Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within Apprenticeships inside some of the UK’s biggest employers.

As part of NAW2022 #BuildtheFuture OAL (Occupational Awards Limited) conducted a series of interviews on how apprenticeships are key to the future success of so many of the employers we work with. What we found, was that part of this building for the future included a focus on inclusivity and diversity.


In 2016 the UK Government formed the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN), with an aim to work with a range of private and public sector partners to increase access to apprenticeships from learners from underrepresented groups.  

The ADCN champions apprenticeships and diversity amongst employers and encourages more people from underrepresented groups, including those with disabilities, women and members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, to consider apprenticeships. 

In 2019 the number of disadvantaged learners starting apprenticeships, particularly for groups of BAME young adults, made up just 7.7% of starts in the first three quarters of 2019/20. This showed a stark inequality in attainment training programmes, with disadvantaged learners less likely to receive higher level training or to complete their qualification at all. However further research in 2019 showed that companies with a more diverse workforce perform better financially, for every 1% increase in the diversity rate of a workforce, can lead to a 9% rise in sales revenue.


One of the first EPA partners we interviewed was Andy Rayner, Head of Apprenticeships at Travis Perkins, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of materials and professional services to the building & construction, and home improvement markets, who currently employs over 30,000 staff across 2,000 locations in the UK. When discussing the success apprenticeships bring to Travis Perkins Andy had this to say.

“The first one for me is that we’ve grown into a more diverse workforce. We’re bringing in people from different backgrounds all the time now. Apprenticeships really enable us to bring people in who aren’t from the sector. As an organisation, we were 88% male, 12% female, but our apprentices are 62% male, 38% female. Over several years, that will make a considerable change. Diversity of the population is massive for us and yeah, and with that comes diversity of thinking and that difference of opinion and ideas is important”. Andy Rayner, Travis Perkins.

As Travis Perkins put it themselves, they are “committed to creating a culture of inclusion by being the most inclusive employer that we can be. It’s important that everybody is heard, appreciated, and feels safe to be themselves”

With most companies, the long-term goal is to grow, expand, and develop. Apprenticeship programmes within such companies are required to do the same in order to continually meet the visions and reach of their respective business leaders. Bakkavor, “one of the biggest names you’ve never heard of”, employ over 16,000 people in the UK in the food and drink manufacturing industry.

Cian Short, Early Careers Manager at Bakkavor explained that “apprenticeships make up a big part of what we’re doing. This year we’re going to recruit somewhere between 70 and 90 apprentices. If you compare that to last year, it’s 40. If you compare that to the year before it’s 20. So even during a global pandemic, it’s been double, double, double, and then next year the aim is hopefully 150. We really want to be getting up to that 150/200 apprentices being recruited every year.” With policies, practices and values in place that foster a culture that guarantees fair labour rights and ethical employement within their own operations it’s no wonder that they have continued to expand over the course of the recent pandemic, a time that most companies have found employee retention to be challenging.

Another world leading food manufacturer Nestlé are determined to be considered one of the nations leading apprenticeship employers. As a well-known global brand, it’s imperative to them that they are a recognised market leader on all fronts. Jill Coyle, Apprenticeship Programme Leader, Nestlé remarked, “We need to hire talent that helps us reflect consumer base, fresh thinking, fresh ideas, fresh approaches, what’s new, and what do people want to see? Not just in terms of taste, and products, but things like packaging and recycling, how we support farmers growing ingredients, for our milk to make our chocolate.

I think it’s important that we get the thought processes from every generation because every generation will help and shape that. How do we make apprenticeships inclusive for all? How can we support people who have hard to navigate challenges already in their life? How do we support them to make this first step into the world of work? How we do that in a way that’s meaningful and appropriate for them.

We see apprenticeships as being able to support individuals, making that first step into the world of work. It’s our responsibility to get that right for them and make sure we provide the best experience. It’s not exclusive to those who have only done well at school. It’s open to everyone and enables that diverse workforce to be built. And the more diverse we are, the better we are as a business.”

Jill embodies the passion that Nestlé have for their apprenticeship programme and is a highly regarded voice within the apprenticeship community.

Another apprenticeship programme leader at a globally recognised brand, the recently honoured, Sharon Blyfield OBE, Head of Early Careers at Coca-Cola Euro Pacific Partners echoed the opinion of Jill.

“We don’t put an age limit on our apprenticeships. If somebody wants to come and join our organisation and maybe take a slightly different career path, the vacancies that we advertise are available to all. Apprenticeships aren’t just for those who are in that 16 to 24 category. Anyone can undertake an apprenticeship and use it as an opportunity to change careers over returning to work.”

Food for Thought

These four businesses employ almost 100,000 people across the UK and its clear how important apprenticeships are as part of their sustainable recruitment strategy. With that comes the need to foster a culture where everyone is welcome to be themselves, be valued and feel as if they belong. Business’ can thrive financially on diversity, as seen in the previously mentioned 2019 ADCN study. It can inspire new ideas and new developments, successful companies such as these need to stay innovative to retain their title as market leaders and they recognise that more diverse inclusion can inspire their existing workforce, help them develop their brand and reach new markets. Apprenticeships form the cornerstone of this strategy.


When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive by Stephen Turban, Dan Wu, and Letian (LT) Zhang