Colleges and employers have diversity and inclusion policies in place but to what extent do they deliver? While those of us working with young people of Black, Asian and Mixed Heritage want to see colleges successfully implement these policies, the FE sector continues to be acutely affected by the savage cuts of austerity. In this context, the impact of the sector’s policies to combat racial inequality has yet to be seen.
But it’s not just cuts to funding feeding this issue. There’s a huge question around the will to deliver – and who would drive it, given the lack of diversity in FE leadership roles. The Association of Colleges (AoC) has estimated that in 2020, only around a dozen of 239 FE colleges in England were headed up by Black, Asian or Mixed Heritage leaders. This decline, slashed from 13% in 2017 to around five or six per cent by 2020, happened at a period when 30% of students are from ethnically diverse communities (AoC 2019/20).
Policies are one thing but the will of college leaders to implement them just isn’t evident. There are fewer of those in leadership who might ensure all staff are trained and supported in the delivery of equality and diversity practice – with action monitored, so that the experience and achievement of students can be measured.
Department for Education figures show that of all apprenticeship starts in 2019/20, 13.3% were Black, Asian and ethnically diverse young people. Such apprentices in the 16 to 18-year-old group made up just 7.8% of new apprentices starting in 2018/19, down from 8.6% the year before, according to research of official data by further education publisher FE Week.
The Black Further Education Leadership Group (BFELG) wrote an open letter to the government in August 2020, as it views systemic racism in FE to have “gone backwards”. Robin Landman OBE, Black FE Leadership Group, and CMI Race advisory committee member, (Chartered Management Institute) in discussion with Ann Francke OBE, CEO of CMI, said: “For a lot of employers, unfortunately, they think apprentices are going to be White, that’s the starting point. Employers may not set out to be overtly racist but the figures speak for themselves. How is it possible to have 30% of FE students intake be Black, Asian and ethnically diverse, but they fill only around 10% of apprenticeships? That doesn’t make sense.”
In employment, the reality is stark: young Black and Asian people are at least twice as likely to be unemployed as their White peers, whatever their qualification level.
There have been many more initiatives since Action for Racial Equality (ARE, formerly Black Training and Enterprise Group, BTEG) was established 30 years ago, but none has tackled – let alone transformed – race disparities in apprenticeships. To develop a more equitable labour market, where no one is prevented from getting a job or advancing their career because of their ethnicity, ARE calls for clear equalities targets to be set for apprenticeships. At least 15% of all new apprentices should be from Black, Asian or Mixed Heritage backgrounds. In London, the target should be at least 40%.
Data collection is essential – inequality can’t be addressed when its extent is not known. ARE calls for data on ethnicity to be collected and published in publicly funded employment support programmes. This would include how many people are helped into work by Jobcentre Plus and how many people from priority groups are supported into employment through the Work Programme.
It seems that many employers, especially in STEM-related sectors, do not recognise the benefits of ethnic diversity. It also appears that FE colleges and other organisations working with employers have been reluctant to challenge unfair recruitment practices. Racial bias in recruitment remains conscious, unconscious and widespread. This has to change.
Too many employers, training providers and colleges are still stuck on the first rung of the race equality ladder: they have an equality or diversity and inclusion policy but go no further.
I facilitated a workshop in Bradford for textile employers
, organised by the council and an FE college. The college had built good relationships with textile employers offering high-tech jobs. Despite Bradford’s ethnically diverse population, the employers said they were unable to recruit talent from Asian communities. Listening to the employers it was clear that they were ready to reach out but there was no data on why they struggled to recruit. They said Asian people were “not applying” to their firms, although none was conducting any ethnicity monitoring to see what the actual application rates were.
The workshop prompted a council-led initiative to help employers adopt fair recruitment practices. This should happen routinely, although perhaps it is difficult for certain stakeholders to play this role because they have not always got their own house in order when it comes to race equality.
Employers in growth sectors need practical support to improve recruitment and implement workforce ethnicity monitoring. Guidance is freely available, such as the Greater London Authority’s Inclusive Employers Toolkit for construction and technology. With the lack of trained applicants in sectors such as construction, employers should be seeking to recruit from the broadest talent pool, where young people of Black, Asian and Mixed Heritage are taking up apprenticeships but not being able to continue through to their chosen careers.
ARE wants much more to be done to tackle poorer success rates for Black and Asian apprenticeship applicants. Application data should be shared with employers and colleges – but first it has to be collected. We also call on the Department for Education to set a challenging target – one requiring entirely new ways of working – for the number of 16-18-year-old Black, Asian and Mixed Heritage apprenticeship starts in growth sectors over the next four years.
The FE sector can – and should – be a catalyst for change. We published a briefing paper in July 2021, Ethnic Minority Young People and Apprenticeships in England, to present in more detail the available data: ARE calls on the FE sector to join us in calling for action to effect such transformation and proposes the following recommendations to make this happen.
- The government should lead action with employers to tackle the continued under-representation of ethnic minority young people on apprenticeships in higher value sectors such as construction and engineering
- A renewed drive is needed to create more apprenticeships in higher value sectors in London, along with pilot initiatives to test ways of supporting young Londoners to take up apprenticeship opportunities in high value sectors in other regions.
- In order that disparities in apprenticeship application success rates can be tracked, the government should require all employers with 50+ employees to monitor and publish information about apprenticeship applications and appointments by age, gender and ethnicity.
- A national review of take up of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) services by ethnic minority young people is urgently needed, with action to address barriers deterring some communities from accessing employment support and opportunities only available through JCP.
- The government should publish data on degree-level apprenticeships, with breakdowns in application, start and completion rates by gender, age and ethnicity.
Jeremy Crook – Chief Executive, Action for Racial Equality
This article is revised and updated from an earlier piece, published in FE Week, 08/11/20