• Steph Bishop

Apprenticeships: one of the best ways for the UK to #buildbackbetter

What has lockdown been like for you? As we start to (safely) get out and about a bit more, it’s been a time of reflection in my house. There are some things I’ll definitely be glad to see the back of: home schooling, the endless cycle of breakfast-clear-up-snack time-clear-up-lunch time-clear-up … you know the rest. But there are also things we want to hold on to: not rushing about quite so much, appreciation of being able to see family and friends, cherishing the smaller things in life and always having home-made cake in the house!

But like many of us, the most common thoughts I’ve been having in lockdown aren’t about me and my family. They’ve been about all the people who’ve had it so much harder. The single mum looking after three kids and working all night to keep her business afloat, the family of six crammed into a tiny house with no garden, and first and foremost all of those who’ve suffered and lost loved ones.

Inevitably – given what I do for a living – I’ve also had my professional hat on, thinking about what working life post-COVID is going to look like, for these people who’ve been most affected by it.

As I said in my last blog, there’s no getting away from the fact that this crisis has affected us disproportionately. And as lockdown eases and a new world of work starts to take shape, there’s a danger that all the people who’ve been most affected by COVID-19, will continue to be more impacted professionally in the aftermath.

A hashtag I’ve seen used a lot over the past few weeks which I really like is #buildbackbetter. And that’s what this blog is about: social inclusion and mobility. Or – building back better and bringing everyone with us, into this new world of work.

Let’s start by looking at the problems

While I have a lot of time for the sentiment that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, in this case the statistics look pretty stark – particularly for children and young people.

Starting at the bottom of the height chart, there’s the fact that already disadvantaged children could fall further behind, as they don’t have the support at home – or the right environment – to allow them to study.

A survey of families in England suggests that better-off children will have studied for around seven days more than their poorer peers by next month. It might not sound like much, but with some UK students unlikely to return to school until September – and even then with the possibility of a blended school/home learning model – it starts to add up. There’s also evidence of inequality in terms of the level of support children get at home, with a new YouGov poll showing that 20% of better-off households have been calling in help from private tutors, compared to just 7% from poorer households.

Internet access = opportunity

Amid all the phones, iPads and laptops in my house, it’s easy to forget that many households struggle to access the internet – with all the learning opportunities it brings – at their fingertips. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 10% of UK households – mainly the poorest – don’t have access to the internet.

Which neatly segues into young people, and the barriers they’re facing as they move out of education and into what should be the start of their careers. As I said in my last blog, we’ve leaned heavily on digital technologies to keep business going during lockdown. In many ways this has been a good news story – but not for young people who have little access to the internet, who are now excluded from early careers opportunities such as internships, which have to a large extent moved online.

A generation out of pocket and out of work

It’s just one of many problems facing young people.

Some are still having to pay university accommodation bills, despite there being no prospect of seeing the inside of halls again any time soon. And after years of relative stability, unemployment is now firmly on the rise, with the biggest increase being for 18–24 year olds. More than 9% have lost their jobs – the highest proportion of any age group. The places they work part-time to fund their study – the Prets, the leisure centres – have been hit hard by COVID-19, meaning a cash flow crisis far beyond eating beans on toast every night.

I’m also seeing the wealth of early careers opportunities this age group had in front of them abruptly dry up, as businesses focus less on social mobility and more on survival. There are fewer work experience opportunities on offer, fewer non-graduate entry schemes such as apprenticeships and a dwindling number of recruiting graduate programmes – 28% of graduates have already had job offers withdrawn or start dates delayed.

And this is all just thinking about young people: this would be a very long blog if I looked in depth at the challenges faced by all of the less advantaged and under-represented groups in the UK – but suffice to say that they’re many, and they’re complex.


So, what can we do about this huge number of overwhelming and seemingly intractable problems? The good news from me is: quite a lot – but only if companies can think about their long-term workforce plans and beyond the immediate bottom line.

Let’s prioritise social mobility

It’s so important that companies lead the way on inclusion. It might feel difficult to prioritise right now, but the long-term benefits for businesses (not to mention humanity) are proven. An easy way to start shifting mindsets internally is for companies to sign up to The Social Mobility Pledge.

Some other fantastic charities businesses can support, which have social mobility for young people at their core, are The Sutton Trust, The Princes Trust and The Social Mobility Foundation.

Rethinking apprenticeships

For me, there’s one crucial way that companies can support inclusion post-COVID: something that’s relatively low-cost for companies but will have a huge impact – apprenticeships.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that the Apprenticeship Levy is a UK tax on employers, which can be used to fund apprenticeship training. All employers with an annual salary bill of more than £3 million pay 0.5% of their total wage bill to HMRC each month, and the government add a 10% contribution. It’s then held in a ‘digital fund’ for 24 months, and employers can use it to pay for apprenticeships. After that, HMRC take it back any unspent funds.

Almost unbelievably, these apprenticeship piggy banks aren’t being raided – in 2019, a whopping £52 million went unspent. How much social mobility could we have bought for that?

If they’re serious about righting some of the wrongs caused by COVID-19, the government and UK businesses need to work together to build skills for the future and support the economy. Less impacted sectors such as pharmaceuticals and digital could (and should) consider recruiting from harder-hit sectors such as hospitality – and use funds from their Apprenticeship Levy to upskill candidates with skills gaps.

Less known is that apprenticeships aren’t now just for school leavers, they’re for everyone: when the levy was introduced, the age limit was removed.

I've seen apprenticeship programmes attract and upskill a far higher proportion of less advantaged people than traditional graduate programmes – some giving the opportunity to get a degree at no cost to the apprentice.

Tomorrow’s Talent can do the same thing for your company. We can:

  • develop robust recruitment processes that attract and select the people with the most potential to grow and succeed in your organisation

  • help you create comprehensive apprenticeship programmes that leave you with employees raring to make a big impact for your business.

Time and time again, we see less advantaged candidates thrive in the workplace: make sure your business doesn’t miss out on what they have to offer.

If you’d like to have a chat about how Tomorrow’s Talent could help your business increase its inclusion and social mobility agenda do get in touch.

As ever, there’s no fee and no obligation attached!

Stay safe,








© 2020 Tomorrows Talent Ltd - Website and brand created by Hello Social Media.