training and development can be. Apprenticeships teach you skills you will need in any career.”

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Identifying where your organisation could adapt, introduce new apprenticeship processes and support social mobility doesn't happen overnight. Our team offer expert advice and guidance to support you, whatever stage your programme is at.

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