Increasing diversity in apprenticeships

We spoke to Isa Mutlib from BAME Apprenticeship Alliance to discuss the issue.

Increasing diversity in apprenticeships: an interview with Isa Mutlib, BAME Apprenticeship Alliance

At OneFile, we believe diversity in apprenticeships is incredibly important, so we take a proactive approach to promoting the cause. We employ apprentices from diverse backgrounds, our apprenticeship software is built for a diverse userbase, we write articles about diversity, and our CEO, Susanna Lawson, is on the advisory panel at the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance.

Apprenticeship diversity is something Susanna feels very passionately about, so she sat with the CEO of the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance, Isa Mutlib, to discuss the issue:

SL: What do the demographics look like regarding diversity in apprenticeships?

IM: From the latest government statistics, just over 20% of applications for apprenticeships were from BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) background individuals. But at the point of starts, this drops to just 12.3% – an increase from 11.2% in 2017/8. There could be a variety of reasons for this. It could be down to the application process and lack of preparation for applications and interviews. It could also be because the individuals are unable to express themselves as credible applicants and explain why they’re a great option for companies. This isn’t necessarily down to a lack of interest – they may just not be able to convey their passion for doing an apprenticeship. If individuals are coming from socially deprived backgrounds, they may not have the appropriate information, advice or industry exposure, or a mentor to sit with them and support them through the process.

SL: Do you see certain sectors or certain areas with a higher percentage of applications from BAME people?

IM: We’ve seen a high proportion of individuals applying for qualifications in sectors that show good progression to sustainable careers, good pay, and in particular, organisations who hold great values. These all form catalysts in the decision-making process. Popular sectors include engineering, finance, legal and professional services.

SL: What influence do you think families and schools have on BAME young people’s decisions?

IM: They have a huge influence. Typically, we’d say that families make up at least 50% of the decision-making process, especially where there has been a traditional route of education – from school to college to university. If that’s the only route parents know, that’s what they’ll encourage their children to do. Equally, while families may play a role in discouraging children from going into apprenticeships, they have the opportunity to play a hugely positive role – but this is part of the battle. By educating parents about apprenticeships, we can change how parents advise their children. Role model companies need to reach out to BAME communities and promote apprenticeships, and role model apprentices need to share their experiences and successes with prospective apprentices. They also need to relay the fact that apprentices don't accrue student debt – which is another important financial driver.

SL: When I was working in the NHS as a care worker for adults with learning disabilities, we did some research into diversity as there was a real lack of applicants from Asian and Chinese backgrounds to become level 2 carers. Our research found that many parents aspired for their children to become doctors, not to go into a career at a lower level. Do you think this is still an issue now?

IM: The motivating factors behind you wanting your child to become a doctor or a lawyer make sense. They’re long-lasting, sustainable careers with sustainable incomes. We need to educate people on the alternative routes available into sustainable careers.

Another thing to consider is that the parents of these prospective apprentices are likely to be first- or second-generation migrants who don’t want their children to have the same experiences and struggles that they had. Parents may think that their children have to go to university to avoid these struggles, so it’s about changing this opinion too.

SL: Do you think that the social mobility that apprenticeships bring – working up from level 2 all the way to degree level – is a benefit?

IM: Apprenticeships are a fantastic vehicle for social mobility, but there are other factors attached to it. For example, the apprenticeship wage isn’t sustainable – when you think of transport and housing. For many people who’ve made the decision to do an apprenticeship, they often don’t fit into non-vocational, purely academic learning. Life for them is generally a bit different, so it’s about giving people an alternative route.

People can progress from a level 2 all the way to degree level, but we need to make sure people have the right support to aid this transition. I often use the analogy of a car – for it to run and reach its destination, it needs engine oil, water, fuel, which is like an apprentice. They need support from the inside so they can maintain their families and thrive in their career. Unfortunately, we’re seeing apprentices going through level 2 or level 3 but still not progressing any further. We need companies to buy-in to apprenticeships and support learners so they can work as social mobility catalysts on an individual level.

SL: What does the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance aim to achieve and how?

IM: BAME Apprenticeship Alliance is a community of organisations that aims to promote apprenticeship diversity. We work around 3 key angles: policy, advocacy and conversation. Policy – we work with LEPs (local enterprise partnerships), employers and the Government to influence how the UK shapes policy around apprenticeship diversity and influence the narrative of apprenticeship diversity. Advocacy – we go out into communities to promote apprenticeships as a whole and shout about apprenticeship diversity. We also meet with key stakeholders to see what practical things we can do together to promote apprenticeships in different spaces. We aim to be in a position where we can talk openly about diversity and demonstrate how apprenticeships play a major role in increasing diversity in organisations.

SL: What kind of organisations do you already work with?

IM: BAME Apprenticeship Alliance is a membership body, so we have patron members across the skills sector, but predominately employers. We currently work with patron employers – The Royal Airforce, Coca-Cola European Partners, JTL, NOCN Group, Severn Trent, Dudley College, NCFE, Mindful Education and WorldSkills UK – to find solutions that work for them and share them with employers across the country who are looking to recruit from diverse backgrounds.

We recently launched The Apprenticeship Hack that brings together BAME apprentices from across the country. They tackle the key issues surrounding apprenticeship diversity but from a local perspective – for example, we’ve held hacks in Birmingham and London and we’re looking to bring the hacks to Manchester and Yorkshire to find more regionalised ideas and solutions to tackle apprenticeship diversity and cover the full talent perspective.

SL: How can people get involved with BAME Apprenticeship Alliance?

IM: Go to our website to find loads of information about who we are, what we do, and how people can get involved.

Isa then turned the interview on its head as he had a few questions for Susanna:

IM: How are you involved in BAMEAA and what does it mean to you as an employer in the tech sector?

SL: OneFile is involved with the BAMEAA as we believe diversity in apprenticeships is incredibly important. Our software supports apprentices, but we’re also an employer of apprentices and want to increase our diversity. As a technology company, we do struggle with diversity in many demographics, so it’s incredibly important to us. We’ve already completed research and written articles about the importance of diversity in tech – you need the experience, ideas and views that comes with a diverse team. If your software is going to be used by a diverse userbase, you need diverse people in the team to build for that userbase.

IM: What are the key challenges for a tech company recruiting diverse apprentices in Manchester – which is a very diverse place?

SL: Recruiting developers is very competitive in Manchester, but we do have a diverse tech team with developers from BAME backgrounds. I think we could still improve, but the biggest challenge we have is gender – recruiting female developers is something we’re trying to improve upon. It’s a challenge, but we find that the more female developers we have, the more likely they’ll stay with us. We find the same with BAME employees – if they can see that we're doing something proactive to increase diversity, they’re more likely to stay with us. We do ask recruiters to provide applicants from diverse backgrounds, so we’re not just getting white, male applicants. Obviously, this can be difficult as it depends on who’s applying to them as well.

IM: What’s worked for you? What piece of advice can you give for other employers?

SL: I believe that if you’re showing prospective recruits around the office and they just see a sea of white faces looking back they’re not going to think that you embrace diversity. Of course, you have to start from somewhere, but the more diverse team you have, the more BAME recruits can see themselves fitting in there. You need to show that diversity isn’t just a tick-box exercise, it’s something you live and breathe.

IM: If companies can’t invite recruits to meet the team, how do you show people that you’re committed to diversity?

SL: We’re very open and link with schools and colleges in areas with high diversity. We work with Levenshulme High School for Girls and Oldham Academy – a school and college in diverse areas of Manchester – so that our work experience students are from a diverse background.

In the past we’ve also worked with job centres in areas of high diversity to recruit.

We also share our company news on social media and promote that we celebrate a diverse range of festivals – such as Eid – so people can see that we respect all beliefs and religions. We share research and publish articles online about diversity, and I speak at events about the importance of diverse work teams, so people can see that we promote diversity in as many ways as possible.


To find out more about using apprenticeships to increase diversity in your workplace, download this free guide.

This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.