The social mobility of apprenticeships

By Anna Rivers, Marketing Manager


Apprenticeships have often been a big topic, most notably last year following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy which came into force in April 2017. AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) believes that apprenticeships are good for society and social mobility because they allow individuals to study and train for a career, without taking on a large amount of debt.


A recent AAT apprenticeship campaign aimed to raise the profile of apprenticeships in the UK, showcasing the benefits they bring to individuals and businesses, and how they can help increase social mobility by helping to train people who may not normally be able to access certain careers. The campaign aimed to create an uplift in employers offering them, as well as more individuals training for careers via apprenticeship schemes. AAT targeted employers who might wish to bring apprenticeship schemes in or improve anything they already had in place, particularly aiming at smaller businesses who may not have effective training/qualification programmes. They also approached potential apprentices, informing them how apprenticeships can be an alternative route to university.


The campaign also created content to help make an argument for an extension of the apprenticeship levy, calling for the levy to cover the retraining and upskilling of existing staff. This would help deliver a key AAT Public Affairs initiative to raise their profile with MPs and civil servants, as well as ultimately create an extra pathway for employers of all sizes to consider using apprenticeships to improve their employees’ knowledge and skillsets.


A fantastic campaign and AAT well deserved their memcom highly commended trophy for ‘Best Social Mobility Initiative’ in May 2018. This award recognises the measures put in place by a professional association to break down barriers to entry to the profession, through sustained awareness or information campaigns, training, products, communications or events. The memcom judging panel particularly admired the way that a number of AAT articles highlighted that apprenticeships are not just for school leavers.


“The award ceremony was a great event. We really enjoyed meeting others from different membership bodies and learning about the amazing work they have been doing. It inspires and challenges us to think bigger thoughts and dream bigger dreams.” Jude Obi, Assistant Media Relations Manager, AAT


Following their memcom 2018 achievement, we were keen to talk to  AAT about the social mobility initiative and delve into the strategy behind the success.


A huge thanks to Jude Obi for taking the time to answer our questions below…



Congratulations on being highly commended in the Best Social Mobility Initiative! How is this award reflective of the AAT’s aims and objectives?

AAT aims to widen access to the accounting profession through offering high-quality vocational qualifications that are accessible to everyone. One area in which we enable social mobility is through apprenticeships. Thousands of our students access an apprenticeship scheme in order to gain a recognised qualification and professional skills whilst earning a salary. This award recognises how AAT has helped demonstrate how apprenticeships can increase the skills people need, benefit individuals and businesses, and be a big force for social mobility.


With 200+ pieces of media coverage, can you talk us through how important PR was during the campaign?

Significant reforms to the apprenticeship system in the UK took place in 2017, including the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and new trailblazer standards, where employers design apprenticeship standards to help ensure they can train staff with the appropriate skills. With the changes causing some confusion, our media campaign set out to communicate the benefits of apprenticeships, as well as ensuring people knew about how the reforms would affect them. Messaging around how valuable apprenticeships can be as a starting rung to a career in finance resonated with multiple audiences, including school leavers, career changers, and employers of all sizes.


We also organised an employer roundtable event to help us speak directly to employers who would be most affected by the apprenticeship reforms, and to hear their thoughts – meaning our PR work was impacted by engaging with those who ultimately create greater opportunities for apprentices. A public affairs message to extend the apprenticeship levy to cover other types of training and upskilling of existing staff, proved popular with media and MPs alike.


How important was your work with employers?

If reforms are ultimately to bring through more apprentices and help more people find their first job, then clearly employers have a great part to play – especially Britain’s 5.5 million small businesses who are unaffected by the levy but provide the biggest potential opportunity for apprenticeship growth. Therefore, employers were a key audience for our campaign, and one of the audiences we communicated most with. We found that employers were in many cases unaware of how the new apprenticeship reforms might affect them, and also how they might benefit, so it was very important we were able to offer them guidance and advice.


How did the campaign help to raise your profile with MPs and civil servants?

We were able to promote messages from our campaign to numerous MPs at the Conservative and Labour party conferences, including our call for the apprenticeship levy to be widened to a skills levy, and our recommendations on how to make apprenticeship schemes more attractive to businesses, which helped to raise our profile. We also shared a report we created, called ‘Apprenticeships: Getting ahead for accelerated ambitions’, which looked at what young people, university graduates, parents, and HR professionals think about apprenticeships. This report was able to help inform responses from AAT’s Policy team to the Skills Commission on apprenticeships and social mobility.


Can you offer any top tips / learnings to other professional associations embarking on a social mobility / awareness campaign?

It’s important to go into the campaign really thinking about what positive outcomes you’d like see when you come to evaluate its success. What you are trying to change, or raise awareness of, and what audiences might be best placed to help you achieve that? Most importantly, how will your campaign ultimately help social mobility in the UK – why should any individual or business change their behaviour? At AAT, we have many thousands of case studies who are happy to talk about the impact an apprenticeship had on their lives, and this resonates well with target media.