How apprenticeships can help disadvantaged learners

We need a joined-up approach to apprenticeships and skills so that disadvantaged groups benefit, says Sharon Blyfield

Sharon Blyfield

National Apprenticeship Week: We need a joined-up approach to apprenticeships and skills so that disadvantaged groups benefit, says Sharon Blyfield

The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on young people, with those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds set to be the group of individuals facing the greatest long-lasting repercussions.

Prior to Covid-19, research undertaken by Youth Employment UK showed that young people identified that some of their biggest barriers to employment were mental health, work experience and a lack of job opportunities. According to the Youth Voice Census 2020, 87 per cent of young people said they were not confident that they would find quality jobs in their local area.

The report also highlighted that there was significant inequality when respondents were asked to indicate which pathways had been discussed in schools and how often these conversations were happening. Black respondents were less likely to hear about the range of options available when leaving school, with a third (33 per cent) stating they had never had a discussion about apprenticeships, compared with 13 per cent of white respondents. Over a fifth (22 per cent) of black respondents had never had any conversation about applying to university, compared with 9 per cent of white respondents.

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It was recently highlighted that the proportion of black, Asian and/or minority ethnic 16- to 18-year-old apprentices is falling – they made up just 7.7 per cent of those embarking on apprenticeships in the first three-quarters of 2019-20, compared with over 20 per cent for other further education courses.

Time and time again, it is those less fortunate and those without a strong support network that are hardest hit in more challenging economic times.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Plan for Jobs announced in July should have created a strong foundation of opportunities targeted at these groups, yet some of the criteria means that the hardest hit will remain the hardest to reach. The Kickstart scheme allows organisations to create new opportunities for those within the 16 to 24 age range who are on universal credit, but it’s unlikely many 16- to 18-year-olds claim universal credit, given that the official school leaving age is 18.  

If, alongside the Kickstart scheme, employers could divert some of their apprenticeship levy to support work placements for those who did not meet the Kickstart criteria, this would encourage wider participation.

At a recent AELP Business Recovery conference, skills minister Gillian Keegan said that there is enough flexibility in the apprenticeship levy scheme for employers to make the system work for everyone. But what is clear is that the notion of flexibility needs to be revised, given the current circumstances, ensuring that there is room for manoeuvre when it comes to assessing apprentices until the end of the 2020-21, and confirmation that funding for those already embarking on their apprenticeship will be safeguarded.

While there are a number of other pathways to employment available for young people in addition to apprenticeships, such as T levels and traineeships, there still isn’t a common thread to link these programmes together. What ultimately happens is schemes end up competing for attention with employers, and many organisations only choose to implement one of them. This, in turn, leaves a whole cohort of young people out of employment options.

Government departments need to align and clearly demonstrate that they are operating to one joined-up plan that benefits people from a range of backgrounds and qualifications.

Supporting under-represented groups 

At Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) we have a philosophy that "Everyone is Welcome", and we want to support young people enter the world of work through apprenticeships, T levels and through newly created opportunities such as the Kickstart scheme.  

We’re investing in the scheme, providing placement opportunities throughout 2021-22 within our commercial, supply chain and head office functions. We want to use this to support under-represented groups, who have a perception that opportunities with large corporate organisations like CCEP won’t be somewhere that they could start or have a career. 

Our apprenticeship scheme will continue to grow at the same time with 20 new apprentices joining our programme in early 2021.

We are very proud of the work we do with young people, but we know there is still more to be done.  As an organisation, our plans need to be sustainable, while ensuring that we are creating the right environment to support young people develop their skills and confidence in the workplace. We are committed to focusing on programmes that support those in the early stages of their careers, as we believe employers like us can have a real impact driving youth employment at a time when it’s more important than ever.

Sharon Blyfield is senior manager, early careers and apprenticeships, at Coca Cola European Partners (CCEP)

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Sharon Blyfield

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