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Co-op kickstarts £15m fund for BAME apprenticeships

The Co-op is pledging an initial £500,000 and appealing to other employers to help generate a £15 million fund to create apprenticeships for candidates from BAME communities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds.


By channelling money from big businesses to smaller companies, the fund will provide apprenticeships for those most disadvantaged due to systemic prejudice or economic deprivation. Designed in conjunction with Business in the Community (BITC) and the Department for Education, the first transfers under the fund are expected to be available in April and will be open to companies and organisations in any sector.

How the scheme works

The initiative allows businesses across England to pledge unspent money from their apprenticeship levy. Other employers seeking to recruit apprentices from under-represented groups can register and be matched to businesses with spare money. Employers who register will be matched with a candidate that aligns to their own diversity and inclusion goals and requirements. Candidates who secure roles through the scheme will receive individual support, including 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, CEO of Co-op Group. “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.”

New diversity targets

The announcement is the Co-op’s first major move since the adoption last year of ambitious new diversity targets at the group, which employs over 62,000 people and has an annual turnover of £10 billion. These include maximising the use of the apprenticeship levy to benefit BAME communities, a commitment to double the representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic leaders and managers across the business by the end of 2022 and encouraging a strong focus on inclusion for supply chain partners.


“At the Co-op we have ambitious plans to become more diverse and inclusive and create greater social mobility,” said Murrells. “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.”

Closing the apprentice opportunity gap

Department for Education figures show that between August 2019 and July 2020, 9,500 young people from BAME communities missed out on apprentice opportunities. Although BAME communities make up 16% of the UK population, only 13.3% of apprentices come from those backgrounds.


“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,” said BITC Race Director Sandra Kerr CBE. “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.”


Photo courtesy of Canva.com

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