Social Mobility Tests for Apprenticeships


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With recent first-hand experience of navigating the process in hiring an apprentice successfully, Richard Boniface offers his suggestions of how colleges can more effectively promote their apprenticeship programmes to local employers.

The recent State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission highlighted that for a generation of young people social mobility problems were getting worse not better. The assumption from the Government was that getting people off welfare and into work would, by itself, help to reduce inequality and improve social mobility. This assumption, the report points out, was flawed and ignored the reality of millions of low paid workers being trapped in low skilled jobs with little prospect of escape.

A relentless drive to recruit low level apprentices, in an attempt to chase volume targets is, the report believes, counter-productive and actually exacerbates social divisions. These apprenticeships are often of low quality, in low-skill sectors and often not linked to the country’s skill gaps. They do not provide individuals with a route out of low paid, insecure employment.

Whilst this analysis might be an over simplification, the implications for Further Education Colleges are important. Colleges unlike many private training providers are geographically rooted in their local community and this carries with it social as well as economic responsibilities.

When introducing new apprenticeship programmes and promoting existing ones, colleges might be well advised to actively apply a social mobility test as well as looking at potential numbers i.e. what evidence is there that the apprenticeship will lead to long term employment and good career prospects, rather than low paid, insecure jobs.  Whilst this might mean a focus on Level 3 and 4, this isn’t exclusively so – it depends on the nature of the occupation and the needs of the local community.

This approach probably makes good business sense in the long term. Promoting the college apprenticeship brand as high value and high quality, with a focus on long term sustainable careers, should improve demand in some sectors, with employers even prepared to pay a premium.

A college ‘social mobility test’ for apprenticeships would probably make it much harder for the Government to reach its target of 3 million apprenticeships. However, such a strategy is probably more likely to be in the best interests of that college and the local community in the longer term.

Richard Boniface, Managing Director of RCU

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