Co-op calls for apprenticeships for underrepresented communities

The Co-op has announced a nationwide initiative to improve employment opportunities for people from black, Asian, and ethnic minority communities, as well as people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The retailer said that it is pledging an initial £500,000 and is calling on other employers to build a £15 million fund to support the creation of thousands of new apprenticeships for individuals who are most disadvantaged due to systemic racism or economic deprivation.

Department of Education figures show that in 2019/2020, 9,500 young people from black, Asian, and ethnic minority communities missed out on apprenticeship opportunities.

The new initiative will enable businesses across England to pledge unspent money from their apprenticeship levy.

Other employers seeking to recruit apprentices from under-represented groups will register and be matched to businesses with spare money.

These smaller businesses will then be matched with a candidate that aligns to their own diversity and inclusion goals and requirements.

The scheme has been designed with Business in the Community (BITC) and the Co-op is also working closely with the Department for Education to support the development of apprenticeships.

The Co-op is also working with the BITC Race Advisory Board to ensure black, Asian, and ethnic minority candidates who secure roles through the scheme are given individual support that will include mentoring.

“Apprenticeships are a vital part of the lives of thousands of young people as they start their careers – and vital for the UK economy and business competitiveness,” said Steve Murrells, Co-op group chief executive officer. “At the Co-op we have identified a significant opportunity to make the system fairer and more inclusive and benefit communities which are disadvantaged.

He added: “Our levy sharing scheme is designed to ensure opportunities are fairly distributed and we believe it will help close an ‘opportunity gap’ that impacts so many young people.”

Sandra Kerr CBE, Race Director, BITC, said: “By pledging funds to this initiative, companies will help create new apprenticeship opportunities for young people across the business sector. With 33 per cent of black employees feeling their ethnicity will pose a barrier to their next career move, this initiative will be a great step forward to addressing inequalities that exist today.

She added: “However, this will only succeed if enough businesses show their support. Business leaders should fund this initiative and show they are serious about changing the record for young black, Asian and minority ethnic people more broadly by signing the Race at Work Charter. Together let’s make the apprentice opportunity gap a thing of the past.”

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