The Social Mobility Barometer, March 2021 found that over half the public (56%) think the pandemic has widened social inequality [1]. The Social Mobility Commission stated that:

‘Apprenticeships are one of the few indisputably effective tools of social mobility currently available to the government…yet the system is not working’ [2].

Arguably, ‘strategic action and direction are needed to target the system better on disadvantaged communities [2]  

We spoke to Dr Steven Cooper, Interim Co-Chair, Social Mobility Commission and CEO, C.Hoare & Co. Steven recounted his lived experience as both an apprentice and apprenticeship leader.  

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Dr Steven Cooper

Steven joined Barclays at the most junior level, after a year he was promoted to cashier, later being the first non-graduate to be put on a graduate programme. During the programme, Barclays supported him through a degree at night school. Steven worked his way up the company to become the CEO of Barclaycard Business. 


During his time as CEO Steven observed that the Cardiff branch was understaffed despite Cardiff having one of the largest unemployment rates in the UK. It was clear that recruitment processes were putting barriers in place that prevented the right talent pool from being tapped.  


Understanding that he had been allowed to grow within Barclays, Steven worked to make sure that others were nurtured so they could grow too. They opened up their talent pool, focusing on soft skills, attitude, and commitment. In February 2021 Barclays celebrated 10 years of apprenticeships. Matt Hammerstein, CEO for Barclays UK, says that apprenticeships push organisations to grow and develop:  

“For the organisation, apprenticeships are a great way to bring people in and challenge the status quo. People with open minds ask searching questions, which force us to sit back and ask ourselves why we do things the way we do and how we can do them better.” [3] 

Lessons Learnt 

  1. Role models and partners are important for attracting talent. It is one thing to open up roles to a diverse talent pool, however, it is another task to attract those people. It is important to have a role model and people who understand individuals’ positions. Barclays worked with charitable partners to reach specific communities. 
  1. The initiative had a positive impact on current staff. Barclays reached out to the most disadvantaged communities. The current staff felt as though they were part of something that was having a positive impact.  
  1. Diversity brings a different perspective and energy into the workplace. Steven found that younger people drove forward-thinking about technology. While older people provided an insight into how those later in life can be going through a transition and how Barclays can support that.  
  1. Soft skills matter, to nurture and support these employers need to provide real support, continuity of training, development, and prospects. “Those who are nurtured, grow, often they are overcoming experiences that others never will, making them very resilient. They can help and support colleagues as they can empathise” [4] 

The Business Case 

Steven outlined the business case for apprenticeship schemes explaining that it is more than a nice thing to do, it provides real businesses opportunities and improvements [4].  

  • 92% of companies that run an apprenticeship scheme believe it leads to a more satisfied and motivated workforce  
  • 80 % of companies that run an apprenticeship scheme reported higher attention rates. Individuals who start their career with an apprenticeship are likely to stay longer, reducing recruitment costs [5] 

Steven’s closing comments reminded us of the importance of understanding someone’s background when supporting them in the workplace: “Apprenticeship schemes will be successful if you nurture them. Understand the socio-economic background of those you are employing” [4].  

The Social Mobility Commission has provided a Socio-economic Diversity and Inclusion Employers’ toolkit to help employers recruit from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  


[1] Social Mobility Barometer 2021 [online] [Accessed 14/04/21]

[2] Social Mobility Commission. 2020. Apprenticeships and Social mobility  [online] [Accessed 14/04/21]

[3] Barclays. 2021. Celebrating 10 years of apprenticeships [online] [Accessed 14/04/21]

[4] Cooper, S. 2021. The National Apprenticeships Conference 

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Apprenticeships pose the opportunity for those with fewer qualifications to excel in their careers. We spoke to Dr Steven Cooper, Interim Co-Chair, Social Mobility Commission and CEO, C.Hoare & Co about their experience with apprenticeships.

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