Time for government to end racial inequalities in apprenticeships

It’s Race Equality Week as well as National Apprenticeships Week, and there’s more in common to their agendas than their place in the calendar

It’s Race Equality Week as well as National Apprenticeships Week, and there’s more in common to their agendas than their place in the calendar

10 Feb 2024, 5:00

At Action for Race Equality, we have campaigned over the past twenty years for apprenticeship starts and achievements to reflect England’s ethnic diversity. We have worked closely with successive governments via task forces and advisory groups, but race disparities continue.

Tragically, the latest statistics show that Black, Asian, and mixed-ethnic people continue to be under-represented in apprenticeships for yet another consecutive year. Meanwhile, high-value sectors such as construction and engineering who are suffering from well-publicised skills shortages continue to be dominated by White males and remain impervious to the benefits of ethnic and gender diversity.

Amid stagnating growth in starts this year, new apprenticeship places continue to be lowest in geographical areas where ethnic minority populations are highest, such as Birmingham and London. Nationally, ethnic minority people account for only 14 per cent of apprentice starts, compared to a population rate of 18 per cent.

And while more politicians point to apprenticeships as key to meeting the country’s current and future skills needs, few make the case that making them accessible to everyone is vital to improving them.

Concerted action is necessary to remove the systemic ethnic bias in the labour market, and ending racial inequalities in apprenticeships must be part of that strategy. This National Apprenticeship Week and Race Equality Week, Action for Race Equality calls on the government to take swift action.

Make it a priority

First, ministers should introduce a ministerial apprenticeship race equity taskforce to drive up participation in key regions and sectors. This taskforce should learn from previous government and sector-based race equity initiatives such as Five Cities, and must have multiple partners including employers, Jobcentre Plus, local councils, FE/HE institutions and race equality practitioners.

Incentivise positive action

Second, employers should be incentivised to recruit and train people a more diverse range of social backgrounds through the apprenticeship levy. We recently called on chief executives to utilise positive action to support more young Black men in London, who are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than young white men aged 16 to 24. The government should adapt the levy to incentivise more employers to do the same, especially in high-value sectors and in regions with the lowest start rates.

Empower local partnerships

Third, partnership working is key to achieving success. We know this from experience. Our work with educators, employers and employability organisations through our flagship ‘Moving on Up’ programme, a ten-year positive employment initiative for young Black men, and our Youth Futures Foundation-funded ‘Building Ethnic Diversity in the Youth Employability Sector Programme’ proves that creating pathways into apprenticeships for under-represented groups is possible when there’s a will.

Local authorities have a particularly important role to play when it comes to ending the race disparities in apprenticeship starts; they are well placed to connect employers with local employability organisations working with Black, Asian, and mixed-heritage people.

Be transparent and accountable

We also know through our ‘Moving on Up’ programme that having a degree-level education doesn’t necessarily translate into better economic opportunities. Another key move to tackling racial disparities in apprenticeships is the publication of data on degree-level apprenticeships, with breakdowns in application, start and completion rates by gender, age and ethnicity.

Government should then require all employers with 50+ employees to monitor and publish information about apprenticeship applications and appointments by age, gender and ethnicity. This will allow for disparities in apprenticeship application success rates to be tracked.

Next year, the growth in apprenticeship starts must not remain stagnant. Key to vibrant growth will be positive action to drive supply in the least-served regions and for the least-represented groups.

There are clear actions that the government, local authorities, employers and providers can take to reduce this disparity, and we look forward to working with partners to achieve this.

To register for Action for Race Equality’s ‘Strengthening Education to Employment Pathways for Black, Asian & Mixed Heritage young people’ conference on 22 February, visit https://bit.ly/3SPLble

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  1. Chris Bradley

    Around 20 years ago when head of engineering in a large college we really pushed the boundaries in support of what was designated the Year of Engineering (YES) campaign.

    We also for a number of years really went all out to work with industry and schools to encourage more females to enter the sector.

    It was hard work with minimal uptake. If they don’t want to do it they will not …………….