The Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) recent report reveals that the English apprenticeship system has a potential to improve the UK’s social mobility - but only if it provides better support and access to young talent from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report’s findings also reveal disproportional opportunities for disadvantaged learners across the apprenticeship journey compared to their more advantaged peers, and should be a pause for thought.

“After reading the report, the importance of systematic change within the apprenticeship space and business world as a whole is even more apparent,” says Fiona Kempster, Talent Manager at WhiteHat.

As an organisation passionate about building a diverse workforce of future leaders, we work hard to ensure that every individual going through the apprenticeship process has equal opportunities.

“True diversity can only flourish if the playing field is leveled, and that means taking time to nurture and support applicants and employees before and during employment,” says Sarah Hytner-Marriott, Curation Manager at WhiteHat.

Taking into account both the report’s findings and reduced economic activity in the UK, it is now more important than ever to prioritise improving access for disadvantaged students and setting them up for success at every stage of their apprenticeship journey.

At WhiteHat, we don’t collect the same data as the SMC just yet - but we’re looking at ways to continuously improve our processes and measure the impact of support for our apprentices at every stage.

Read on to find out what we are doing to minimise the disadvantage gap.

Access is still an issue - but outcomes look bright

The report's findings reveal that people from disadvantaged backgrounds still struggle to get places in apprenticeship schemes. However, pleasingly, the SMC report suggests that outcomes of apprenticeships were better for them: “disadvantaged learners who make it past all the obstacles get the most benefit from an apprenticeship”, such as greater post-completion earnings than peers from advantaged backgrounds.

Outcomes is one of the clear upsides of apprenticeship schemes. In contrast, universities that generally do better at solving access issues don’t always show proportionally positive outcomes for disadvantaged students. For example, the majority of students who go on to university graduate schemes previously went to private schools.

At WhiteHat, we don’t only want to improve access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds - we also really want them to succeed.
“Hiring for diversity’s sake is senseless because this won’t set your people up for success,” says Sarah Hytner-Marriott, Curation Manager at WhiteHat. “The training that comes with an apprenticeship has the potential to do exactly this - but only if done correctly.”

“We find that disadvantaged candidates often don’t make it through the application phase because they don’t have the same support networks that non-disadvantaged candidates do to help facilitate their success. To level the playing field, our team invests in pre-application and interview upskilling. It can sometimes take a candidate months to master these crucial skills, but it has an enormous impact on their investment in your company, an exceptionally high intent, confidence, and so much more!”

We’re thrilled to see our team’s and apprentices’ efforts paying off. Of our apprentices reaching their End Point Assessments, 97% Pass and 66% achieve a Distinction, compared to an industry average of 67% achieving a pass.

Our active online community also helps us ensure our alumni stay inspired and motivated, and achieve more. That’s why we’re excited to see 91% of our apprentices receiving a promotion or pay rise over their apprenticeship.

Talk to us if you want advice about how to access diverse talent through apprenticeships.

Enabling businesses to recognise and celebrate diverse talent

During the signup process on our Platform, candidates are given the opportunity to declare if they have any ‘deprived background’ pointers, such as care leaver, carer, refugee/asylum seeker or a free school meals receiver.

Each pointer is captured on their profile as a flag symbol to serve as indicators for us that the candidate may need extra support.

Employers can also see flags, and therefore choose to give disadvantaged candidates more opportunities - and get an amazing addition to their team in return. But they won’t be able to see what these flagged disadvantages are.

The SMC's report defines disadvantaged apprentices as those who originate from the 20% most deprived English neighbourhoods, that’s why we’re currently developing ways to collect IMD postcode data and add them to our contextual flags.

Additionally, to give our candidates a more equal opportunity, their digital profile showcases whether they are an academic outperformer - someone who is top 30% of their school GCSE cohort. This demonstrates the candidate’s drive to learn, regardless of whether they attended a high-performing school or not.

Providing equal opportunities by reaching out to disadvantaged communities

Going back to the report’s findings, it’s apparent that there is still a significant disproportion of opportunities in disadvantaged areas and communities.

At WhiteHat, we believe that while talent is evenly distributed, the opportunity is not.

“Apprenticeships must provide means which enable and encourage learners from disadvantaged backgrounds to access the best industries and careers,” - Fiona Kempster, Talent and Interim Outreach Manager at WhiteHat.

We work with a number of mission-aligned organisations to support young people across London facing the most challenging barriers to employment, and have a team dedicated to going out to the most disadvantaged, hardest-to-reach communities to spread the word about apprenticeships. Our team ran 158 events throughout the year, including school visits and parents evening, to share information about apprenticeships and provide answers to questions and reservations they might have.

Alongside outreach programmes, we also run a number of initiatives to tackle major problems, such as the digital skills gap and diversity in tech, including a Girls Summer Tech School to get more young women into tech. Our mission is to accelerate access to the best careers but young people facing barriers to employment struggle to access the digital skills training they need to compete for incredible careers in tech.

We’ve recently launched a The Tech Talent Accelerator (TTA) - a free, fully remote programme for young Londoners who are NEET (not in education, employment or training) and facing barriers to employment, but who have also demonstrated a passion for tech and coding. We’re hoping that the TTA will create opportunities for the next generation of diverse software engineers to join the workforce.

But there is still so much to be done to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds more equal opportunities. Our Educational Outreach Team is dedicated to reaching out to diverse talent - even during Covid-19.

Addressing reservations that disadvantaged young people might have about apprenticeships

With our events, we’re not only reaching out to diverse communities, but also addressing questions and reservations that young people, and their teachers and parents, might have about apprenticeships. More work is needed to overcome the perception gap, and there is no one that understands this better than those who have already chosen to follow an alternative path through apprenticeships.

WhiteHat’s Education and Youth Outreach Team work closely with our Outreach Leaders, a group of WhiteHat apprentices passionate about changing perception about apprenticeships, sharing the experiences they’ve gone through as an apprentice, and give the best advice to young people who might consider an alternative to university.

“Young people are fearful of being left behind as the vast majority of their peers aspire to go to university,” shares Akeem, WhiteHat’s Education Partnerships Associate and Project Management Apprentice. “There is a huge misconception that plagues many young people as they believe that apprenticeships lead to low pay and low job prospects. Furthermore, the notion I’ve encountered is that young people feel as if they’ll be disappointing parents/carers who dream of the university experience for their child.”

Our Outreach Leaders take part in training to help them develop their public speaking skills, confidence and networking skills so they feel confident when discussing the different pressures and concerns that students and parents would have when considering apprenticeships. “I found this really useful for empathising with them and better understanding how to support them,” shares Tatiana, WhiteHat’s outreach lead and Digital Marketing apprentice at Sky.

Thanks to our dedicated team, the 250+ employers we are working with, and our charity and mission aligned partners, we’re on a journey to make a change at a societal level.

But there is still so much to be done to ensure that talented young people from all backgrounds get the same level of access and opportunities, particularly for those who traditionally face barriers into the best careers. And getting them into the workforce is only part of the solution.

Talk to us about apprenticeships