How apprenticeships develop a more diverse workforce
The benefits that companies can achieve through hiring apprenticeships are well known: training can be tailored to individual needs, your workers are more likely to stay with you after the completion of training, and the new Apprenticeship Levy makes bringing apprentices on board even more financially attractive.
However, there is a less heralded benefit that many businesses are now beginning to catch on to: apprenticeships offer a great way of developing a more diverse and varied workforce.
A recent webinar, hosted by Financial Director editor Emma Smith, looked at how some of the UK’s most innovative companies are adding apprenticeships to their talent strategies in order to make sure they have access to the best and the brightest – from all backgrounds, ethnicities and social class.
But why should diversity matter? For Harry Gooding, Sales & Marketing Director, Arch Apprentices, there are two answers: “Lots of studies show that a more diverse workforce tends to lead to better financial results, that link is there; secondly having diverse leadership and teams allows team to grow faster and adapt to change – it makes them more agile, essentially. Diversity of thought is massively important.”
Within KPMG, adding to the diversity of the company’s workforce is an increasingly important measure of performance. Martin Blackburn, Head of HR at the accounting firm, told the webinar that while a lot of organisations will say their people are their key asset, that is literally true for KPMG.
“Our clients want a broad range of thoughts and opinions, so to meet the client agenda you have to have a diverse team,” he said. “But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, unless business pursue diversity of hiring practices, I would question whether they will be able to get the talent into their businesses that they need.”
As a result of that, KPMG has followed several large professional services firms- in law, accounting and consulting in adding apprenticeships to its recruitment mix. And, in Blackburn’s view, there are two key drivers behind that: “First, it allows us to access talent that we might not otherwise be able to attract,” says Blackburn,
“And second, it’s moving from the right thing to do to an absolute imperative.”
So where do apprenticeships fit in to the growing diversity agenda? “The introduction of the Levy is certainly waking companies up to the benefits,” says Arch’s Gooding. “One third of the apprentices placed by Arch, for instance, are Black and Ethnic Minorities (BAME) and that contributes a lot to delivering the right skills for the business.”
Essentially the panel, which included Clare Gregory, a Partner in DLA Piper’s Employment practice, all agreed on the fact that by varying and smoothing the routes into work – whether that be through the traditional university routes or via an apprenticeship – companies are making a vital contribution to opening up a broader range of professions to a broader range of potential candidates, helping both the companies and the country as a whole to diversify the skills base for the future.
And the Levy is only one driver of the big shift that is now underway: with tuition fees and average debt reaching unsustainable levels (the most recent estimate was around £45,000 after three years’ study) the attractiveness of the degree route to all but the wealthiest students means that apprenticeships are bringing together keen young entrants to the world of work with companies hungry for smart, fresh thinking.