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Co-op launches major apprenticeship initiative to improve diversity

The group will pledge an initial £500,000 towards the creation of a £15m apprenticeship fund

Co-op is calling on employers across the UK to help create a £15m fund that will support the creation of thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities for underrepresented groups. 

The group will pledge an initial £500,000 towards the fund’s creation, which has been designed for “maximum reach and flexibility” and will provide opportunities for “groups and individuals who are most disadvantaged due to systemic prejudice or economic deprivation”.

Under the new initiative, businesses will be able to pledge unspent money from their apprenticeship levy, and employers seeking to recruit apprentices from underrepresented groups can register and be matched to businesses with spare money. 

These smaller businesses can then be matched with a candidate that “aligns to their own diversity and inclusion goals and requirements”. According to the Co-op, the scheme is likely to attract smaller businesses and organisations that may find creating apprenticeships more challenging.

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

In addition, the Co-op is working with the BITC Race Advisory Board to ensure BAME candidates who secure roles through the scheme are “set up for success” with individual support that will include mentoring. 

The group said it hopes the “opportunity gap” for young people from BAME communities will be overcome by 2023, after Department of Education figures found that in 2019/2020, 9,500 young people from BAME communities missed out on apprentice opportunities. 

Steve Murrells, Co-op Group CEO, said: “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. At the Co-op we have identified a significant opportunity to make the system fairer and more inclusive and benefit communities which are disadvantaged. 

“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. At the Co-op we have ambitious plans to become more diverse and inclusive and create greater social mobility. We know we cannot do that alone and today I am calling on other employers to join us in this important initiative and on the journey to becoming truly inclusive.”

Sandra Kerr CBE, race director, BITC, added: “By pledging funds to this initiative, companies will help create new apprenticeship opportunities for young people across the business sector. With 33% 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.” 

The first transfers under the fund are expected to be available in April and will be open to companies and organisations in any sector.

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