The apprenticeship levy could widen the gap in the opportunities available between rural and urban areas, a new report suggests.
The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2017 report on social mobility in the UK says there is “an emerging risk that the apprenticeship levy (which applies only to large employers) will lead to disproportionate levels of apprenticeship spend in cities, where many big businesses are located”. “This may widen the disparity in available opportunities between urban and rural areas,” it says.
The report urges the government to develop education and skill policies to better support disadvantaged young people in isolated areas. This could be done, it says, “by targeting any unused apprenticeship levy funds at regions that have fewer high-level apprenticeships”.
According to the commission, apprenticeships are a more common path into employment for young people in many youth “coldspots” – areas where there are higher barriers to social mobility than in “hotspots” – but they are often of lower quality than in the hotspots.
'Lower pay and lower chances'
“The worst-performing regions for youth social mobility – the North East and East Midlands – have the lowest proportion of advanced or higher-level apprenticeship starts in the country," says the report, adding that this is a problem because "lower-level apprenticeships lead to lower pay and have lower chances of converting into a full-time role”.
However, even where higher-level apprenticeships are available, many areas do not advertise opportunities effectively, says the report, and this means that the best opportunities “often go to those with good contacts rather than to those who need them most”.
“Indeed, better-off families are 2.5 times more likely to know about degree-level apprenticeships than others. When it comes to degree-level apprenticeships in particular, employers often apply their traditional graduate recruiting criteria – which can exclude able disadvantaged students without the social capital or academic profile demanded.”