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27 Feb 2020
People 1st International

Sandra Kelly, UK Skills and Policy Director of People 1st International explains how organisations can increase diversity successfully through apprenticeships, and how collaborative initiatives such as Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network can help.

The key theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is to ‘Look Beyond’.  The government is calling for young people to explore the diversity of career options and industries now available through apprenticeships, and for employers to share the value they are already seeing from using apprentices to increase diversity in their organisations.

Whilst I believe that it’s essential for employers to shout about the value they already see from diversifying their workforce by employing apprentices, it’s also important for organisations to take a collaborative approach towards encouraging more people from underrepresented groups to consider apprenticeships.  This employer-led approach is already found in the hospitality, travel, aviation and retail sectors, which have been trail-blazing employer-led skills and quality boards to drive a ‘one voice’ strategy on apprenticeships and skills development for several years now, and are well ahead of the curve.


Lloyd Thomas, Chair of the Retail Skills & Quality Board and Apprenticeship Partner at the Co-op, which has 1,400 apprentices, believes that a diverse workforce brings with it a serious competitive advantage. According to Thomas, “Apprenticeships provide a unique solution alongside the more traditional hiring routes, helping to attract people from a wide talent pool. Therefore, we embraced the opportunity to develop the retail apprenticeship standards as we know they are critical in supporting our strategies to encourage a diverse range of people into our organisations.”

Another leading employer championing diversity is Mitchells & Butlers, one of the UK’s biggest hospitality operators with almost 1,800 managed pubs, bars and restaurants, employing some 2,400 apprentices. Jan Smallbone, the company’s Director of Learning & Talent Development, believes that entry-level apprenticeship roles are a great way of offering vital job-specific and transferable employment skills to a very diverse population.

School leavers who have perhaps not enjoyed the traditional academic route to learning, college leavers who want a practical route to employment, those who have taken a career break or are embarking on a career later in life, or those who may not have had the most traditional or best start in life can all benefit from apprenticeships,” states Smallbone.

Mitchells & Butlers have also invested in helping apprentices with disabilities, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders, into careers. “Many autistic people have huge, unacknowledged skills which are very useful in an environment like hospitality, such as attention to detail, reliability and accurately following process. It’s just a question of giving them the right support and mentoring to enable them to flourish in the workplace” she adds.


The Department of Work and Pensions are also working with employers to help broaden diversity in recruitment pools by showcasing apprenticeships for unemployed people who have struggled to find and maintain sustainable employment.  The recognition that people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to progress into higher-wage fields, or further into leadership roles is also one of the reasons for the existence of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network.  This group of more than 70 organisations has a remit to make a positive change to diversity and inclusion in apprenticeships and increase representation from BAME in all industries, LDD, females in STEM and those from disadvantaged areas.

Superdrug Stores plc is a member of the Network. Their diversity champion and Apprenticeship Programme Manager, Sue Renny, says that the company has pledged to drive diversity in apprenticeships through a commitment to ensuring a fair, diverse and inclusive workplace in which people feel welcome and can just be their true selves. Additionally, the company has put in place inclusive leadership training for all senior managers to prevent unconscious bias.

To conclude, it’s evident that employers are really taking diversity seriously, and that they are also taking steps to ensure that their apprenticeships reflect this. Hopefully, apprentices who appreciate the value of this approach will in turn act as positive role models and inspire others to do the same. The good news for those individuals who ‘look beyond’, is that there is already a wide range of opportunities and support available for people from all walks of life, ages, races and special needs, so that they can take advantage of apprenticeships.

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