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Breaking down barriers — the vital importance of apprenticeships

AuthorsLaura Cordingley

8 min read

Company News, True North

Breaking down barriers the vital importance of apprenticeships

The Breaking Down Barriers to Law project seeks to increase access to careers in law for young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

Here, our COO Laura Cordingley explores how our commitment to the Breaking Down Barriers to Law taskforce furthers our True North aims to increase opportunities for young people in our communities and develop skills for the future.

This month marked the 17th annual National Apprenticeship Week. This year, organisations were encouraged to consider how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for a rewarding career and employers to develop a workforce with future-ready skills.

As we recognised in the True North report, apprenticeships are an important alternative to traditional academic routes — not least in the legal sector. The high cost of legal training, alongside the financial burden of unpaid work experience poses a significant barrier to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

That’s why, we provide a real Living Wage to vacation scheme candidates, who take part in a week’s work experience with us. We also offer Level 3 legal administration and paralegal apprenticeships, as well as a Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship to internal candidates.

We’re also actively engaged with the recently launched Breaking Down Barriers to Law taskforce, which brings together stakeholders in the legal sector to explore how we can do more to help those from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds get into law.

Inspiring future generations

This change, which applies to all sectors, cannot be delivered from the top down. It’s about working from the grassroots and for organisations to reach into harder-to-access communities. Without role models that represent the full breadth of society, young people will not see themselves as represented where they live or in the industries of the future. In addition to our current outreach into local universities, our ambition is to reach out to local Further Education colleges, secondary and primary schools to help raise aspirations.

We must also give the next generation a stake in the changes happening around them. Without this, investment in the region may continue but the exciting changes we see in the landscape of the North will simply occur in a vacuum without engaging with the people within those communities.

Regeneration Brainery — giving young people a stake in urban development

It was in this spirit that we spotlighted Regeneration Brainery as one of our ‘Northern Stars’ in the True North report.

Regeneration Brainery is a Greater Manchester-based social enterprise with a mission to revolutionise the property and construction sector, by recognising the importance of community representation in the decision-making process of placemaking and urban development. Involving individuals with lived experiences who know the needs of their communities intimately promotes authentic and meaningful community representation in regeneration initiatives.

Through its ‘Brainery Bootcamps’ and continuous engagement thereafter, the organisation supports its more than 4,000 young participants each year towards job readiness, addressing the skills gap and ensuring a more inclusive talent pool for the property and construction sector.

Regeneration Brainery’s bootcamps give its participants real insight into the industry through interactive workshops and visits to local construction projects. The company then works to secure work experience and opportunities for participants, forging links with industry mentors.

For the young people involved, it means that each time they see a new development or building site in their community, they don’t simply feel subject to the growth happening around them but empowered to play their part.

The Prince’s Trust — developing employability skills where they are most needed

Just as Regeneration Brainery focuses on engaging young people with the change happening around them, another of our Northern Stars, The Prince’s Trust, uses a data-driven, strategic place-based approach to maximise its impact by identifying areas across the country most in need of support and specific programmes aligned to local needs. We’re ready to embark on work with The Prince’s Trust to provide volunteering opportunities for our colleagues, who also provide young people with mentoring in the legal profession.

Another example of the Trust’s important work was highlighted in the True North report  — the Future Workforce Fund. The programme was launched in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority and match funded by the Department for Education and local businesses.

Over three years, the programme supported over 6,000 young people from all ten boroughs of Greater Manchester towards employment opportunities. It did this through enhanced mental health and wellbeing support, direct technology provision for digitally isolated young people, accessible evening life-skills programmes, free bus passes for care leavers and a partnership with Manchester Deaf Centre to train the Prince’s Trust youth workers in basic British Sign Language — improving the accessibility of its digital programmes.

Three in four participants reported positive outcomes within three months of engagement with The Prince’s Trust, with over 70% coming from the most underserved communities in the region and one in three having been out of employment, education or training for more than 12 months.

Moving beyond academic skills

What is striking about both The Prince’s Trust and Regeneration Brainery is that their focus is not on developing young people’s academic qualifications but on soft skills and less traditional perceptions of what employability support looks like.

A number of firms have begun to directly focus on helping young people to develop soft skills through 
empathy training, professional skills training and CV writing. Our own Insights programme offers candidates who are interested in a career in the legal profession with the opportunity to spend the day with us. They experience our culture, meet our people, enjoy masterclasses from our experts, network, work through case studies and obtain guidance on what makes a successful application.

A primarily academic focus towards determining potential candidates has a knock-on effect on underrepresented groups. It’s what makes the legal sector — with a long history of exclusively hiring trainees from top UK universities — so ripe for transformation in terms of how we recruit.

As a result, we are transforming our hiring processes, including the adoption of contextual recruitment practices. These help organisations to remove barriers that candidates may face, taking into account their personal circumstances.

The competitive advantage of diversity

Through True North, we have identified just how important access to professional networks are for young people to set their aspirations. Just one or two meetings with a potential role model in their sector of choice can be transformative to outcomes, which is what makes direct outreach into schools a crucial tool.

This is important not only for the opportunities of young people from underserved backgrounds but for firms to develop a talent pipeline that is more representative of their communities, offering a greater diversity of experiences and perspectives.

A more inclusive workforce will promote a culture of innovation and adaptability that gives companies a competitive advantage. McKinsey found that businesses with a diverse workforce are up to 35% more likely to outperform their competitors and according to our Northern Investment Index, 43% of US-based investors consider a deeper pool of skilled talent to be a priority that must be addressed for them to consider greater investment in the North.

One recommendation of the Breaking Down Barriers to Law taskforce is for firms to set annual targets for recruitment, committing to collecting and measuring socio-economic data at the recruitment stage and transparently reporting this data to ensure that they are held to account.

Our commitment to social mobility in our communities

We’ve partnered with LTSB — a social mobility charity that prepares and supports young people from challenging and disadvantaged backgrounds into meaningful roles with major firms — as well as Pathways to Law through the Sutton Trust, where we provide industry access to students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

For all the importance of alternative pathways, we also still believe in the role that universities have to play, especially those that promote inclusivity through their admissions processes.

It’s important, however, that firms engage with a diverse set of institutions. We regularly attend careers fairs, workshops and deliver guest lectures at local universities, such as the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Bolton as well as the Open University.

Ultimately, the legal sector and beyond must draw on a wide range of tools to ensure that candidates are recruited from a more diverse talent pool and we absolutely advocate for the power of apprenticeships in achieving this.

Our commitment as part of the Breaking Down Barriers to Law taskforce is to work together to scale up impact and progress, convening regular knowledge-sharing sessions between member law firms to track progress and share challenges, successes and learnings so that more young people than ever before have access to opportunities in law.

This project is a mirror image of what we hope to achieve more widely with True North in other sectors, convening the influential stakeholders in the region to deliver better outcomes for the people in our communities — a region that not only sees significant investment and growth but one where its communities are engaged in that transformation and are equipped with the skills to help deliver it.

If you want to be involved in that mission, join the True North network.

Download our Breaking Down Barriers to Law report to find out more.

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