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Defining Success in Social Impact Poll#2 Apprenticeships

The second LinkedIn scenario in the series ‘Defining Success in Social Impact’ had a great level of response, with comments provided by training providers, social impact professionals and individuals with lived experience of the situation.


The scenario given was:

“You’re excited that your company has created 4 new apprenticeship roles. Two apprentices are 16 and live with their parents, one is 19 and lives in a shared house with friends, and the last is a 40-year-old career changer, who lives with his wife and child. You find out, talking to HR that all apprentices have been hired at the legal minimum wage for apprenticeships, which is £4.19 per hour in their first year of training.”


With the question: “Is this fact relevant for your Social Impact Programme?”


15 people voted on the question, all agreeing that Yes, the fact was relevant.


So, let’s start with a brief ‘No’ perspective.

I asked this question of an organisation which commissions social impact activities within its supply chain. Their perspective was that in a black and white sense, if an organisation was paying legal rates for an apprentice, this scenario bears no relevance for social impact delivery through contract. The successful creation, recruitment and delivery of the apprenticeship is what the organisation will be monitored on, working towards the outcome of creating economic opportunity for local people.


Yes: An Ethical Issue

The consensus by respondents however, was that ethical considerations made this an issue for an organisation’s Social Impact Programme.


As @RichardDickens commented: “In theory it will still create social impact and value, however there is a question of moral value?”


Training company @NorthernTrainingAcadenyLtd responded that: “The majority of companies we work with do not pay the minimum apprenticeship rate as they value the skills, experience and knowledge held by their employees.”


And there-in lies what seems to be the crux of the issue. Taking an apprentice on represents a long-term investment for an organisation. Traditionally, apprentices were assumed to be teenagers still living with parents or carers, and without significant financial responsibilities. 

The entry rate of £4.19 reflects the significant time and effort that ‘most’ companies will have to invest in ‘most’ young apprentices. However, the world is changing rapidly, particularly given the mass job losses that Covid 19 is causing. We are going to see greater numbers of older career changers seeking apprenticeships.


As @CathHoward comments: “I believe that the £4.19 rate for anyone living independently is too low. I can understand that it might be ok for 16 years olds living at home (depending on household income), but it is very different for those outside that bracket. The career changer will bring skills and experience that a 16 year won't have and that should be reflected in pay.”


@PaulMather puts his finger on it: “I think the legal minimum wage for apprenticeships is too low personally. Why isn’t it the same as NMW? Especially for the 40-year-old, what if for instance his wife doesn’t/can’t work (full time mother, disabled)? That’s not a decent income for 2 adults and a child, even if it’s a good opportunity for the apprentice.”


And @ShaunFrance kindly shared his personal experience as a career changer: “It absolutely is relevant. As someone who has looked, and is still looking, into a career change an apprenticeship was one of the routes I looked into. I was offered a civil engineering apprenticeship but had to turn it down because, at the time, my wife was still in part time employment and with a mortgage and 3 kids this rate of pay was nowhere near enough to be able to live on. I would have really enjoyed learning new skills and progressing in a new sector, but it wasn’t to be… Life skills are transferable, experience isn’t the be all and end all.”


When considering offering an apprenticeship scheme, employers need to recognise the diversity of candidates. We can no longer assume that a 16-year-old does not live independently. I’ve paraphrased @JaneBinnion’s excellent comment that as we simply do not know the personal details of any candidate, we must not make assumptions based on age.


Another line of conversation was around the ‘motivations’ of the organisation offering the apprenticeship. This highlights another important ethical issue for an organisation (directly related to any Social Impact programme), that of the validity of the apprenticeship. Has this position been created in response to social impact ‘scoring’, can the organisation afford this individual on minimum wage and is there a longer-term opportunity for the apprentice? If these questions have not been considered, the apprentice may well have racked up debts for training in a skill for which there is little employment potential. 


@GoldenTrainingServices very helpfully comments: “£4.15 is the minimum hourly rate for an apprentice but I always advise clients to think about paying a little bit more and consider age, experience and prior qualifications of the proposed apprentice. The min rate is only for the first year of an apprenticeship and after 12 months you need to pay the National Min Wage for the apprentice's age going forward.”


Ultimately, it is the apprentice’s own decision whether they can afford to live on an apprentice wage. As @JaneBinnion says “It all depends what they will get from it, other than money. It may be a stepping stone to better opportunities, a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, break isolation....”


In summary

Considering both No and Yes responses highlights the need to apply social value criteria in a values driven way. Whilst in black and white, criteria specifying apprenticeship opportunity creation can only require an organisation to deliver this in a legally responsible way, perhaps this teaches us that this needs to be combined with other critical factors within contract delivery. Methods of doing this could include:


·       Requirement of all employees (regardless of position within the company) to be employed at minimum wage, with clear recommendation (or requirement) that the organisation becomes a Living Wage employer.


·       That the organisation develops and promotes a company hardship fund, where the financial circumstances of people considering career change and re-training are considered in line with apprenticeship opportunities.


·       That apprenticeships recognise and encourage as diverse range of applicants as possible by considering the wider socio-economic factors which may create barriers to people accessing opportunities to improve their prospects in life. 



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