The career options and career outcomes of disadvantaged groups are often more limited than those from more affluent peer groups. This can stem from the fact they aren’t given the same opportunity to receive further education and degree qualifications, which in turn widens the social mobility gap.
Research suggests that disadvantaged students are twice as likely to become NEET (not in education, employment, or training) by the age of 18 than their more affluent peers. Furthermore, the pandemic continues to significantly impact young people’s employment prospects.
Apprenticeships can plug the diversity gap
Apprenticeship schemes can help tackle this. Not only do they provide employment opportunities for young people and enable businesses to develop a skilled, well-trained workforce, they can also help address issues associated with social mobility.
A well-run apprenticeship scheme can provide young people with the opportunity to pursue further education and develop critical skills which would have otherwise been inaccessible.
These schemes enable people to enter the workforce and learn on the job while also studying for academic qualifications. They can also help alleviate financial pressures associated with studying for a degree as these programmes include a salary.
Not only do apprenticeship schemes help level the playing field for both young people starting out in their careers and more experienced people looking to change careers, but they can also help employers create a more diverse workforce. And they’re accessible to both.
For example, just 12% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female; this is an opportunity for businesses to consider how they can best support women who are already in the industry, as well as encouraging future generations to consider engineering as a career.
Apprenticeships are a great way for both women and men to make a career change, particularly for those who do not have the prerequisite qualifications often required for many roles in STEM.
Traditional recruitment methods might not always reach those from diverse backgrounds so businesses should think outside the box – can they partner with external organisations to gain access to a broader range of talent in and around their industry, such as charities or talent specialists which focus on diverse communities? Can they set themselves diversity targets for new hires on apprenticeship programmes?
Doing the above will hold the business to account and ensure steps are taken to engage with diverse talent during the recruitment process.
Stemming the skills shortage
Championing diversity can also help the industry tackle the big issues. National Grid research shows that the UK energy sector needs to fill 400,000 jobs to reach net-zero by 2050. This skills shortage is being compounded by a lack of social mobility across the UK and this problem is being felt particularly in STEM orientated industries. This provides a great opportunity for the energy industry to tap into the UK’s diverse pool of talents, cultures, and ideas to fill these gaps.
National Grid has been taking steps to do this. This year we are recruiting for 64 apprenticeship roles and, by 2025, have committed to engage with more than 100,000 diverse pupils in South London through a STEM skills and careers outreach programme. This can help create a pipeline of talent for the hundreds of thousands of jobs needed to be filled across the energy industry.
Partnering with MyKindaFuture, the programme involves National Grid employees volunteering their time to encourage young people to seriously consider STEM as a career choice. From interactive workshops, and digital mentoring sessions, to virtual work experiences, we’re rolling out a range of initiatives and have already worked with tens of thousands of young people since the programme’s launch in October 2020. The programme focuses on social mobility and societal fairness by targeting schools in the most deprived areas along the tunnel route of the second phase of the London Power Tunnels (LPT2) – a £1 billion project to rewire the capital.
Furthermore, our Grid for Good scheme aims to help those from socio-economically disadvantaged groups access training, work experience and employment within the energy industry. In the first 365 days since launch in October 2020, we’ve delivered the programme to over 3000 young people through the help of over 1000 National Grid volunteers. And the result? Over 120 placements across our business, almost 100 applying for our graduate and apprentice roles and seven starting other early careers in National Grid. Now, we’re working with five of our supply chain partners to offer more opportunities.
There are a range of different ways businesses can help young people start their careers while also diversifying their workforce. Doing so will set the energy industry, and also other sectors, up for success – it’s not just a case of ticking the box, it’s a way of ensuring that the sector has the variety of input and perspectives it needs to innovate.
Dina Potter is Global Head of Social Impact at National Grid.