Action from business heads, industry sectors and the Government, is urgently required to drive a more diverse and inclusive uptake of earn and learn placements, according to The 5% Club in its new report, ‘Breaking the Deadlock,’ published today (Wednesday 20 June).

Despite research which proves that businesses with a diverse workforce consistently outperform those without, hidden barriers to diversity still exist in recruitment processes and early career workforces remain imbalanced. Only 11.3% of apprenticeship starts are made by non-white applicants, and whilst women represent more than half of all apprentices (54%), women represent only 8.1% of those in STEM. Just 10% of apprenticeship starts are by people with learning difficulties and / or disabilities.

Leo Quinn, Chairman and Founder of The 5% Club, and Group Chief Executive of Balfour Beatty expands:

“The 5% Club stands strong in our belief that the diversity and inclusion deadlock can indeed be broken – and action must be taken immediately given the skills gaps which exist across our economy. Businesses need to collect better data, think outside the box in how they recruit and ensure workplaces and business cultures are inclusive and welcoming to people from different backgrounds.

“The Government must also play its part, using the levers it has available. It must provide balanced careers advice, educating teachers, young people and parents from all backgrounds, about the range of earn and learn opportunities available, as well as encouraging young people – especially girls – to study STEM subjects. The Government must also use their role as a major procurer of goods and services to encourage greater emphasis on diversity among their own suppliers. If we can pull together in a strategic, co-ordinated way, we can deliver change and offer sustainable careers to a larger and more diversified cross-section of people.”

The 5% Club is an employer-led organisation, which encourages employers to create as many earn and learn opportunities as possible. Members aspire to reach 5% of their workforce undertaking earn and learn within five years of joining.

‘Breaking the Deadlock’ involved consultation with members of The 5% Club and provides recommendations for tackling the ‘diversity deadlock’ in the UK’s workforce to ensure a diverse talent pipeline. According to The 5% Club, there are three key drivers for change:

  1. Business heads must demonstrate an unequivocal lead – improving the collection of diversity data should be a priority in order to set targets and measure progress;
  2. Sectors must coordinate their approach to maximise impact. At present, a range of activities take place in a piecemeal fashion;
  3. Government must deploy the right regulation to speed up the pace of change while ensuring a level playing field. Regulation must be achievable however, and must not be overly onerous


In the report, members also detail ‘top tips’ to help companies offering earn and learn opportunities to attract, identify and retain candidates from every background – critical for both a strong society and strong economy.  For example, reciprocal mentoring, blind CVs and unconscious bias training.

The report is published to coincide with The 5% Club’s conference on diversity and inclusion, taking place on Wednesday 20 June at Heathrow’s Employment and Skills Academy. Speakers include: Lady Cobham, CBE, Director General of The 5% Club; The Rt.Hon. The Lord Blunkett, Chair of Heathrow Skills Taskforce; Apprenticeship Diversity Champion Network; The Year of Engineering. During the conference, members will discuss ways of addressing imbalances and how to impact diversity and inclusion within earn and learn in their own organisations.

The Rt. Hon. The Lord Blunkett, Chair of Heathrow Skills Taskforce will be speaking at The 5% Club’s conference on Wednesday:

“Supporting a more diverse and inclusive network of young people is critical to ensuring a strong and talented future workforce. As head of the Heathrow Skills Taskforce, I, along with 12 other expert members, am working hard to ensure the once-in-a generation skills and training opportunities to be created through Heathrow expansion are open to all.”

Shaking up traditional diversity and inclusion approaches

Traditional recruitment and retention strategies are no longer fit for purpose in delivering the skilled, diverse workforce businesses need now and in the future. The 5% Club asked a selection of its members for their ‘top tips’ on how companies can look again at HR approaches for earn and learn:

  1. Introduce “Blind CVs”. The removal of details such as names, gender, age, education, number of years of experience, university or education provider names, will remove bias.


  1. Seek out new ways of finding possible candidates and target those which are likely to help increase diversity, including specific social media, websites and career fairs not used before.


  1. Unconscious bias training will ensure that hiring managers are aware of their own potential biases, are able to look beyond them and make decisions based on the suitability of the candidate for the role and company, rather than on snap judgements informed by stereotypes and ingrained beliefs.


  1. Reciprocal mentoring, or the pairing of senior executives with either people younger than them, of a different gender or race for example, in order to give them a new perspective and deeper understanding of the challenges faced by these groups.


  1. Ensuring that the CEO and Board are responsible for the diversity and inclusion strategy, in order to give it a level of status within the business that shows how important it is. Similarly, encouraging senior managers to “own” diversity, speaking about it publicly and rewarding behaviours which reflect the diversity and inclusion ethos.


Read The 5% Club’s ‘Breaking the Deadlock’ report and recommendations in full here.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.