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Apprenticeships: the ethnic minority gap

Despite their high unemployment rates, ethnic minority young people are far less likely to have a place on an apprenticeship than white young people. Given the need to tackle the unacceptably high unemployment rates of this group, along with the...


Despite their high unemployment rates, ethnic minority young people are far less likely to have a place on an apprenticeship than white young people. Given the need to tackle the unacceptably high unemployment rates of this group, along with the emphasis all parties are placing on the importance of apprenticeships, this is a real missed opportunity.

For example, approximately 16 per cent of 16-24 year olds are from a minority ethnic background, yet figures from the Data Service show that only 9.2 per cent of those starting apprenticeships, and only 8 per cent of those competing apprenticeships, are from an ethnic minority. This figure becomes even more shocking when taking into account the high unemployment rates of ethnic minority young people, with 44.4 per cent of economically active young black people and 33.6 per cent of economically active young Pakistani/Bangladeshi people being unemployed (ONS 2012).

So why is this the case? Research from the government found that the apprenticeship message is not currently reaching minority ethnic communities. According to this research, this is partly due to a lack of promotion of apprenticeships in schools, as well as a preference within some minority ethnic communities for progression in education rather than training. There are also concerns around a general lack of awareness among parents, employers and the wider community of the apprenticeship route, and of its benefits.

Whilst not mentioned in this government research, it is also worth acknowledging that given the evidence of discrimination in employment and recruitment in general, this may also be present in apprenticeship recruitment. For example, research from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that if you have an African or Asian sounding surname you need to send approximately twice as many job applications as those with a traditionally English name even to get an interview. This is worth considering even if specific evidence is not available.

To be fair to the government, they have made some attempt to tackle these issues. It held diversity pilots in 16 areas between 2010 until earlier this year which aimed to increase demand for, and supply of, apprenticeships among under-represented groups, including ethnic minorities. However, these pilots have now ended and it is not yet clear whether the government will continue and expand the work of these any further.

In addition, as highlighted by the National Apprenticeship Service, the numbers of ethnic minorities on apprenticeship schemes are growing, with 10 per cent of apprenticeships in London now being taken up by ethnic minorities, as well as a small increase in the number of ethnic minority apprentices across the country. However, whilst this is welcome, this increase is still nowhere near enough to tackle the high rates of ethnic minority youth unemployment. 10 per cent ethnic minority apprenticeships in London, for example, is far below the city’s 30 per cent ethnic minority population (ONS). Indeed, as Diane Abbott MP stated recently in parliament, the figure is “derisory”.

Far more work is therefore needed to boost the numbers of ethnic minorities on apprenticeships. The work carried out under the diversity pilots was positive, but needs to be continued and extended across more areas of the country, particularly in ethnically diverse cities. Blank name application forms should be considered for those applying for apprenticeships. In addition, those sectors which have had historically low levels of employment from ethnic minorities, such as the construction industry, should undertake more outreach work in these communities when recruiting apprentices.

Apprenticeships are not, of course, the only answer to tackling ethnic minority unemployment. Co-ordinated and bold action in schools, universities and the labour market more broadly is needed if we’re going to make real headway in improving the work prospects of our minority communities. However, increasing representation in apprenticeships would offer a positive start to tackling the unacceptable level of unemployment currently blighting so many ethnic minority young people in this country.

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