HR must ‘cast the net widely’ when hiring apprentices, say experts

MPs’ report proposes measures to improve diversity and quality of apprenticeships

HR has been called on to recruit apprentices from a more diverse talent pool, after a report by MPs yesterday said the government needed to make the schemes more socially accessible.

The education select committee’s report – The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity – argued young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were not being given sufficient help to access apprenticeships. 

Key recommendations included introducing bursaries to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds onto apprenticeships, increasing the apprenticeship minimum wage and launching a ‘social justice fund’, drawn from the apprenticeship levy, to financially support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices. 

Responding to the report, Lizzie Crowley, skills policy advisor at the CIPD, said HR professionals could also help attract a more diverse talent pool to apprenticeships. 

“This has flagged the role HR can play in opening pathways for individuals from different types of backgrounds, such as thinking about your recruitment strategy to ensure groups are not dropping out of certain stages, and reviewing the ways you engage with schools and colleges,” she said. 

“There are steps you can take to cast the net as widely as possible, and should someone from a more vulnerable background be hired, it’s the responsibility of HR to ensure they have any support they might need to make a positive start in that organisation.” 

Elsewhere in the report, the MPs argued the apprenticeship levy’s 20 per cent off-the-job training requirement, which employers have previously slammed as “impossible” to deliver, should stay. However, the select committee recommended the government runs pilots to experiment with the flexibility of training standards. 

“An apprentice should be learning both on and off the job, and the right balance between these will be different for each standard,” the report read. “But, our concern, shared by the National Union of Students (NUS), is that in our current imperfect system removing the protection of the 20 per cent minimum, however crude it may be, could hurt apprentices.” 

Safeguarding the quality of apprenticeship provision was additionally flagged as a key area for improvement, following a disclosure from the chief inspector of Ofsted last week that a fifth of sample providers had been labelled ‘insufficient’ in an initial government inspection. 

Under the committee recommendations, any providers found by the education watchdog to be insufficient should be removed from the register of training providers.

Describing the quality of training as “of paramount importance”, Lady Cobham, CEO of training network The 5% Club, said: “Businesses of all sizes need to have the confidence that providers will deliver the highest quality of apprenticeship training, at a consistent and uniform standard across the UK. At present, this isn’t the case. Not being able to rely on training provision undermines the value of apprenticeships to both employers and recruits.” 

Apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton yesterday welcomed the findings of the committee, and pledged to remove inadequate providers from the apprenticeships register. 

“It is essential that apprenticeship training is of high quality. We have given Ofsted additional funding so it can hold the rising numbers of training providers to account,” she said.

“Any provider that falls short of the required standards will be removed from our register and stopped from taking on new apprentices until they have improved.” 

She added the Department for Education would respond to the report in full in the near future.