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How apprenticeships can diversify your workforce

A roundtable discussion panel chaired by Amazing Apprenticeships met recently to talk about “How apprenticeships can diversify your workforce” following a national survey commissioned by The Open University in partnership with the 5% Club*.

The Build the Future Apprenticeship Survey, conducted by YouGov on 603 employers who have hired apprentices, showed that almost 9 in 10 business leaders in England plan to maintain or increase the number of apprentices they employ in the next 12 months.

The webinar panel took place during National Apprenticeship Week (7-14 February) and was chaired by Anna Morrison, founder and director of Amazing Apprentices. It featured Viren Patel, Director of the OU’s Business Development Unit, Karima Khandker, Head of Skills and Emerging Talent at Thames Water, and Isa Mutlib, CEO of the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance.


The huge importance of apprentices to employers

Apprenticeships are hugely important from a strategic point of view. The survey we have conducted with YouGov shows us that 88% of employers plan to maintain or increase their number of apprentices in the next 12 months and this is a really good sign that they are using apprenticeships and seeing the value of [them] and recommitting to [those] that have been put into place.

Viren Patel
Director of the OU’s Business Development Unit


He said organisations were in the middle of an acute “recruitment challenge” and that apprentices were a great tool in tackling this strategic problem. He said the pandemic has changed the way businesses operate: “The skills are different now.”

Average age of apprentice learners studying with the OU is 36

Viren said apprenticeships were available at all levels to all ages so it means employers can upskill their entire workforce.

The OU has provided higher and degree apprenticeships to employers since 2016. Across various sectors and business sizes, the OU supports learners ranging from 18 to 63 years with an average age of 36. The OU also employs its own apprentices across the institution at a variety of levels.

The survey showed that 66% of organisations said apprenticeships had allowed them to bounce back from the economic fall-out of the pandemic more quickly.

Karima said Thames Water is using apprenticeships as a way to fill the niche gaps in the company’s workforce. After an in-depth review of those gaps “we went from 2-3 disciplines to 23,”. Thames Water brought new, more diverse talent into the workforce and built engagement with existing colleagues, too, she added.

Filling the skills gaps within organisations

Isa said: “Organisations can now really drive human, corporate and economic performance and apprenticeships fundamentally bring opportunities for individuals to train and fill the skills gaps.”

Organisations can now really drive human, corporate and economic performance and apprenticeships fundamentally bring opportunities for individuals to train and fill the skills gaps.

Isa Mutlib
CEO of the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance


The panel went on to analyse the fact that while many employers in the survey agreed they supported individuals from lower-socio economic background groups entering the workplace, a much smaller number had firm plans to recruit from under-represented groups.

Other subjects included discussion about businesses employing more people with disabilities and removing barriers to entry. Viren said employers need educating about the benefits of a diverse workforce and the tools to aid this.

The panel said success in recruiting and retaining apprentices was about catering for different styles of learning; a blended approach; removing barriers to give access to more potential recruits and collaboration, both external and internal.

About The 5% Club*
The 5% Club is a dynamic movement of employers committed to earn and learn as part of building and developing the workforce they need as part of a socially mobile, prosperous and cohesive nation.

The Club exists to help its members and all employers increase further the number, quality and range of earn and learn opportunities across the UK. By joining The 5% Club, members aspire to achieve 5% of their workforce in earn and learn positions (including apprentices, sponsored students and graduates on formalised training schemes) within five years of joining.  

Click here to read more about the survey

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