Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential (The Social Mobility Commission)

Apprenticeships are often considered an effective means of ensuring social mobility. They are ascribed this function because they provide both a way to increase skills and a link between education and employment, especially for those individuals who do not progress to Higher Education.

This report is the outcome of an in-depth investigation of the English apprenticeship system and the impact that recent reforms have had on individuals from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

The report demonstrates sizable gaps between apprentices depending on their socio-economic status at every stage of the training journey. Such sizeable ‘disadvantage gaps’ indicate an apprenticeship system lacking the necessary direction to address social mobility.

The work identifies ‘disadvantage gaps’ in employer selection for apprenticeship training; the quality or ‘value’ of the training received; the likelihood of completing training and of progressing into higher-level apprenticeships, or further and higher education; as well as levels of pay after undertaking an apprenticeship.

Apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to successfully achieve the qualification than non-disadvantaged learners within three years. The non-completion gap is larger at intermediate level (3-4 percentage points) than at advanced level (1-2 percentage points), but disappears for higher-level apprenticeships. This suggests that disadvantaged apprentices at lower levels may need more support or face specific barriers that are not being addressed either in policy or by employers.

On average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than non-disadvantaged apprentices. However, apprenticeships reduce the gap in labour market outcomes between apprentices from different backgrounds. Apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds receive a larger boost in their earnings from apprenticeship completion than their non-disadvantaged peers. Apprenticeships aid social mobility if –and only if –a disadvantaged learner can persevere throughout the system to complete their qualification.

Read the full report here.