Elite employers hire apprentices to tackle lack of diversity


Many of the UK’s biggest graduate employers are ramping up apprenticeships in a bid to tackle a glaring lack of diversity in the top ranks of professional life, according to research published on Monday.

More than half the firms responding to a survey by the Institute of Student Employers said they now took on apprentices, with non-graduate recruitment in the 2018 season 50 per cent higher than in 2017 — a much faster rate of expansion than the 7 per cent growth reported in graduate hiring.

The firms covered by the survey account for 10 per cent of total graduate recruitment, but a much bigger proportion of the best-paid jobs: they include many of the top law and accountancy firms, as well as investment banks and blue-chip companies with graduate management programmes.

The study shows that these elite employers increasingly see it as a priority to tackle gender imbalances and recruit people from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Most companies did not have data on ethnic identity or socio-economic background, but the handful who reported figures said that more than 4 in 10 of the graduates they hired were privately educated, even though 90 per cent of graduates come from state schools. Women are also still under-represented.

Policymakers believe apprenticeships may be part of the answer. Although the number of people starting apprenticeships has fallen sharply since the introduction of an employer levy in 2017, much of this was due to a drop in the number taking shorter, lower-level courses.

Many employers blame the drop in numbers on the bureaucracy of the new system, and on a lack of accredited courses. Others say employers are still not providing enough degree-level places and that teachers remain wary of recommending apprenticeships to their students.

However, interest in degree-level apprenticeships is growing, albeit from a very low base. Accountancy and engineering firms already have well-established, highly competitive schemes, and openings in high-tech sectors such as IT and pharmaceuticals, are becoming more common.

“I think it is a long-term game,” said Stephen Isherwood, ISE chief executive. The ISE’s members, used to running big graduate schemes, were better equipped than most to handle the bureaucracy of the new system, he said. Yet on average, they were still using only 15 per cent of their levy money, because many were only just starting to recruit and others still saw no role for apprentices.

The survey also added to recent evidence that UK wage growth remains modest, despite a tightening labour market. Companies were hiring more graduates than last year, but graduate starting salaries rose by just 0.9 per cent, from £28,000 to £28,500, and remained well below their pre-crisis peak in real terms.

Source – www.FT.com 


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