Apprenticeships toolkit

For employers

Apprenticeships

Culture and leadership

Develop a compelling vision and shared practices across your organisation.


Many aspects of an organisational culture may be invisible, but culture plays a huge role in how welcome and included people feel.

Norms, attitudes, values, behaviours, assumptions, relationships – they all shape whether apprentices feel like they belong in your workplace. Whether you are an employer, training provider, end point assessor, work coach – having an inclusive approach can be a game changer in supporting apprentices to complete and do well in their training.

  • What kinds of subjects do you bond over?
    If you are frequently talking about foreign holidays, high-end cultural references or what school or university you went to, this can be exclusive for people who have not had access to those things. Become intentional about ensuring informal conversations are more accessible to everyone, for example, by talking about people’s favourite foods or what tradition they loved the most growing up.
  • What do your typical social outings such as office parties or leaving dos involve?
    Being expected to pay for drinks, meals or taxis home can cause a lot of stress or prevent people without access to such funds from attending altogether. Be upfront about who is paying in advance and avoid expecting staff to foot the bill for any events that are organised by the employer or training provider.
  • What social norms prevail in different spaces?
    Don’t assume that everyone is familiar with the cultural norms, dress codes, behaviours etc in professional spaces – whether that is in the office, at site inspections, conferences, school visits etc. These can be highly stressful experiences for someone who hasn’t had any prior exposure to these environments. Provide specific guidance and financial support where needed.

“The first work thing I went to was a gala event. I only had one suit from a funeral. Nobody gave me a prep talk or anything. It was fine in the end, but I was definitely quite nervous.”
– Apprentice workshop participant

  • How are you equipping line managers to be inclusive?
    Make sure you offer diversity and inclusion training to all line managers that covers socio-economic background. Together, explore ways in which line managers can contribute to creating the necessary psychological safety that enables apprentices to ask questions and discuss their needs.
  • What pastoral support are you offering apprentices?
    Actively nurture relationships with your apprentices and offer them a wider range of support than you would have done in the past, particularly during times of additional pressure. Early on, ask them what support they need in order to do their best work, including any reasonable adjustments. Think about providing a range of contact points for apprentices across different levels of the organisation. There might be questions apprentices would rather ask a peer than a senior manager – help create an ecology of support that can cover different needs.

“We learnt that the apprenticeship is a real step from the world of education to the world of work, and how can we make that step work, particularly for those joining in that virtual environment. We haven’t been afraid to ask those questions, to offer extra support, to say there are lessons we’ve learnt from cohort 1 to 2. Everything we’ve learnt has improved the process.”
– Ruth Frost, Recruitment Team Leader, Companies House

  • Engage members of the senior management team in more in-depth training on socio-economic diversity and inclusion in order to establish a baseline of knowledge and a shared language to talk about these issues.
  • Have conversations with your delivery partners (employers, training providers, end point assessment organisations, schools, colleges, charities etc.) about your vision for social mobility and how you can work together on it.
  • Have visible role models from different backgrounds who are passionate about social mobility to create greater visibility and understanding of what social mobility is. Ensure you adequately support and compensate role models to do this work, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as it can be emotionally draining. Be careful not to position them as representative of their whole demographic – there are a plurality of stories and experiences, and it is vital that people are able to retain their sense of individuality without feeling the burden to represent an entire section of society.
  • Support and resource an apprentice network and link it to other staff networks. Smaller employers or training providers could signpost to existing apprentice networks (such as the Association of Apprentices, the BAME Apprentice Network, the Disabled Apprentice Network, the Young Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network (YAAN), Apprentice Nation, Multiverse or the National Society of Apprentices) to give your learners an opportunity to connect with peers. Co-create any changes you make in collaboration with the apprentice network.
  • Listen to your staff and be prepared to be changed by what you hear. Leaders in businesses with the strongest outcomes listen to their workforce as much as they talk to them. This might involve hearing some uncomfortable truths that hold the keys for the transformation required. In order to enable this, be intentional about creating a culture and forums in which it is acceptable for all staff to challenge received wisdom without fear of repercussions, regardless of their background.

“We’ve learnt a lot as a business from having apprentices join us, we’ve challenged them to share their thoughts on what we could be doing better and some of the ideas that have been brought in from fresh thinking have been amazing and changed things for the better.”
– Bradley Burgoyne, Head of Talent, Jardine Motors Group

More

Create peer to peer support opportunities through a buddying or mentoring scheme between apprentices and staff who are not members of the senior leadership team as a space where they can raise questions they might feel uncomfortable asking senior colleagues.