Supporting social mobility through apprenticeships

In this report we explore how apprenticeship training can be used as an essential tool to support social mobility. Utilising key reports from The Social Mobility Commission and the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network we review the status of the government’s efforts to improve access to training and how apprenticeships can not only support this goal but provide great benefits to employers as well. We review our own apprenticeship data and look at a real case example of where an apprenticeship has provided a true career path for one of our Greene King apprentices.

Impact of COVID19

The impact of COVID19 has been felt on a multitude of levels, including our job market. With widespread closures in many industries, especially within hospitality and retail, there has been great concern for job security.

Many are worried about the increased impact this will have on our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, with those looking to access work and training more highly impacted. The Guardian released an article in October 2020 that stated how “coronavirus has worsened Britain’s unlevel playing field…The twin drivers of low social mobility – economic and educational inequality – are on the rise. This is bad news for future social mobility.” - Only radical reform can fix Britain's broken ladder of social mobility, The Guardian.

Within the apprenticeship sector, this is also felt as “disadvantaged apprentices are at a disproportionate risk of paying the most severe consequences of [barriers to entry]. They are disproportionately employed in sectors that have been [highly impacted], such as hospitality and retail.” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report. June 2020. Page 12.

With many large employers pledging to support and improve social mobility, and many seeing real business benefits in having a more diverse workforce there is an opportunity to reduce this inequality.

In this report we will explore how apprenticeship training can support social mobility and consider how recruiting a more diverse workforce can provide true business and individual benefits.

As a clarification, in this report we are going to use the definition that The Social Mobility Commission use for ‘disadvantaged’ apprentices.

“Apprentices originating from the 20% most deprived English neighbourhoods 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 3” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report. June 2020. Page 20.

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, with each programme being a minimum of 12 months in length. At the end of each 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 prepared for their next career opportunity.

Apprenticeship training can be incredibly beneficial to businesses, boosting essential training, offering new opportunities and increase employee engagement.


Social mobility and apprenticeships: Setting the scene

The government have been working on plans to improve social mobility through education for many years. In 2017 they launched their Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential plan, which aimed to support children and young people reach their full potential through different educational opportunities.

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 [as apprenticeships] offer a structured and substantial transition for young people from education to work.” - Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential. Report 2017. Pages 23 & 25.

There was clearly a need to improve access to apprenticeships for those from disadvantages 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.” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report. June 2020. Page 6.

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

A clear advocate of apprenticeships supporting social mobility are The Social Mobility Commission who have, in partnership with London Economics, delivered a report into 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.” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report. June 2020. Page 6.

The report reviews the status of disadvantaged learners, their access to apprenticeship training, experience of it compared to non-disadvantaged apprentices and the increase in benefits they receive from apprenticeship training.

They have 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.” - Apprenticeships and Social Mobility Report. June 2020. Page 7.

Our 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’re working hard with our employer partners to continue to promote apprenticeships and offer incredible opportunities at all levels of the career ladder. We recognise that 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).

One of the positives of 2020 has been the raised 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

How apprenticeships can support social mobility

The Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network have stated in their recent 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.” - Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Report 2019. Page 2.

And as we read above; 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. They will not only gain financial benefit, mentioned above, but the benefits of having apprentices in the business.

Offering apprenticeships can provide the following benefits:

  • Reach a more diverse candidate base, who lean towards apprenticeship training over more traditional routes.
  • Ensure training and development is embedded from the start to the end of your career ladder, creating a culture of self-development.
  • Raise your organisations profile, as one who 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.
  • Utilise 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, to more traditional routes such as university. 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 enter 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. June 2020. Page 10.

In Getting the most of apprenticeships. A guide for employers by The Social Mobility Commission, they consider the following ways organisations can check they are recruiting for diversity through apprenticeships;

  • Data drives smart recruitment: use our 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 our organisational directory to find partners that can support you on your journey and share insight into their experiences. - Getting the most from apprenticeships. 2019. Page 2

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

Quantifying the impact

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

Our analysis shows that you are 5% more likely to be working towards a Level 2 apprenticeship programme if you are from a disadvantaged background compared to those who are not. Positively, 47% of apprentices [from disadvantaged backgrounds] are currently working towards Level 3 and above programmes, highlighting that apprenticeships are a vehicle for career progression and growth.

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

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81% of apprentices
say their apprenticeship helped their career
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43% of apprentices
say there are earning a higher salary since achieving their apprenticeship
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79% of apprentices
are still in employed 1 year after achieving their apprenticeship
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57% of apprentices
say they have been promoted since achieving their apprenticeship

Real life example: Greene King

Greene King are one of the country’s leading pub retailer and brewer. With over 1,700 managed pubs they recognise the important contribution their sites can make to improving social mobility within local communities.

Greene King have a large apprenticeship programme that spans over Level 2 through to Level 7 and supports career development and progression. Apprenticeships are a key component of their social mobility strategy and they currently have 2,000 employees working towards an apprenticeship. Greene King have taken an active role in promoting hospitality as a skilled profession and valued career route to attract talented individuals to the business.

As set out in The Stepping Up Report, Greene King are continually looking at ways of supporting team members to progress and develop within the organisation and make joining their team more accessible to those whose circumstances might otherwise stand in the way of their potential - The Stepping Up Report January 2019. Page 2.

To acknowledge their achievements, they have 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.

Wendy Omollo’s journey to General Manager is a perfect example of Greene Kings’ commitment and success in supporting social mobility.

After losing her job, Wendy struggled to keep up with rent and living costs and found herself sleeping on the streets for several nights. Charities helped her into a hostel, and she signed onto benefits for a month, but after walking past a job advert outside Ye Old Cock Tavern on Fleet Street in London, she decided to apply for a job. Five days later Wendy was working behind the bar and earning. With support from her manager and the Greene King team, she went on to complete an apprenticeship and rapidly progressed through the business. Today Wendy is living in her own flat and is Designate General Manager at the Lord Raglan in Barbican, London. The Stepping Up Report January 2019. Page 4.

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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 impartial information, advice and guidance to support you at whatever point you are currently. Please request a call back to find out more.

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