There is no doubt that for school leavers, the option of apprenticeships is growing in popularity when compared to university degrees. A recent article in The Times reported that on average there are seven applications for every undergraduate place at Oxford and six at Cambridge. By comparison, 17,000 teenagers applied for 215 apprenticeship vacancies at the banking group Lloyds in 2022. The picture was similar at oil and gas giant, BP where 1,253 applicants competed for 33 apprenticeship vacancies, and at PwC where there were 5,919 applicants for 589 apprenticeships.
The prospect of a full-time job on completion of the course and a future without the burden of student debts is undeniably attractive, especially in times of austerity. However, while the middle classes clamour for apprenticeship places at these firms, we must not lose track of what the apprenticeship model was designed for – to generate a pipeline of trained professionals which our country desperately needs and importantly to drive opportunity and a clear career path for disadvantaged youngsters.
Apprenticeships drive diversity
Apprenticeships receive acclaim not just because of the contribution they make to businesses by increasing their skills base and productivity, but also to improving the diversity of the workforce. The aim of removing barriers to entry and opening opportunities for all brings new ideas and a better reflection of customers and the communities they operate in.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is currently high on the corporate agenda. Employers are setting their own targets and we see our role as an Independent Training Provider (ITP) as pivotal in ensuring that they can meet them.
We provide many of our employer partners with benchmarking data that allows them to understand the diversity of their apprentices against their total workforce data. We can also tell them how they’re performing against similar sized organisations in the same sector. This information helps to identify under-represented groups and to shape action in improving diversity, equity and inclusion.
For example, we’re working with McDonald’s UK & Ireland to ensure that its apprenticeship programme leads by example and provides an inclusive experience for all involved. The programme offers a complete career pathway to manager level and beyond and is showing how growing and upskilling the workforce through apprenticeships is having a positive impact not just on the business but on the communities in which it operates.
McDonald’s is looking to grow the number of apprentices it supports to 3,000 by December 2024, with the majority set to come from level 2 and level 3 enrolments. Lifetime will be using DE&I benchmarking to ensure that the apprenticeship programme effectively represents the diverse workforce across the business.
Building on success
Apprenticeships provide a career pathway with clear progression opportunities, irrespective of background. Across all learners, the story for retention tells a positive story: 86 per cent are still working in the same sector and 77 per cent are still working for the same employer.
But Lifetime’s destination data also shows a nuanced picture regarding diversity and inclusion. Between 2018 and 2023, we found that 84 per cent of learners from an ethnic minority said their apprenticeship had helped their career, compared with 76 per cent of those from a white background. With regards to continuing career progression, a higher percentage of learners from an ethnic minority (62 per cent) said they are interested in a higher level apprenticeship compared to those from a white background (53 per cent).
As apprenticeships become more popular, ITPs have a very clear role in shaping the diversity of organisations and ensuring these programmes play the part they were designed to in providing opportunity for all.
By helping employers set – and meet – realistic targets and demonstrating how they’re performing in this area by providing benchmarking data to shareholders, employees, potential employees, and the wider community, ITPs can act as a guiding light. By helping to grow and diversify workforces, we can allow organisations and communities to reap all of the benefits that come with that.