The city-region is front and centre in the government’s new plan to boost BAME participation in skills, writes Cllr Sean Anstee

Greater Manchester has a long and proud history of striving for fairness, equality and inclusion – and in the past month we’ve been reminded of the important role that various great Mancunians played in the suffrage movement.

That spirit of fairness and equality of opportunity lives on today, but not everything is totally in place. Demographic factors such as gender, ethnic background, age and economic circumstances can have an effect on people’s opportunities as they grow up and get old.

Education and skills are great ways to help level that playing field and give everyone the tools they need, whether that’s in technical education and training such as a high-quality apprenticeship, or through an academic route.

Apprenticeships are an extremely accessible way for people to learn. There is no age limit and they can be done at any point during working life.

Apprenticeships are an extremely accessible way for people to learn

Yet across our city-region and the country there is a much lower proportion of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds taking apprenticeships compared to the population as a whole. This has been the case for a number of years and we believe it’s time to change this, which is why we are working to increase this figure from 10.4 per cent to 16 per cent to reflect the Greater Manchester population.

Earlier this month I attended the launch of the Five Cities Project, at which Anne Milton, the minister for skills and apprenticeships, announced a new pilot scheme designed to increase number of people from BAME backgrounds taking on apprenticeships. A group of Greater Manchester apprentices attended, alongside a range of large local employers, and I’m proud that our city-region is part of a new project which will celebrate its diversity.

This pilot will help to ensure that Greater Manchester’s apprentices reflect the diversity of their communities. Our employers and our communities will play a crucial part in how the pilot develops and will help achieve the following objectives:

-Looking into why people from BAME backgrounds are underrepresented in apprenticeships and how this compares to other career options

-Making sure barriers are removed so all communities can participate

-Considering how to improve recruitment processes so that people from BAME backgrounds receive the same opportunities as others

When this information is gathered we will be able to make an informed decision on how to improve life for people across Greater Manchester. Some actions may take longer to implement as we challenge mindsets, but it is a challenge we accept. In the short term, busting myths and providing role models will go a long way to show the opportunities apprenticeships provide.

At the project launch, I was privileged to meet a number of apprentices who are fantastic examples of the role models that I believe can make a difference in this pilot.

One of those apprentices was Mahmuda Khanom, a level five leadership and management apprentice working at Oldham borough council. Alongside her apprenticeship, Ms Khanom is working in a role which supports local residents in improving their skills and securing employment, including through apprenticeships.

She admitted that apprenticeships are not always the first option when people from BAME communities consider further or higher education or work. Her hope is that the pilot in will emphasise attractive option for career development and acquiring what she calls “real-life skills” that apprenticeships offer.

“The general route considered for higher education qualifications and pathways to entering the labour market is usually a traditional degree, which arguably holds significant status within BAME communities,” she told me. “As much as I loved the years I spent as an undergraduate and how proud I am of my academic achievements, there is a stark difference between the skills acquired in an apprenticeship and in a degree.”

I want Greater Manchester to be a place where everyone has the best opportunities in life as they grow up, get on and grow old, whatever their circumstances, background or aspirations. We are making moves to achieve this.

Councillor Sean Anstee is the lead for skills and apprenticeships at Greater Manchester Combined Authority