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Let's Talk about Apprenticeships


This month marks the first anniversary of the government's Apprenticeship Levy. Zoe Caccavale, intern at Citizens UK, considers its impact one year on, and questions whether it has improved progression opportunities for disadvantaged young people. 




It’s not unknown that Britain is a divided nation. There are many young people from disadvantaged communities who are left unemployed and overlooked due to their class, income, gender and race. The Social Mobility Commission have expressed the importance of the transition made from school to work as “crucial to an individual’s future success”, yet only 36% of disadvantaged young people in the UK leave sixth form or college with two or more A-levels (compared to 61 % of their middle-class peers).

The key indicators are evident. Young people from disadvantaged communities lack good careers advice, frequent interactions with universities and employers, and labour market preparation during school and college. Within one year of their GCSEs, 12% find themselves Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). So, what are the ways of overcoming this?

Around Britain, apprenticeships are a common route out of this problem as they offer young people a chance to both learn and earn. However, many areas do not advertise such opportunities effectively, meaning the best opportunities often go to those with good contacts rather than to those who need them most.

Citizens UK acts as the link which connects young people from disadvantaged communities with those sectors who are facing skills shortages. We try to overcome the barriers to social mobility by building relationships with education institutions and employers who share our vision and our values, creating opportunities together in the shape of apprenticeships, internships and work placements.

Although we are already working with some great employers who share our vision, there remain many who have yet to get involved with apprenticeships. As of January 2018, the Department for Education (DfE) had reported a total 82,800 fully registered Apprenticeship Service Accounts (ASA). However, only 21,700 of the apprentices employed were under 19. If we compare this figure against the number of UK private sector employers for the year 2017 (5.7 million), this figure stands for no more than 0.4%.

There has been speculation that the Apprenticeship Levy has caused this lack of involvement. The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced back in April 2017 as a means of increasing the number of people being trained in businesses across the UK by applying a tax to the businesses who have an annual salary bill in excess of £3 million. The idea was that this would then fund UK employers to invest in training apprentices. However, according to the DfE there was a 26.5% drop in apprenticeship starts for the first quarter of the 2017-18 academic year.

Additionally, the idea of the Levy makes us question – if employers feel forced to take on apprentices, isn’t the level of quality going to fall?

At Citizens UK, we are working with a broad range of representatives from businesses, education institutions, academia, the trade union movement and the NHS to understand what a high-quality apprenticeship looks like. Together, we are developing and piloting a set of gold-standard criteria to identify, promote and celebrate good practice.

Apprenticeships are a powerful vehicle for social mobility. They already disproportionately benefit people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Delivering more quality apprenticeships will ensure that more people from these backgrounds are enabled to gain the skills and training they need to build successful careers.

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