The Annual Apprenticeships Conference 2017 - coming together for change

With the AAC event over for another year, the job of processing and sorting the huge amount of information presented over a very intense three days at the ICC in Birmingham can now begin.

Perhaps inevitably, change, reform and funding were the hot button topics this year. And the river of rhetoric flowing from the fascinating keynote speeches, exhibition, workshops and the many coffee-break conversations had, will be taken home, digested and placed in the context of each participant's own priorities over the coming weeks and months.

Nestled among those hugely important policy sessions, was a small workshop on accessibility that has lingered in my mind for the quality of debate it provoked. The workshop, titled ‘Making Apprenticeships Accessible For All’, started with some sobering questions. It looks like we are on track to create the Government backed 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 - but will we miss the point? Are apprenticeships really open to everyone?

The presenters from the Learning & Work Institute then showed us some up-to-date and sobering figures based on recruitment of apprentices from different ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, genders and socio-economic groups. Demographics can be hard to present in an engaging way, but these statistics tell a story loud and clear.

Although 52% of apprentices are women, we heard, three quarters of women who apply for but aren’t successful in getting Engineering apprenticeships give up and never apply again - male applicants keep trying. Disabled apprentices, although not impossible to find, are few and far between. There were participation disparities across all the groups.

The take home was that, depressingly, your sex, the colour of your skin, your disability status and where you live has a huge impact on if you are likely to apply for an apprenticeship, the level you achieve and which sector you will work in. Thankfully, there were some green shoots of hope too, in the form of ‘best practice’ boroughs like Islington and Camden which are having great success in their efforts to increase inclusivity across these groups in their own apprenticeships programmes.

In the lively debate that followed the presentation, funding, better careers advice, clearer pathway routes into apprenticeships and financial support were all mooted as possible solutions to the obvious inequalities that still exist in our sector. This was just one workshop of many that embodied the passion and quality of debate at this year’s AAC. It was heartening to see the apprenticeship community come together to thrash out the opportunities that lie ahead, big and small, with such intensity and respect.

What was your ‘take home’ from this year’s AAC event? Let us know on Twitter @PearsonAppr and we will retweet your comments and follow you.