Report Reveals Social Mobility Challenges For Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships were introduced to help school leavers get their first step on the career ladder, but a recent report has shown it is failing to benefit those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to the Social Mobility Commission’s ‘Apprenticeships and social mobility: Fulfilling potential’ document, there has been a 36 per cent decline in apprenticeship starts by those from disadvantaged backgrounds between 2015/16 and 2017/18. This is in comparison with a 23 per cent drop for more privilege learners.

In addition to this, less than two-thirds (63 per cent) of apprenticeships are completed by men from disadvantaged backgrounds, while this figure climbs to 67 per cent for males who have had a more privileged upbringing.

Consultant and lead author of the report Alice Battison recognised there is a “severe disadvantage gap throughout the entire apprenticeship training journey”, which has got worse over the years.

“Not only has the proportion of new starters from disadvantaged backgrounds declined over time, but they have also benefited less than their better-off peers from the shift towards higher-level programmes,” she stated, referring to figures that show apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds typically earn less than others.

This could be because the majority (80 per cent) of apprenticeships of people from less privileged backgrounds tend to be in the health, education and public administration sectors.

Ms Battison went on to say it is “alarming” how so many people from disadvantaged apprentices fail to complete their programme.

“Specific interventions are needed to reduce drop-outs,” she stated, addressing the need for better support for those who require it most.

Indeed, while the figures are not as positive for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, apprentice schemes in East Riding and other areas of the country could actually have a greater benefit for this group of learners if they complete their training.

The findings showed people who finish their apprentice programme and are from poorer upbringings are able to boost their income by 16 per cent. In comparison, this jump is a lower ten per cent for those from more privileged backgrounds.

However, interim co-chair of the Social mobility Commission Steven Cooper stated the government could no longer “assume that apprenticeships automatically improve social mobility and leave the system to its own devices” following the coronavirus pandemic.

As trainees from disadvantaged backgrounds are most likely to work in hospitality and retail, two sectors that have been affected the most by the crisis, they could be impacted more than other apprentices.

Indeed, there could be a surge in unemployment levels among 16 to 25-year-olds due to young workers being most likely to be let go from struggling companies first as they are the least experienced. Lord Alistair Darling even said there may be so many people out of work in the coming months, the country could face ‘”1980s level of unemployment”.

Therefore, Mr Cooper suggested the government channels resources carefully, saying: “Strategic action and direction are needed to target the system better on disadvantaged communities and improve the system’s value for money.”