The theme of National Apprenticeship Week 2018 was 'Apprenticeships Work.'
However as I spent the week meeting apprentices, employers, and celebrating the many successes that apprenticeships can bring – I felt as though my own #NAW2018 had a slightly different theme, that being 'Apprenticeships Work for All.'
On the Monday, I joined Fire Services and Police Forces from across England at an event entirely dedicated to widening participation through apprenticeships. From 2020, apprenticeships will be the only non-graduate route into policing, a major shift change.
What was so welcome was how evident it was, through speaking to Officers at the event, that they recognised that increasing participation from underrepresented groups is crucial to the success of their programmes. They understand that social mobility, or greater diversity, is not a bolt on to their recruitment strategies – or a 'nice to have.' It is at the absolute core of attracting a mix of talented people from all walks of life, who will bring fresh ideas, different experiences, and ensure they better represent the communities they serve.
Greater Manchester Police summed this up best when they delivered an impassioned talk on Positive Action, stating that 'we need talented people more than they need us, so we have to do all we can to make this work, and take our vacancies to them.' This work means GMP have a wider talent pool at application stage, and they have challenged traditional recruitment methods to ensure they don't sift out talent in their selection processes.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that we need.
So much of what I have heard during the week, and indeed for many months now, has been about removing barriers so that we can truly level the playing field.
On the Tuesday my colleague Sarah Newton MP, Disabilities Minister, visited Barclays who were one of the original members of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network that I Chair. Removing barriers was high on the agenda, as Sarah met with disabled apprentices who had joined the programme in 2017, to talk about their experiences.
The Government has introduced a raft of changes to ensure that learners with a learning difficulty or disability have better access to apprenticeships, but we have a way to go. Showcasing the Barclays apprentices is one way of doing this, as their success speaks volumes. The 'Able to Enable' scheme was so successful last year that Barclays are not only expanding it for 2018, but also rolling out to higher apprenticeships.
Often though, even simple changes can have as big an impact as schemes like this. For example, employers showing that they are Disability Confident or, introducing guaranteed interviews. Even increasing awareness with hiring managers around autism, and how this may mean that the candidate at interview who may be fidgeting isn't less interested or less capable of the role.
The Wednesday was a particular highlight, as I had the pleasure of launching the ADCN's One Year Progress Report at our first anniversary celebrations. The Report is full of practical tips, ideas, and best practice for how we can truly ensure apprenticeships work for all.
A number of our members spoke on the day about what works for them, and this included how we could address issues of social capital and support individuals from less privileged backgrounds.
Reports from the Princes Trust prove that those from less advantaged backgrounds disproportionally feel that their parents or friends would not be in a position to help them secure work, or work experience, or in many cases even have a conversation about their career aspirations. This is a sad reality in 2018, but it is one we can help change.
Employers acting as true diversity champions, such as Rolls Royce, who now specifically target their careers talks to schools in disadvantaged areas. The BBC offer bursary funded places on their work experience schemes, to ensure those who would otherwise struggle can still participate. KPMG have moved to strength based interviewing, asking what a candidate 'would do' instead of what they 'have done' which may lend a natural advantage to those from wealthier backgrounds. Walsall Council are providing specific support to care leavers to ensure they have access to apprenticeships.
Members of ADCN are rightly proud of the action they are taking, but there is more to be done.
The Thursday, International Women Day, highlighted this even further.
The National Apprenticeship Service supported IWD across social media and with an event at the National Gallery. We saw events and celebrations nationwide as, quite rightly, we celebrated the progress made by inspirational Women who went before us, and progress that has been made toward equality; but there is more to do.
I met apprentices this week including Angelee from GSK, who I am sure most employers would be keen to snap up if they had met her too! She is excelling in her technology apprenticeship, and is a Woman in STEM. One of far too few, Women in STEM.
Whilst Women in STEM apprenticeships are increasing, we have a way to go. This year provides us with a golden opportunity to make more progress. 2018 is the Year of Engineering, and we will celebrate Women in Engineering Day this summer. We must take these opportunities to challenge gender bias, stereotypes, and traditional thinking around careers that Kier would describe as incorrectly perceived as 'male, manual and muddy.'
I was delighted to formally launch my support for the Year of Engineering on the Friday, with a visit to Maidstone Grammar School for Girls in my constituency. It was great to chat with such inspiring young women and their love for science and maths was plain for all to see. Engineering is open to everyone and we need more talented women to pursue careers in STEM sectors.
2018 is a year to see social mobility embedded as a cornerstone of the apprenticeship programme. For more employers to stand up as diversity champions, join our Network, and take action to ensure that they address under representation in their apprenticeship programmes. This will not happen on its own, or overnight.
On the Friday, as National Apprenticeship Week drew to a close – apprentice graduation ceremonies took place across the country to highlight the fact that Apprenticeships Work. They work for employers by delivering real skills, and work for individuals to truly give them a step on the ladder, help them progress, and help them change their lives.
This is what it is all about. If apprenticeships work, then they must work for all. All people, of all backgrounds. In the context of delivering three million apprenticeships by 2020, under representation of certain groups becomes all the more poignant. This is a huge issue, and one we must work together to change.
This is an Op-Ed written by Helen Grant MP within her role as Chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN)
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