Barriers and facilitators of apprenticeships amongst small-to-medium enterprises in the UK

Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are key to making apprenticeships more accessible, especially for disadvantaged young people, but many such companies continue to face barriers to offering these opportunities. Existing research has identified many such barriers, but geographical factors have not previously been considered. In our first working paper, we examine how geography impacts SMEs’ likelihood of offering apprenticeships, with a view to informing effective solutions that will result in more equitable apprenticeship opportunities across the UK.

The number of young people starting an apprenticeship has declined significantly since 2015/16, with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds becoming less likely to gain and complete an apprenticeship placement than their more privileged peers. SMEs are central to the question of improving these young people’s access to apprenticeships, as the evidence clearly shows that young people from more deprived postcodes are more likely than their peers to undertake an apprenticeship at an SME.

Using a framework designed to identify the causes of and barriers to behaviours, we conducted a data analysis and evidence review which indicates that, although small, there are geographical differences in apprenticeship provision, with SMEs in deprived urban areas being more likely to offer apprenticeships than their rural counterparts, and SMEs in all deprived areas facing different barriers to apprenticeships to less deprived localities. From these findings, we make recommendations for further research as well as identifying implications for policy and practice.


EDT’s working papers identify key issues which remain underexplored in current education research and employ robust research methods to conduct a preliminary investigation, culminating in recommendations for further research and relevant insights for policymakers and practitioners. Our working papers are commissioned and peer-reviewed by EDT’s research team.