IntoWork17 Blog: Making sense of the data and practice for inclusive apprenticeships

7 July 2017

After a great IntoWork 2017, I arrived back at my desk to slightly more emails than expected, with 31 reports published by the DfE on Thursday (including L&W’s Work Placements: Call for Evidence report) and the release of apprenticeship starts data for August 2016-April 2017. At first glance it can seem like information overload, which is saying something for a researcher as we do love our reports, facts and figures! But I’d like to focus my post-convention blog on what the starts data tells us about the importance of sharing good practice when making apprenticeships accessible to all.

In her introduction to the apprenticeships debate ‘3m apprenticeship starts: meeting the target but missing the point?’ Dr Fiona Aldridge spoke about L&W’s call for quality and access in the new apprenticeships system. I was not surprised that the subsequent debate mostly stayed on issues of quality – understandable given the changes in the system and how important it is to get apprenticeship delivery and assessment right.

Our ‘Making apprenticeships accessible for all’ workshop followed on from this by sharing findings from L&W’s research aiming to ensure that access is something that underpins thinking as employers, providers and learners continue their apprenticeship journeys.

We discussed the commitment shown by organisations like the London Borough of Hounslow and The Source Academy in Sheffield to reviewing and challenging their practice even when on paper their programmes already had good representation from different demographic groups. We also discussed non-traditional recruitment practices such as strength-based interviewing and video CVs, and the importance of ongoing ‘pipeline’ activities. We also shared the details for L&W’s Employer Toolkit, which includes hints and tips for recruitment and supporting apprentices (with different sections for good practice based on gender, disability, ethnicity and age), with our commitment to continuing to add information and links to further support as they emerge.

So what does the August-April starts data tell us about how things are going in practice, and are these efforts making a notable impact towards making apprenticeships more inclusive? The answer seems to be yes, but slowly. The number of starts for those with learning difficulties and disabilities have increased from 9.9% in 2015/16 to 10.2% in August-April; whilst those from BAME backgrounds represented 11.2% of apprenticeship starts so far in 2016/17 compared with 10.5% in 2015/16.

Women account for 53.9% of starts in August-April compared with 52.8% in 2015/16, but it is known that women are more likely to enter apprenticeships in lower paid sectors.

A worrying trend is the decrease in the proportion of apprenticeship starts by young people. Starts for 16-24 year olds are down from 56.0% in 2015/16 to 53.1% in August-April and Intermediate apprenticeships made up 53.0% of the starts compared with 57.2% in 2015/16. Whilst the use of apprenticeships for ongoing progression and development should be welcomed, it would be hoped that this would not be at the cost of young people looking to enter the workforce and benefit from the opportunities and skills apprenticeships can provide.

From the L&W perspective this tells us much more needs to be done and at a greater pace in order to meet the Government’s demographic success measures for apprenticeships by 2020. This reaffirms our commitment to continuing to identify, test and share examples of best practice, and champion access to apprenticeships. I will update you all this time next year as to how this goes.