// Co-op pledges £500,000 to kick start new pioneering £15m fund to improve opportunities for under-represented groups
// Fund will support range of individuals including BAME and low socio-economic groups
// Under the new initiative, businesses across England will be able to pledge unspent money from their apprenticeship levy.
The Co-op has announced an initiative designed to improve employment opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups by channelling money from big companies to smaller businesses.
The new fund will create apprenticeships for candidates from BAME communities, as well as people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Co-op said it would pledge an initial £500,000 and has urged other employers to step in to create a £15 million fund to support the creation of thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities.
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The retailer added that the fund has been designed for maximum reach and flexibility and will provide apprenticeship opportunities for groups and individuals who are most disadvantaged due to systemic prejudice or economic deprivation.
Under the new initiative, businesses across England will be able 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.
These smaller businesses will then be matched with a candidate that aligns to their own diversity and inclusion goals and requirements.
The Co-op said the initiative would likely be particularly attractive to smaller businesses and organisations that typically find creating apprenticeships more difficult.
The initiative was designed with Business in the Community (BITC) and the Co-op is also working closely with the Department for Education to support the growth and development of apprenticeships.
The first transfers under the fund are expected to be available in April and will be open to companies and organisations in any sector.
Alongside the scheme, 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.
“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,” Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells said.
“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.”
BITC race director Sandra Kerr 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.
“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.”
The news, which comes during National Apprenticeship Week, is the Co-op’s first major move since the adoption last year of ambitious new diversity targets.
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.
In September last year Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells’ also made a commitment for the business to be anti-racist across the board,
The Co-op’s ambition is that by 2023 the “apprentice opportunity gap” for young people from BAME communities will be overcome.
Department of Education figures show that in 2019/2020, 9500 young people from BAME communities missed out on apprentice opportunities – 13.3 per cent of apprentices come from BAME communities, although the same communities make up 16 per cent of the UK population.