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Social Mobility Commission report highlights 'disadvantage gaps' in apprenticeship system

04 August 2020


Social Mobility Commission report highlights 'disadvantage gaps' in apprenticeship system

​Social Mobility Commission report highlights ‘disadvantage gaps’ in apprenticeship system

Apprenticeshipsare well documented as a means of boosting social mobility for those from a disadvantaged background and the latest report from the Social Mobility Commission, an independent advisory non-departmental public body tasked with assessing progress in improving social mobility in the UK, confirms this.

Indeed, those from a less privileged background, who do complete an apprenticeship, get a 16% boost in their earnings over other learners who only achieve 10%, particularly at intermediate level.

This is of course great news, but sadly the report also confirms that although apprenticeships are effective in promoting social mobility this is only true for the lucky ones who can navigate the apprenticeship journey to actually get on an apprenticeship scheme in the first place and then go on to complete it.

The report, authored by London Economics, was delivered after systematic analysis investigated whether the apprenticeship system, including the apprenticeship levy, is delivering social mobility for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with more privileged learners.

The report finds that the apprenticeship system is failing people from disadvantaged backgrounds and numbers have slumped by more than a third since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.

Clear concerns highlighted in the report are:

·      Apprenticeship benefits are going to those from wealthier backgrounds. The Apprenticeship Levy, introduced in 2017, has disproportionately funded higher-level apprenticeships for learners from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, rather than those from less privileged backgrounds who would benefit more.

·      The 2017 Apprenticeship Levy reform was followed by a collapse in overall apprenticeship starts which hit disadvantaged learners hardest. There was a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others.

·      Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to get selected for an apprenticeship than their more privileged peers.

·      For those who are successful the apprenticeship is likely to be for an intermediate level placement, 80% are in a sector with historically lower rates of pay such as healthcare, education or hospitality.

·      There is also a lower probability that those from a disadvantaged background will complete their course, and so are less likely to benefit from the boost in earnings that follows.

·      More privileged learners have better access to the fastest growing and most expensive apprenticeship option Higher Apprenticeships, which are often in lucrative areas such as ICT or engineering and this gap is continuing to grow. Just 13% of degree-level apprenticeships, go to apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds.

·      Geography is also an issue. Most disadvantaged apprenticeship starters came from three regions: north west England (25%); the west midlands (15%); and London (15%).

The report goes as far to say that the research reveals how ‘disadvantage gaps’ exist at every stage of the apprenticeship journey, from initial employer selection of candidates to the quality of training disadvantaged apprentices receive.

Now of course we have the COVID 19 pandemic and the inevitable economic downturn which is only going to make things worse as disadvantaged apprentices are at greater risk from economic disruption, especially as apprenticeships in areas such as retail and hospitality will be hit hard.

Dame Martina Milburn, outgoing Chair of the Commission, commenting on the report said: "The Prime Minister’s goal of ‘levelling-up’ opportunity would now have to take place in the context of the major economic and social dislocation caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). Social mobility has never been more important. It is the poor and the young who will suffer the most from the economic downturn.

"To succeed action will need to be driven from the heart of government. At present, there is no meaningful coordination between departments on the social mobility agenda, and no single force championing social mobility across government."

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