An ethnic minority representative group has slammed a prime ministerial commission’s proposal for an apprentice recruitment campaign “highly targeted” at diverse communities.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities claimed this week that “prejudice and ignorance” within ethnic minority families led to a low take-up of apprenticeship starts in their communities.
FE Week analysis of government data shows that 42,100 (13 per cent) of the 332,500 apprenticeship starts in 2019/20 were by black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) learners.
This is slightly out of kilter with the 15 per cent of England’s population who are BAME, according to NHS England data collated by the Nuffield Trust in 2020.
Commission proposals ‘fundamentally avoids tackling unfair practices’
The key proposal of the commission to tackle this issue was a “highly targeted” apprenticeship recruitment campaign, designed by the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions, and delivered by FE colleges and school career hubs.
“Our view,” the report states, “is that such a campaign could be of particular benefit to young people who face discrimination or disadvantage and currently lack access to in-depth information about the full range of career pathways”.
However, the commission’s proposal has been criticised by the Black Training and Enterprise Group, which said the recommendation “fundamentally avoids tackling unfair and discriminatory employer recruitment practices”.
This, the group says, has affected sectors including construction, engineering and technology, where BAME people “continue to be under-represented in jobs and apprenticeships. Far too much recruitment in the UK relies on word-of-mouth recruitment, informal methods, attending the right schools and universities, and looking like the recruiters and having similar sounding names,” the group explained.
Chief executive Jeremy Crook (pictured top) said the report overall “failed to grasp the considerable evidence of institutional and structural racism in the UK,” and BTEG was calling on the government to “rethink its approach”.
In response to the report, chair of the government’s Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network Lia Nici admitted: “There is still a lot of work to do to ensure our apprenticeships, and the careers that develop from them, fully represent the diverse mixture of people in the UK.”
She said the report “highlights a wide range of issues with regard to diversity and race in the UK,” not just in terms of ethnicity.
“We also know that there are fewer apprentices who have disabilities, as well as females working in science, engineering, technology or maths-based roles. We want to encourage apprentices from a broader range of backgrounds.”
Nici said the champions network, a group of employers formed in 2017, was already discussing “a range of targeted activities” to encourage apprenticeships in communities that have not seen strong take-up.
Apprenticeships ‘not seen as enabling aspiration’
Under-representation of BAME people in apprenticeships is by no means a new revelation, nor is the claim that ethnic minority families do not place a high value on apprenticeships.
Crook reported in a 2018 essay for the Learning and Work Institute on a group of mostly-BAME foundation year degree students who told them “more academic qualifications will give them a better chance of success in the labour market”.
However, he wrote, “the reality is that BAME graduates have higher rates of unemployment than white graduates”.
A 2018 report, Apprenticeships and Diversity in Context in Greater Manchester by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, found BAME young people “aspire to and are encouraged towards high educational attainment”, with family and community expectations being “especially significant [whereas] apprenticeships are not seen as enabling aspiration to the same degree”.
The Department for Education’s public attempts to redress low ethnic minority take-up goes back to when Justine Greening was education secretary under Theresa May. Greening was accused of being “all talk” after telling the education select committee that the government had a “big focus” on encouraging “a higher proportion of BAME young people going into apprenticeships”.
This was after FE Week found at the time that just eight per cent of England’s young apprentices were BAME.
Since then, the DfE says it has “ensured that young BAME role models are visible in campaigns such as ‘Fire It Up’, and that we are hearing the voices of young apprentices (including BAME) through apprentice networks, such as the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network and the Apprentice Panel”.
The Department for Education and the Government Equalities Office, which is leading on the commission’s report, were approached for comment.