Apprenticeship Outreach: Engaging with under-represented groups to improve social mobility

Executive Summary

The report provides evidence that show that while many associate apprenticeships with social mobility and disadvantaged groups, diversifying workplaces through apprenticeships isn’t something that happens automatically. It requires concerted effort to target, inform and support under-represented groups, to prevent the most sought-after opportunities going to the already advantaged. Work experience plays a key role in this. Outlined throughout this report many stakeholders contribute to the information and guidance that young people receive, and positively, the interest and knowledge surrounding apprenticeships is
increasing. However, with a significant number of apprentices surveyed not receiving any information before starting their apprenticeship, it is clear that the information surrounding apprenticeships is still
not reaching every student. This year’s Youth Voice Census report positively showed that nearly 86% of young people state that they have had apprenticeships discussed with them, however only 29% of those young people would be likely or very likely to apply for an apprenticeship.43 So, although information about apprenticeships is now being conveyed to most students the issue becoming apparent is that this isn’t necessarily translating into choosing to pursue the apprenticeship pathway.

Key findings

Access to the best apprenticeships for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds continues to be an issue. An increasing number of degree apprenticeships are going to older apprentices, and they are also more likely to be taken up by those in more affluent areas. Apprenticeship opportunities for young people overall continue to decline.

Apprenticeships for over 25s are substantially more likely to be offered to existing employees, rather than advertised as new opportunities. 68% of apprentices aged 25-54 in our survey reported they were already working for their employer. Such apprentices were also more likely
to have come from higher socio-economic backgrounds. This limits the potential for apprenticeships to drive social mobility.

Young apprentices received information about their apprenticeship from a variety of sources, including careers workshops, meetings with careers advisors, visits from employers or apprentices, visits to a workplace and work experience placements. However, 14% of apprentices aged 16-24 reported that they did not receive any information or outreach before
starting their apprenticeship. This was higher for those starting with a new employer.

For those aged 16-24, salary information was the most popular response when asked about the information apprentices would have liked to receive before they started their apprenticeship, followed by information on career opportunities after their apprenticeship and information on
the apprenticeship experience and the balance between work and study.

1 in 4 young apprentices found the apprenticeship application process difficult to navigate, with those from a working class background more likely to report this compared to those from middle class backgrounds. Apprentices undertaking a higher level apprenticeship were also
more likely to report this.

When asked about what could have encouraged their friends, peers and-or classmates to choose an apprenticeship, almost one in three (31%) of apprentices aged between 16 and 24 said better information and support from their school.

Almost 1 in 5 (22%) of apprentices aged 16-24 said that their friends and family were not supportive of their decision to do an apprenticeship. Those from a working class background were less likely to have friends and family that were supportive of their decision.

Information on outreach activity was also gathered from employers in a series of interviews. Apprenticeships outreach is much less developed than outreach conducted by universities, and is done in a variety of ways across employers, with little evidence as yet on effectiveness.

Apprenticeships were valued by employers for their contribution to diversifying their workforce, and outreach was a key method by which employers sought access to a wider talent pool.

Partnerships with other organisations are seen as key for reaching larger numbers of young people, as well as those from specific groups, whom an employer may not have the experience or means to access. However, such partnerships come with inevitable challenges.

There is still a disconnect between the employer experience and the school experience of working together to enhance young people’s knowledge and awareness of apprenticeships. In particular they have different needs and preferences when it comes to the timing of outreach

In the context of degree apprenticeships, relationships and views differed between employers and universities as to who should deliver outreach.

Apprenticeship outreach spending appeared very low when compared to graduate outreach and recruitment costs.

Flexibility of how the levy is spent was flagged as being needed, but with no clear consensus of what this would be spent on. Employers who were not using all their levy allowance thought the spending of levy money on access and outreach activities would be beneficial.

Virtual outreach has been prominent over the last couple of years, which has had pros and cons. As long as students could get online it has proved to be a good level up for students and has allowed more conversations to take place with teachers and parents. However, virtual fatigue and low turnouts have proved to be a challenge.

More work needs to be done in identifying and sharing best practice in apprenticeship outreach, including learning from the university sector where relevant.


The report provides three primary recommendations. First, the spending of levy money on access activities should be both permitted and promoted, including bursaries, outreach, recruitment and travel expenses for disadvantaged apprentices. Second, schools should be supported to provide good quality careers advice on apprenticeships, and the information gap among schools and teachers should be addressed with better access to information and resources. Third, universities should step up access and outreach activities for degree apprenticeships, working in collaboration with employers and harnessing the experience, skills and resources of both.

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