A group of students in a workshop

Attracting and retaining young people of Black heritage

In today's ever-evolving corporate landscape, diversity and inclusion have become fundamental pillars for forward-thinking companies. These organisations acknowledge the immense potential that talent from diverse backgrounds, particularly emerging professionals, bring to the table. In this article, we explore the various dimensions of cultivating inclusive early career programmes, based on the insights shared by Kwesi Bimpong and Rubin Aboagye-Poku, co-founders of The Black Apprentice Network, in a recent Coffee with Uptree conversation. Their journey is a testament to the unique challenges faced by Black apprentices and their experiences offer actionable solutions to enhance diversity and retention across Early Careers programmes.


A candid look at the challenges

Before we explore the approaches to building inclusive Early Careers programmes, it is crucial to grasp the hurdles faced by young professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. Kwesi and Rubin's narratives shed light on the challenges they overcame while navigating the path to successful apprenticeships.

Rubin's journey from a law apprenticeship to a career in business management unveiled significant disparities. He shared his experiences of isolation and the persistent sense of feeling like an ‘imposter’ due to his socioeconomic and racial background. Rubin's story illuminates the need to acknowledge and address the distinct difficulties encountered by Black professionals. An in-depth understanding of these challenges is our foundational step toward providing thought leadership and guidance to employers in creating genuinely inclusive career development programmes.

Kwesi's story underscored the isolation that individuals from underrepresented groups often confront. He felt the critical role that companies can play by providing allies, mentorship and support systems. These resources serve as lifelines to apprentices as they navigate the intricate landscape of corporate life. Kwesi's journey accentuated the importance of addressing the emotional and psychological dimensions of being a minority in a corporate setting.

The power of intent and transparency

One of the pivotal takeaways from our dialogue with Kwesi and Rubin is the concept of intentionality in fostering diversity and inclusion. Kwesi underlined the importance of organisations formulating clear strategies for diversifying their talent pool, as opposed to issuing mere statements of intent without actionable roadmaps. A commitment to diversity goes beyond rhetoric; it calls for explicit, well-defined objectives.

‘Rather than merely expressing a desire for a diverse workforce, companies should specify their goals—such as the aim to hire a set number of Black apprentices’. - Kwesi Bimpong, Co-Founder of The Black Apprentice Network

Transparency in these goals is equally vital. Rubin encouraged companies to deconstruct their diversity targets, revealing that this approach facilitated a tangible measure of success. Specific objectives, like hiring 15 Black apprentices, instil accountability within the company. This approach harmonises with the corporate world's emphasis on clear targets in areas like revenue and growth, ensuring that diversity initiatives are given similar gravity as financial aspirations.

Cultivating an inclusive onboarding experience

An effective onboarding process is pivotal for apprentice retention and their capacity to contribute effectively. Rubin highlighted the significance of providing incoming apprentices with comprehensive information about their roles and responsibilities. This preparatory phase can equip them with a firm grasp of what to expect, mitigating the risk of feeling unprepared or ill-suited for the role.

Crucially, apprentices should be viewed as learners, not merely additional labour. Rubin insisted that organisations should refrain from exploiting apprentices for rudimentary tasks unrelated to their roles. Apprenticeship programmes need to pivot toward skill and talent development rather than viewing apprentices as a source of inexpensive workforce.

In addition, when it comes to onboarding, it's crucial to establish a robust support system for apprentices. This system would address not only the challenges related to racial disparities but also the initial learning curve that young people face. In this way, young people will have a safe space to readily seek guidance and express their concerns. Such a nurturing environment would be especially important for young individuals who, as the youngest members of their teams or organisations, need to build their confidence.

A holistic evolution of apprenticeship programmes

Elevating apprenticeship programmes across the board benefits every participant. By rotating apprentices through diverse departments, organisations offer them the opportunity to develop technical skills while acquiring a holistic understanding of the business. This rotation encourages apprentices to experience different facets of the company, preventing them from feeling pigeonholed into specific roles or responsibilities.

To maximise the growth of all apprentices, clear communication of expectations is pivotal. Apprentices should be well-versed in what is expected of them and feel adequately prepared to meet these expectations. This proactive approach reduces misunderstandings and empowers apprentices to excel in their roles.

Diversity training at senior and managerial levels is another critical facet of fostering inclusive apprenticeship programmes. Such training ensures that all employees, especially leaders, are equipped to champion an inclusive work environment and address diversity-related challenges.

The role of mentorship and allyship

A paramount element of apprentice retention, regardless of their background, is the presence of mentorship and allyship. Kwesi and Rubin emphasised the value of mentors and allies in guiding young individuals along their career journey.

Mentors help apprentices navigate the intricacies of their roles, share knowledge and offer a sense of direction. This mentorship is particularly vital for apprentices from underrepresented backgrounds, as it fosters a sense of value and support on their path to career growth.

Allyship, as mentioned by Kwesi, is a cornerstone of inclusive apprenticeship programmes. Companies should actively facilitate allies through buddy systems and mentoring programmes, ensuring apprentices have access to robust support systems. Allies play a pivotal role in ensuring that apprentices are treated fairly and that their voices are heard.

In summary, the valuable lessons derived from the experiences of Kwesi and Rubin offer concrete guidance for creating more inclusive Early Career programmes. Organisations can use these insights to address the distinctive challenges faced by apprentices from underrepresented backgrounds. They can also promote intentionality and transparency in their diversity efforts, establish inclusive onboarding processes, enhance apprenticeship programmes comprehensively and foster mentorship and allyship. By adopting these insights, employers can build an environment of genuine inclusivity and equity for all apprentices, ensuring that diversity flourishes at every level of the workforce.

Ready to discuss how Uptree can help you meet your DEI goals? Book a meeting with us today.

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By Uptree
Published on: Wed 25 Oct 2023

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