More must be done to tackle apprenticeship 'diversity deadlock'

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Businesses and the government must work together to drive apprenticeship diversity, a report has asserted

Only 11.3% of apprenticeship starts are made by non-white applicants, and while women represent 54% of all apprentices they make up only 8.1% of those in STEM fields. Furthermore just 10% of apprenticeship starts are by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, The 5% Club’s Diversity Deadlock report found.

It stated that despite research showing that businesses with a diverse workforce outperform those without, barriers still exist in recruitment processes.

Leo Quinn, chairman and founder of The 5% Club and group chief executive of Balfour Beatty, said that businesses must collect better data to attract a diverse workforce.

“The 5% Club stands strong in our belief that the diversity and inclusion deadlock can be broken – and action must be taken immediately given the skills gaps that exist across our economy. Businesses need to collect better data, think outside the box in how they recruit, and ensure workplaces and business cultures are inclusive and welcoming to people from different backgrounds,” he said.

Quinn added that the government must work to provide careers advice to people from all backgrounds.

“The government must also play its part, using the levers it has available," he said. "It must provide balanced careers advice, educating teachers, young people and parents from all backgrounds about the range of earn and learn opportunities available, as well as encouraging young people – especially girls – to study STEM subjects. If we can pull together in a strategic, co-ordinated way we can deliver change and offer sustainable careers to a larger and more diversified cross-section of people.”

The report coincides with research from the Young Women’s Trust and the University of Chester showing that women are shut out of sectors facing a shortage of workers, such as construction and engineering.

The charity called on the government to set time-limited national targets to boost the number of female apprentices in sectors where they are under-represented. It suggested that organisations should set their own targets, incentivised by linking chief executives’ bonuses to results.

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Carole Easton said that young women had been shut out of roles in certain sectors because of stereotypes.

“The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering will not be plugged unless employers help more young women into relevant apprenticeships. But Young Women’s Trust has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors because of gender stereotypes and a lack of support,” she said. “Employers can take far more action within current legislation to create a more level playing field for women.”

Chantal Davies, director of the University of Chester’s Forum for Research into Equality and Diversity, added that employers need guidance on tackling gender balance.

“Positive action in theory is an effective measure to address under-representation, but our research found that there is confusion about whether and how it can be used – which also means that it is being under-utilised. The majority of employers who took part in our research were committed to measures to bring about gender equality,” she said.

“However, our participants felt that there was a lack of consistent adequate guidance and a code of practice, which meant that employers lack awareness and/or confidence to implement effective positive action measures. This can be down to a fear of legal liability.”

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