Diversity is about opening doors—and keeping them open, as Helen Grant MP, chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, explains

Since its launch in March 2017, the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) has gone from strength to strength. Now, over two years in, the ADCN continues to grow and be a force for good in the apprenticeships landscape.

An action-focused and employer-led network, the ADCN is proud to host a number of employers representing all sectors of the British workforce, including the private, public and third sectors. They also range in size and scope. But despite their differences in scale and sector, all ADCN members are employers that share my belief that someone’s future should not be determined by their past. All have made a conscious decision to help remove obstacles—and ensure that there truly is a level playing field from which candidates, no matter their background, can take a shot at securing an apprenticeship.

We meet quarterly and our agenda is shaped around the interests and priorities of our members. We welcome new members every month, fresh off the back of their pledges to take action. I am proud that we are not a talking shop and that we judge ourselves on action and the difference that we make.

Helen Grant MP is chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network

To us, ‘diversity’ is not a tick-box exercise; it is a broad concept and at the forefront of everything that we do. To members of the ADCN, diversity is about opening doors for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and providing them with an equal opportunity to succeed. It is about people with learning difficulties, disabilities and mental health problems (LLD) being enabled to bring their rich array of skills and experiences into the workforce and supporting them to achieve their full potential. It is about getting more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles, so we can live in a world where women can express their full talent. It is also about opening up pathways for disadvantaged people, paving the way for greater social mobility, and it is about breaking down barriers so that LGBT+ people are able to flourish in the workplace.

Diversity, for us, is ultimately about ensuring that, whoever you are and wherever you come from, you are able to access the life-changing opportunities that an apprenticeship provides.

The 70+ members of the ADCN, including blue chip organisations such as the BBC, Transport for London, Siemens and Balfour Betty, spearhead new and exciting initiatives, and they all lead the way in developing meaningful and diverse apprenticeship programmes.

Some examples include:

  • The Canal & Rivers Trust has identified 23 local schools to encourage more girls into construction and STEM roles
  • Walsall Council is extending its Positive Action Scheme to include SEND and Probation, and it now has an Autism Champion on a level 3 advanced apprenticeship
  • BT moving to the use of situation strength-testing during recruitment, which has led to an increase in both female and BAME applicants to their programme
  • Barclays offering its Able to Enable interns access to a higher apprenticeship on successful completion, providing opportunity for people with mental and physical health disabilities
  • Kier has an active LGBT+ network sponsored by its Regional Buildings Executive Director, and has also signed up for membership with Stonewall

Together, I am very proud to say, this group has been responsible for more than 180 events and campaigns, more than 600 school outreach events, and 400 collaborations with partner organisations.

However, while this is great work that is making a tangible impact, there is still a long way to go. Latest stats show that 11.2% (42,200) of total apprenticeship starts were made by people from BAME backgrounds. We are currently operating at a seven-year high in terms of BAME representation in apprenticeships, and are on track to reach the government’s commitment to reach 11.9% by 2020. However, with BAME representation on the rise in wider society, we need to more to ensure that we continue to push for higher and higher levels of representation so that we can closely match representation in the working age population.

We have also seen a really significant increase in representation from LLD apprentices this year, shifting from 10.2% in 2016/17 to 11.6%, again putting us on course to reach the government’s stretching target of 11.9% by 2020. Even within that figure though, people with learning difficulties are vastly under-represented in the apprenticeship workforce. Furthermore, of the 83,270 starts in STEM-related sector subject areas, 8.8% (9,030) were by women.

All of this means that the ADCN must continue to grow, and develop new and exciting ways to reach out to a diverse range of apprenticeship candidates.

Personally, I am so proud of the work that the network already does and I fundamentally believe that we are making a real difference by opening up more apprenticeship opportunities to people from every background.

We welcome those who want to help us make that difference too—so join us, talk about us, and support us. Help us grow even bigger so we, in turn, can help change lives. I encourage you to read our membership information and application form, and think about joining—we’d be delighted to have you!

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