Social mobility: How vocational training is the roadmap for success

05 July 2016 -


A new report reveals how UK businesses and government can improve social mobility and boost the uptake of apprenticeships

Jermaine Haughton

Creating a Social Mobility Employer accreditation for employers, increasing online learning opportunities and promote the quality of vocational training schemes are some of the key ways UK businesses and government can boost the uptake of apprenticeship and work-based study, and fuel greater social mobility among the country's youth, according to a new report.

Investigating how recruitment and vocational education impact on social mobility, the new report by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), proposes that the high quality employment, experience and practical skills-based training offered by apprenticeships and vocational courses for career starters can play a key role in helping lift people out of poverty and is crucial for young people who are leaving school and considering their next steps into the world of work.

The UK has one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world, where too often the best opportunities in life are only within reach of the most privileged.

This is evidenced by a separate study by The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which shows there is a growing social divide by income and by class.

"Looking at earnings, the income share of the top 10% has increased from 28% to 39% since 1979, while the income share of the top 1% has more than doubled from 6% to 13% over the same time period," it said. "At the very bottom of society there are more than one million children living a life of persistent poverty. They are excluded from sharing in the many opportunities that life in modern Britain affords."

However, as the AAT report shows, vocational education including apprenticeships, which gives young people specific workplace skills, has increasingly become more attractive to businesses to meet their resourcing needs.

The specific training offering in skilled trades, for example, can help bosses beat shortages and recruit much-needed plumbers, builders and engineers.

Apprenticeships have also moved into other industries, including the professional services and the arts.

For managers, CMI offers a scheme teaching and training students on how to be the most effective managers possible. Developed in partnership with a number of higher education institutions and well-known employers, the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship is unique in providing attendees with a quality degree, on-the-job experience and a professional pathway for future development.

The boosted popularity of apprenticeships is not just stimulated by employers, but increasingly by students.

In higher education, university tuition fees have increased significantly in recent years, and a parallel drive to markedly increase the volume of graduates has meant some degrees may no longer hold quite the same value in the labour market as they once did.

The study said: “Choosing to study for a degree now requires much thought about employment possibilities, the financial investment needed and the likely return thereafter. At the same time, the wider educational landscape has also been the subject of reform and there is now a strong focus on apprenticeships and the opportunity they provide in giving people work experience and a qualification at the same time.

“The apprenticeship route has many obvious benefits for the individual – people gain the right skills for the labour market, earn a wage and save money on tuition fees.”

The report said government should work with employers to end recruitment specifications that exclude those from non-higher education backgrounds, and employers should give as equal consideration to high quality vocational attainment as they do to higher education to broaden the pool of talent.

In particular, prompting employers to adopt “blind interviews” where the school and/or university of the candidate are only revealed to the recruiter once they have offered them the job when relevant is identified as key way of making the recruitment process all-inclusive.

Similarly, the AAT report argues government should consider establishing a Social Mobility Employer accreditation to encourage employers to adopt recruitment measures that enhance social mobility.

With digital becoming an integral part of virtually all industries, the report also urges the government to redouble its efforts to increase online learning, following up on its commitment to ensuring a minimum of 10% online content for publicly funded further education (FE) and skills courses.

Equally, the development of soft skills must be given credence by employers and training providers.

“Industry leaders in soft skills should work together to generate guidance on best practice teaching of soft skills,” the study said, “The government should seek to work with the CEC and Ofqual to ensure that the value of soft skills is recognised in qualification development throughout the entire educational system.”

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