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Diversity in Apprenticeships – Opening Up Talent and Opportunity – Roundtable Report

DELEGATES
Allan Ang
, Talent Director – Estee Lauder Companies
Reg Bannerman, Apprenticeship Manager – BT
Sharon Blyfield, Early Careers & Apprenticeships Lead – Coca-Cola
Laura Burley, Apprenticeships Ambassador – The Open University
Tracy Fairhurst, Head of Apprenticeships – Royal Mail
Cora Heal, Early Skills Coordinator & Young Hpc Lead – Hinkley Point C
Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager, Apprenticeships – Health Education England
Mette Laszkiewicz, Co-Director Of Education (Interim) – Surrey & Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
Andrew Mcgregor-Taylor, Learning & Development Lead – North Yorkshire Police
Anna Morrison CBE, Director – Amazing Apprenticeships
Viren Patel, Director of Business Development Unit – The Open University
Jade Pearson, New Talent Manager – Severn Trent Plc
Nina Slingsby, Project Lead – Social Mobility Commission
Jonathan Smith, Targeted Employment Officer – Essex County Council
Stephen Stewart, FCIPD Global Talent Programme Lead – GSK
Richard Turner, Head of Apprenticeship Delivery – Network Rail

Providing employees with platforms to fulfil potential and create equal opportunities across all social classes, demographics, genders and ethnicities. This is key to meeting today’s diversity and inclusion targets as well as the diversity of thought and skills that business will need, as the unrelenting pace of digital technology drives change.

HOW SUCCESSFULLY IS YOUR ORGANISATION ATTRACTING A DIVERSE RANGE OF CANDIDATES TO YOUR APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMMES AND WHAT ARE THE KEY OBSTACLES TO ACHIEVING THIS?

Allan Ang: We’re not challenged on the pipeline of apprenticeship talent coming through. We have two locations, London and Hampshire and predominantly hire our apprenticeship talent into central London, which of course is the most diverse part of the country. We’re seeing a lot of good talent coming through that is diverse. Diversity of ethnicity is, of course, a key focus for us, but another key focus is socioeconomic diversity, attracting people from less privileged backgrounds. Apprenticeships are a great way for us to hire from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Our main challenge has been trying to cover more roles with apprentices. We relaunched our apprenticeship scheme, which is called ELC Elevates and have hired a number of new apprentices distributed across all our brands and functions. This will operate as a springboard to hire further apprentices into our business. This programme is highly visible and sponsored by the Executive Leadership team and we are already seeing strong momentum and interest to hire additional apprentices.

Reg Bannerman: According to Trandence data, BT is the employer of choice for Black, Asian, minority ethnic, LGBT and those from low socio-economic backgrounds. However, we are struggling to attract females and disabled candidates, so one of the solutions we are exploring is working on the role descriptions on our website. We used to be predominantly an engineering organisation, but we work with a range of quality providers, offering 70 different programmes, from Level 2 to Level 7, including; digital degrees, engineering, project management, sales, finance, HR, customer service, team leadership and many more. We are trying to improve how we assess candidates at assessment centres and are reviewing our unconscious bias training for assessors. Currently we have 4,000 apprentices on the programme and that will hopefully grow this year.

Andrew McGregor-Taylor: In 2016, North Yorkshire Police was one of the few police forces in Britain not to have any black police officers – apart from 1.2 percent special constables and PCSOs. The further north you travel in North Yorkshire, the whiter and more conservative the demographic makeup becomes. However, York. Scarborough and Harrogate, have a better mixture of ethnicity and diversity within those communities, but we weren’t representing that at all. Four years on and we’ve exceeded the census percentages in terms of our numbers in the service, a representation that is greater than the population, which is 3.4 percent BAME. We’ve been working within a national assessment process and encourage potential candidates to attend pre-assessment centre familiarisation sessions, for police officers, PCSO’s and Special Constables. Moving to the police constable degree apprenticeship, we have worked with the Open University – our Higher Education Institution provider – which has been a brilliant partner for us, utilising their strategies and marketing to target diverse communities.

Our HR, recruitment and talent team work along with our Positive Action Coordinator and attend various fairs, cultural events and carnivals in neighbouring police forces, because there wasn’t that much happening within North Yorkshire. We also attend local universities including those in York to encourage recruitment into the service and to sell the opportunity of policing and that there are numerous roles within the organisation – not just police officer roles – and that’s been really positive. We had a massive impact and if you look at the intersectionality, our LGBT recruitment has gone up by four times in the last five years, our BAME recruitment is up four times and disability recruitment three times to what it previously was. The bottom-line figures have been good and the actual key theme for the apprenticeships has seen us buck the trend nationally. We have a Positive Action group at a strategic level and operational level – I’m on both of those boards – and we are fully committed to promote to and mentor people from BAME backgrounds, who’ve come into the organisation. There are some structures that we need to change, but we are committed to increasing our numbers within the organisation, across all protected characteristics.

Sharon Blyfield: We’ve been running apprenticeships for a long time – traditionally engineering-focused – but we have been looking to broaden on that, in light of the levy. We have worked on promoting our apprenticeships and, with help from external partners, we are seeing more diversity. We threw a focus on gender – especially in our supply chain, because it’s very male-dominated – and that worked really well, where we are mow achieving a 50-50 gender split in our Early Careers apprenticeship programmes. Now we’re focused on ethnicity, because in the recruitment funnel, we attract diversity, but as the funnel goes down and we filter through the assessment centers, we seem to have a fall-off at that point. We are able to hire a large percentage of our apprentices from Asian background, but when we look at those from a black background, we have failed somewhere and we’re working to understand that barrier. We also have Early Career and Career Builder apprenticeships for our existing employees, to create a pathway to continuus development and learning, as employees move through the business.

Lucy Hunte: We’re doing a huge piece of work around career pathways, so sharing the opportunities that are available from Level 2 up to Level 7 now. Also, we are starting promote apprenticeships earlier, engaging with schools because still, students associate apprenticeships only with engineering and don’t realise the broad spectrum of opportunities that apprenticeships now cover. This work is paying off, in terms of the diversity in recruitment and numbers are continuing to rise.

Mette Laszkiewicz: We are offering apprenticeships to existing employees and, as these staff tend to be more mature, the level of income expectation is higher than the average apprentice wage, which is a consideration. We have the added complication that supporting an apprenticeship, we then need to release staff members and, as is well publicised, the NHS is very stretched. We don’t have the economy within our teams to release staff to do the learning. Of course, The apprenticeship levy pays for the course fees, but not for the release of the member of staff for training. In terms of attracting apprenticeships early, ideally we’re looking at promoting to students in Year 8 or Year 9, to help them decide on further education and career aspirations. There’s also a wealth of students with psychology degrees, but not enough specific psychology roles, so we need to promote to them that their skills are really required in areas such as; mental health nursing and learning disability nursing. The psychology degree pathways is a bottleneck, but there is great career potential if they broadened their horizons.

Anna Morrison: Likewise, in terms of our work with schools, we have a constant challenge of maintaining and increasing levels of awareness around apprenticeships and pathways into them. It’s not only targeting young people themselves, we need to bring key influencers onboard – teachers, parents, carers and careers advisors. I completely agree with the conversation around role models, it’s so important that we showcase a diverse range of people and we also need to start early, Year 7 is a good idea. We have created resources for schools to help teachers to be confident in starting those conversations with students, so that they are as familiar with apprenticeship terminology as they are with other routes and options. Of course, a real concern is whether there will be enough jobs available and whether the competition is going to be such that young people who were already underrepresented in apprenticeships, are going to become further disadvantaged. So we’re really keen to work with employers on that. There is still work to do, influencers are often still not convinced and individuals opt themselves out of certain job roles, firms and sectors, because they can’t believe that the employer would ever seriously consider someone ‘like them’ to work in that type of business. This is something that we’re really keen to change, because everyone should feel that all options are relevant and available for them.

Jade Pearson: From a social mobility perspective, we’re making real progress at Severn Trent. Of the apprentices we’ve hired into our organisation this year, over 50 percent of those have come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. About a third of the UK’s social mobility cold spots sit within the regions that we serve and it’s really important for us to help drive social mobility across our communities. Our ambition is to have a workforce that reflects the communities we serve. However, we’re still seeing lower numbers of great female talent interested in joining our apprenticeship programmes, particularly in our engineering and operational roles, but this is something we’re passionate to change over the course of the next few years. We’ve held a number of internal focus groups with our female apprentices, graduates and operators, technicians and some of those that have progressed on to senior management roles as well. This was focused on understanding their experiences, what attracted them originally to study STEM-related subjects and what led them to consider a career in the water industry. Although we’re performing above average for the water industry as a sector, we all want to do more to make a positive change.

The water and utilities industries in general, are still relatively unknown to a number of people, specifically in our communities. One of the things that we found is that a high number of our apprentices who join us are related to or already know somebody within our organisation. This is fantastic from a brand and pride perspective, that we’ve got employee advocates, but it presents a challenge for us to really reach out to those underrepresented groups. It’s so important for us to invest in engaging really early on with schools and we work with education to deliver work experience, careers guidance and employability skills workshops. At the moment, we’re looking at how we could streamline live our operational sites into classrooms, so that people can really see and feel what it’s truly like to work in the water industry. We’ve a wealth and diverse range of job opportunities that reach into degree level apprenticeships too, so we need to help people to connect with what we can offer them. We know parents and guardians can be real influencers in the decisions around which track students take and we’re still finding that apprenticeships are, unfortunately, seen as a second-rate progression track. This is a stigma that we’re trying to banish through our education and awareness initiatives. We’re passionate in busting those myths and educating those influential decision makers to support youngsters to really consider apprenticeships as a route into our organisation.

Anna Morrison: We are seeing there’s a really high level of interest in roles that connect to sustainability and to the environment. We know that our roles are going to evolve over the next five-to-ten years and so we are looking at ways of engaging with people.

Nina Slingsby: Research has shown us that, although there was an increased uptake in apprenticeships, those from a lower socio-economic background remained under-represented. But the good news is, when an individual from a low socioeconomic background moves through an apprenticeship, they benefit more than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds – which we measure in terms of their earnings boost. One of the challenges is to make individuals and employers aware that apprenticeships are suitable for both young and old alike and this is where Outreach has a part to play. Teachers, peer groups, parents and many other factors influence the choices young people make, so it’s important that business also have an influence at this key stage.

Another challenge is hiring, whereby some hiring practices create artificial barriers to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Many people in this debate have some great best practices and make sure marketing materials have wide appeal and advertise for skills before qualifications. But it pays to ask yourselves whether you really are recruiting from a diverse pool of talent, whether you have positive and supportive language in your adverts and to make the changes needed to allow those who are digitally disadvantaged to still apply for jobs and be considered for interviews. Another consideration is to offer financial support to help the most disadvantaged who may not be able to afford to travel or may not possess suitable interview attire, for example. Social mobility requires consideration and support. It’s not just about who joins, but also who progresses.

Jonathan Smith: Within the Targeted Employment Team at Essex County Council, we are actively promoting inclusive apprenticeships, as a viable pathway into employment for our special educational needs disabilities and difficulties cohort, SEND for short. We are supporting these groups to own, voice and champion their employment goals, whilst ensuring employment is a viable option for all. We’re helping to bridge the gap between education and employment through promoting community inclusion and creating pathways such as; social enterprises, supported internships, traineeships and inclusive apprenticeships. I think one of the key obstacles throughout our apprenticeship journey was the limited understanding of inclusive apprenticeships, both internally and externally. Due to this initial lack of knowledge, I felt that individuals had not been given the opportunity to kickstart their career, through an amended and inclusive pathway. In addition to this, I feel we need to identify and profile individuals better, to understand their career aspirations and ensure readiness for this inclusive framework.

The inclusive apprenticeships came from the Maynard Report back in 2016, to ensure apprenticeships are accessible to all. This report has prompted Essex County Council – which is a Disability Leader – to imbed inclusive apprenticeships within one of its entry to work programmes. We have just employed our first inclusive apprentices within the local authority on a two-year amended apprenticeship. This has supported and enabled an otherwise untapped talent pool to apply given the flexibilities within this pathway. We worked tirelessly with our inhouse recruitment team, to ensure we promoted these opportunities on an inclusive platform, alongside a robust and inclusive application process. This was designed to allow individuals to apply in a variety of ways – to ensure a bespoke experience for each individual. Now these individuals are in post, the feedback has showcased that those with additional needs, can thrive in the right environment given the opportunity.

Stephen Stewart: We’ve been on quite a journey since we set the GSK programme up in 2011 – we now take on 60 apprentices a year in the UK. Many apprenticeship standards simply didn’t exist when we started, so we have had to collaborate with other employers and build solutions for each job role. We now have varied routes to join from engineering, science and data roles and apprenticeships haven’t always been a traditional entry route into science and we have had to work on that and change mindsets over the years. We are focusing on how we can positively impact diversity through the apprentice programme. We’ve seen one manufacturing site recruit their first ever female engineering apprentice and they have then continued to build on this success. Now 40 percent of our annual apprentice intake is female.

Apprenticeships, in general, still have work to do on attraction around engineering and that’s constantly one of our themes, when we go out into schools and colleges. It’s already been mentioned today, but it is about dispelling some of those myths around engineering and manufacturing roles, because it really is an exciting, high tech career route. We need to help key stakeholders like parents and careers teachers to understand the roles on offer. Through the levy, I’ve seen some positive outcomes for people who had worked in the same role for a while and maybe had thought that they couldn’t progress or that they had missed the opportunity to complete a qualification or a degree. Using the levy to help people realise their ambitions, or have a second career, is also helping us to support diversity. The science industry is an area which is predicted to grow and apprenticeships can play a huge part in that. To make this happen, employers need to collaborate and together, we can engage people and enthuse about the variety of careers on offer and the value of those jobs at the end of those careers.

Richard Turner: I think diversity in engineering apprentices is becoming mature and that’s come through from what delegates have discussed today. What I would say is, the probability of success on an apprenticeship scheme, versus, actually attracting someone, are two very different things… we learned that the hard way. Even though in engineering, our gender diversity is largely 50-50 now and our BAME diversity has increased to about 20 percent – we found once that once they are on-scheme, they don’t progress at the same rate as everyone else. Engineering and more traditional apprenticeships, I think there is a stigma that they don’t compare to more academic study. That will change if more academic fields such as in science mature, with more people successfully accessing and progressing. Another consideration is that, if 60 percent is off the job, that is an important choice.

Viren Patel: It’s really good to see the determined efforts in promoting apprenticeships and that diversity is such a prominent focus. It does come back to this awareness piece and I think apprenticeships are invisible, intangible to most sections of those communities that we’re trying to reach through diversity. Awareness is key, that wider knowledge through information, guidance, advice and, in terms of diversity, role-modeling is such an important influencer.

WHAT PART HAS THE LEVY PLAYED IN PROMOTING APPRENTICESHIPS MORE WIDELY AND PROMOTING GREATER DIVERSITY?

Laura Burley: We’ve found as a provider that in the first few years of the levy, some of the larger employers inevitably were testing, learning and figuring out how they wanted to spend their levy and where. We were able to articulate the value of apprenticeships and we’re now seeing those employer partners coming back and saying: “Right, we can now see the value and we are opening this up to a new type of person, that can come into the workforce to bring in true diversity. In addition to that, we feel that we’re strengthening our inclusivity programmes. If we look back at the statistics about diversity and apprenticeships, invariably we will see through the data a slight lag when the larger employers were perhaps using it on existing staff. Now though, we are seeing that data shift, as employers are opening up to a wider group. The question is of course, how has the pandemic impacted? It has obviously been disruptive, but we’re starting conversations again and now is the time to, once again, look at the opportunities for bringing in more diverse learners. The larger organisations will have the infrastructure to build back, but SMEs, perhaps in more rural and remote locations, will need support.

DO YOU THINK THAT THE LEVY HAS BEEN A DISTRACTION OR HAS CAUSED TENSION THROUGH BEING EMPLOYER-LED, IN TERMS OF THE DUAL CHALLENGES OF DRIVING PRODUCTIVITY AND SOCIAL MOBILITY?

Sharon Blyfield: I don’t think it has been a distraction. If you look at it through another lens, the benefits internally have presented a great opportunity for reskilling and upskilling. With it being employer-led, this has given us a lot more autonomy and the capacity to create stronger pipelines and succession planning. What’s really starting to happen through COVID though, from an internal career builder perspective, we are seeing increasingly more requests about upskilling existing employees, particularly in leadership and management, because of the perceived and actual difficulties of external hiring in competitive markets such as engineering and technology.

Jade Pearson: Agreed, it’s certainly re-energised our focus on how we can better invest in the skills development of our employees and create job opportunities through apprenticeships, utilising the levy. We would welcome greater flexibilities to be introduced around how we can use the levy. As a regulated business, we have to be really mindful about the way we spend our customers’ money and we don’t always have the funds available to cover the salary costs of apprentices, whilst they’re learning. If we were able to use the levy to pay for a proportion of those salary costs, then we’d be able to double, even triple the number of apprentices we could bring into our organisation. That’s something we feel really passionately about and would love to see some progression on from Government.

Mette Laszkiewicz: The NHS has been paying into a levy pot from taxpayers’ money, which is then not utilised in the NHS, for example the difficulties around releasing staff for training, particularly at this time. It can then be used by private businesses – effectively what’s left over from the NHS levy pot, on a month-on-month basis. We need to use NHS money to support and train NHS staff, this is an NHS resource and should benefit the service and support skills development in the service.

Andrew McGregor-Taylor: In terms of police and PCSO apprenticeships that have been supported by the Government and the college, people are joining us on a full salary so, if they are studying for a police constable degree apprenticeship, they start on a minimum of £19,000 up to £23,000, depending on qualifications. There are other apprenticeships that we’re supporting internally, with any money that’s left over – once we’ve used it for policing and for PCSOs – and that tends to be for upskilling and developing people who are already working for us. We haven’t taken many of, what I would call traditional apprenticeships, although we do have a few and that still causes us the problem of people having 20 percent off the job, which has an impact on colleague officers. We’ve created what we call professional development units, which can redirect people from frontline shifts and we have 36 student development officers, supervisors and assessors, all working within one tight unit now and the benefits of all that are coming through.

Viren Patel: I think it’s about flexibility with the apprenticeship levy, to be able to use it for the skills that employers really need. That may be in a modular way, for example.

DO YOU THINK THAT EDUCATION, EMPLOYERS AND GOVERNMENT ARE COLLABORATING EFFECTIVELY TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY IN APPRENTICESHIPS? IF NOT, WHAT NEEDS TO BE PUT IN PLACE TO IMPROVE SUSTAINABLE OUTCOMES?

Laura Burley: For England, the Government previously set targets for apprentices with a BAME background at 11 percent and for those with a learning disability or disability at 12 percent, but they haven’t revisited those targets for two years. The National Audit office said that “lacked ambition”. In fact, the recent data that came out last month is that LDD Learning Difficulties and Disabilities is now at 12.5 percent of all apprentices and BAME is 13.3 percent, so we’re already exceeding the targets. It would be interesting to find out from delegates how they are performing and, as to whether they think targets should be more ambitious or more flexible.

Nina Slingsby: From the Social Mobility Commission’s perspective – we advise the Government – and from the research report early in 2020, we’ve statistics which suggest that, since the levy, greater awareness and increased appetite for apprenticeships have gone up in general, but those from a disadvantaged background have not, raising concerns that certain groups are not being well targeted and that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, when they are in apprenticeships, those from disadvantaged background are not progressing at the same rate. Clearly, more needs to be done. This is a general perspective and I must qualify that I’m not involved with the more detailed conversation and so it would be unfair for me to represent the commission on that.

Richard Turner: We must consider that not everyone progresses at the same rate and targets really need to be around completion and progression and they must be around quality, rather than the straightforward numbers of apprentice targets.

Reg Bannerman: Our CEO and Chief Transformation Officer at BT who, by the way is the sponsor for the Ethnic Diversity Network – have introduced an initiative we refer to as the ERAP, the Ethnic Rapid Action Plan. It has four streams and the first one is to accelerate diversity within the organisation and to build a BT that’s more reflective of society. It’s about educating and empowering our people, helping people managers understand the value of a diverse workforce, making sure the business is ready culturally and then leading by example and we’ve had success with reverse mentoring for our exec team. The last stream is about building transparency, looking at our data and filling in the gaps where the data doesn’t paint a full picture. This has helped us with, what I would describe as, a constructive introspection of the business, looking at the complexion of the organisation internally. It’s been a bit of a revelation, looking at our B, C and E suites and looking at how those particular populations reflect the society that we recognise. For us, it’s about the organisation being ready and accepting that it really needs to move from good to better.

DOES THE DIRECTION OF TRAVEL LOOK LIKE THERE’S MORE DIVERSITY IN THE RANKS COMING THROUGH, IN TERMS OF NOT JUST THE ENGINEERING AND THE TECH SIDE, BUT RIGHT ACROSS THE PIECE?

Jonathan Smith: Whilst there has been some development in this area, I feel there is a need for further improvement. One of the challenges we have faced in the past is that individuals on standardised apprenticeships, leave ahead of the completion date, due to not disclosing their disability and/or difficulties. I feel that additional training needs to take place to ensure training providers are better informed and make reasonable adjustments can be implemented to support hiring managers, providers and employees. There needs to be better understanding from recruiters with SEND, coupled with strong and supportive job coach role within the process of employment. Another area for consideration would be that the NAS website works within the guidelines of inclusivity and disability confidence. I think our SEND cohort struggle to access this platform in its current guise.

Viren Patel: It’s about the challenge of making diversity part of the DNA of the organisation. It’s a real cultural state, a matter of hearts and minds and it’s about education and proactively reaching out. In the bigger picture, it’s not just Government’s responsibility to make improvements, it’s a task for all of us. We’re all guilty of just looking at the numbers. We need to pressure Government to say that we are ready and willing to improve diversity and for the Government to be more ambitious.

Andrew McGregor-Taylor: Ensuring diversity of thought, as well as the visible diversity, is key, so we have started leadership training with a key focus on unconscious bias. North Yorkshire is the first police force in the country to survey the whole force through unconscious bias testing. We have just released the results and all positive progress, but there’s a big danger that we just focus on “visible diversity”. Of course, we can’t force people to declare their sexuality, or a disability, but we should leave no reason for them not to, inclusively and consistently encouraging everybody to join our organisations. One challenge is, we currently use strengths-based assessments for all, in terms of promotions and this is becoming exclusionary, so clearly there needs to be more diversity of thought in the process.

Lucy Hunte: There are real implications of not having a diverse management team. It’s only anecdotal at the moment, I’ll share when it’s finished, but there has been some evidence that, if there are any performance or disciplinary issues, if it’s a BAME member of staff and white senior management, for example – then a considerable percentage of those cases could go down the discrimination route. Whereas, if it’s a BAME manager and a BAME a member of staff, then it’s more likely going to be focused on agreeable performance issues. That’s an issue across the NHS, if you don’t have representative management.

Tracy Fairhurst: When required, we take additional measures – with the support of our trade unions and training providers – to address any issues and to provide support. There have been instances where we have deferred entry on an apprenticeship programme, to allow time to upskill in this area and we will always try to support the prospective apprentice to successfully onboard to the programme.

Jade Pearson: There are two important areas; the first is on attraction. One of the things that our focus groups have helped us to realise is that we need to be authentic in the way that we’re advertising opportunities – don’t fill your adverts with female apprentices in operational environments, if that is not your reality. There’s a balance between highlighting role models and for people to see and connect to people like themselves, in promotional material. Authentic is fundamentally important in attraction and, subsequently, retention and good outcomes. The second thing is, how you select and hire individuals into your organisation. We’re proud to have been using a strengths-based selection approach for a number of years now. We’re not using qualifications in any way, shape, or form to hire the individuals that join our apprenticeship programmes. We hire based on strengths and the potential that individuals demonstrate and the alignment with our  values as an organisation. That’s really helped us drive social mobility across our new talent programmes.

Anna Morrison: Employers really need to explore what they mean around diversity, inclusion and social mobility. If we can establish this and prioritise, then initiatives can be more successful. Across the apprenticeship sector, we are really lacking in confidence around those sensitive conversations and we do need to reflect and ask questions about what can we do better, what are our priority groups? I don’t think it necessarily works, just relying on targets around representation, because individual employers will have their own priorities based on the needs of their businesses. That will always come first, but there are things that Government can do to incentivise and focus attention on issues that need attention, such as the recent Scottish apprenticeship incentives encouraging employers to create opportunities. I also feel that the whole package of support around apprentices from diverse groups and training providers, needs to be really robust, so that we are not setting up vulnerable or disadvantaged young people for failure.

Allan Ang: It keeps going back to the fact that diversity and inclusion has to be a keystone of an organisation’s culture. It can’t just be topdown, it has to be bottom-up as well. At Estee Lauder, we have set up a diversity council, which I am on, in order to steer our strategy and we have a group of employees from all different levels who are a part of what we call The Inclusion & Diversity Circle, who are there to enable and drive our strategies and come up with ideas and initiatives. One of the challenges is that we don’t have any data on diversity, outside of gender and age, which means we don’t know how it breaks down within our population. You can’t have the right strategy and approach and really understand what the problems are unless you know how the diversity of your organisation breaks down. We’re also launching a project to capture all diversity elements including; social mobility, disability, religion and sexual orientation, for all of our employees. That’s a project that I’m leading as well and we’re hoping to have that within the next few months. It’s not just having the data, it’s being able to cross-pollinate that with other types of data, whether it’s movement, exit, promotion or pay data, so that we can look at potential areas of bias and we can course-correct.

Stephen Stewart: What’s really helped us at GSK are our Employee Resource Groups such as our ‘Embrace’ ERG, for our BAME community. We make sure that the apprentices are aware of these groups, before they start with us and we provide contact details in the first week of induction. It gives them opportunity to connect and access additional support and meet people from around the business. We have senior sponsors in all of these resource groups and we have found that they have really helped with the confidence of apprentices, to bring their true self to work.

Viren Patel: I think it relates very closely to corporate culture and the ecosystem that we all need to create and about building into the DNA. Retaining and developing talent is a hearts and minds journey which is long and challenging and, the broader question is, how do we keep doing this? How do we build that collective movement around this as an organisation and a community?

DO PROVIDERS TICK ALL THE BOXES? HOW DO YOU THINK THEY COULD IMPROVE IN SUPPORTING YOUR ORGANISATION’S APPRENTICESHIP DIVERSITY OBJECTIVES?

Jonathan Smith: Having set up Inclusive Apprenticeships within the council, one of my ambitions moving forward was to ensure this pathway is accessible across a variety of apprenticeship standards. On our learning journey, it has become apparent that there is a limited understanding about the Inclusive Apprenticeship pathway and how this can lend itself to diversity objectives. We are currently in conversations with several Essex-based Training Providers, to establish implementation of a diverse and inclusive recruitment process. This process will be supported, in turn, by Vocational Profiling, which will ascertain individual aspirations, alongside their level of  support. Our belief is that by creating this tool, this will further support the understanding of the individual and any reasonable adjustments that the training provider will need to implement to ensure a successful transition into training. By inspiring training providers to work collaboratively alongside Essex County Council, we feel we can further promote the need for inclusive apprenticeships; increase apprenticeship uptake and to ensure apprenticeships are accessible for all.

Sharon Blyfield: It’s a really good point, employers really have a responsibility to work with their training providers, to support them with as much information and communication around what it is you need to achieve and to really make sure that the providers meet the criteria and are focused on the key areas.

Lucy Hunte: In the NHS, where we’re recruiting new talent and the providers do the shortlisting and when the diversity objectives don’t match up, the providers will say; “it’s just who applied.” Obviously, I’m speaking as one of 263 different Trusts and so they will all have different relationships with their training providers – some good, some not so good. But when we have challenged numbers from a diversity perspective – the provider’s criteria is to send the cream of the crop and they’re not, as a rule, looking at disadvantaged backgrounds of those people for who the apprenticeship would really be a step into the NHS. Also, without being judgmental, I think they look at their achievement rates, with candidates that are not going to need that extra pastoral support.

Viren Patel: Training providers recruit the numbers and there will be an obvious focus on targeting candidates that are likely to reflect well on retention rates. As we’ve discussed, recruiting with a diversity focus requires a lot more work pre-hire and will require more support and resources going forward. This needs to be an agreed commitment from all parties, because if providers recruit for diversity and employers are disappointed with the retention rates, then momentum can easily be disrupted. Without having that wider lens, surrounding the real objectives of diversity and social mobility, outcomes will be inevitably be impacted.

Anna Morrison: I don’t think the funding model necessarily supports providers to do that. If you look at the funding they receive for English and Math, it’s very small and doesn’t cover costs and 20 percent is weighted on completion. This can only act as a deterrent for them, to take on – apologies for the phrase – more risky candidates, the ones that are going to require additional support. This higher chance of candidates not completing has a cashflow implication for providers. If we could see a shift in how the funding methodology works around this entire agenda, we could see some real changes.

Andrew McGregor-Taylor: Our experience with the Open University has been a fantastic partnership, symbiotic and working well together. From our perspective, they’re our main provider and we’re looking to go this route with our PCSO apprenticeship as well, because we’ve had a really positive experience.

DO YOU THINK THAT THE PANDEMIC WILL PROVE TO BE A MASSIVE CHALLENGE IN PUTTING DIVERSITY BACK ON TRACK? DOES IT PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES TO REACH FURTHER AND FASTER TO ACHIEVE A TRULY DIVERSE TALENT POOL?

Jonathan Smith: This pandemic will have had a huge effect, particularly on young people in relation to; confidence, social skills as well as an increase in anxieties and mental health problems. But as an optimist, I think employers and training providers are committed to turning a positive from a bad situation, to press the reset button and to look at how inclusivity and diversity can be imbedded into core values. We are finding that a collaborative approach with all training providers, across Essex, is enabling a more inclusive referral process, which is resulting in a greater diversity of individuals being considered for this pathway. We have had to overcome and manage a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic such as; managing an inclusive and accessible recruitment process for our first inclusive apprentices, remote working and digital poverty, to name but a few. One of our biggest successes to date has been the introduction of a vocational profiling tool, which is used to gather and assess information about a jobseeker and their career aspirations. We feel that this tool is vital, to ensure both readiness and suitability to access a multitude of pathways to employment. We feel this supporting mechanism will directly result in an upturn of diverse applications. In addition to this, we have noticed an uptake in SEND individuals developing their digital skills, which has further supported their employability skills.

Lucy Hunte: The pandemic has thrown a light on best practice and it has moved forward our IT revolution. The NHS is not normally the quickest at moving things past our firewalls, but we have switched to virtual working and recruitment very quickly. However, this has an unintended consequence of concern, because it also highlights that digital poverty is an increasing issue that can challenge inclusion, so we must be mindful that with the increase of remote, virtual recruitment, we can’t assume that all candidates will have access to a laptop and Wi-Fi, or be able to attend interviews.

Mette Laszkiewicz: There are some positives for us, for example with the greater use of virtual communications aspects of COVID has meant that we’ve been able to link up internationally. Through a Nightingale programme, we’ve introduced a leadership programme for nursing which our Ugandan colleagues in one of the medical schools are now part of, which is building our diversity awareness and knowledge sharing. It’s a paradox of sorts, that the pandemic has expanded our diversity.

Stephen Stewart: Another benefit of course is that, through necessity, more people are working from home and so it’s normalised remote working and opened up lots of opportunity for apprentices to learn differently. I believe it will lead to a much more agile and diverse future, but we need to take mental wellbeing of people working from home seriously, because it’s harder for managers to see where they need to offer support. It is also difficult for new joiners, especially apprentices starting their first role, to understand how to balance work, study and life and here, mentorship holds an important key.

Nina Slingsby: Many businesses are probably either in survival mode or struggling to keep the demand pipeline up. Wherever a business is in the journey, apprenticeships and a diverse workforce have an important role to play, both now and in the future.

THE PANDEMIC MUST HAVE, OF COURSE, DISRUPTED APPRENTICESHIPS – AS IT HAS BUSINESS IN GENERAL. BUT THE DEBATE POINTS TO AN OPTIMISTIC FUTURE, AS WE TRANSITION TO THE NEW NORMAL.

Laura Burley: Yes, the Open University produces an annual Business Barometer, and the last one was published Autumn 2020. It was a survey of over 1,000 businesses – obviously, it was pre the second lockdown – over half said that apprenticeships will be crucial to the economic recovery – as well as the recovery of their business – and a vital part of their business over the next 12 months. But when you look down into the sector breakdown, hospitality and leisure, of course, looks a bleaker picture. Within that survey, we also asked businesses about how apprenticeships will be important to help them in the diversity of their workforce and about 45 percent said that diversity and apprenticeships would be critical. Interestingly, this was SMEs as well, UK-wide. This is a good indication that employers really do perceive apprenticeships as a key part of that pipeline, where people are looking to use existing staff and retrain them or upskill them. Businesses are transforming, diversity has to be front and centre and apprenticeships can deliver on these ambitions.

Viren Patel: There is a bit a tightrope to walk here. COVID has accelerated many things and many businesses have been firefighting and so it’s easy to lose sight of important objectives such as diversity. But encouragingly, as the OU business barometer report indicates, most employers are placing apprenticeships in the picture of their skills pipeline strategy as we transition to the new normal.

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