National Apprenticeship Week: Let’s support LGBT+ young people in the workplace

Photo of Neil Bentley-Gockmann, CEO of WorldSkills UK

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE is chief executive of WorldSkills UK.

Being authentic in life and work is challenging for everyone, but it is also incredibly important, particularly for those of us who identify as LGBT+.  Being yourself at work, stopping policing your pronouns and being able to talk about your personal life as much as your colleagues, brings real benefits to workplace performance as a leader at any level of an organisation. That’s why I am out to my team, my board and our stakeholders. But in my first senior business position it was a few years before I felt comfortable to fully come out.  It was a daunting experience, but once I had done it, the benefits were clear: better and more trusting relationships with colleagues and clients soon turned into further professional success.

My own experience has made me determined to support others.  That is why ahead of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, I am calling on employers, education leaders and governments to look at what more we can do together to make apprenticeships a great career choice for young people who identify as LGBT+.

In my role as Chief Executive of WorldSkills UK, I work with companies across all sectors to help train young people to ever higher standards to meet their skills needs and I have seen some best practice examples of diversity at work.  Rolls-Royce, for instance, has set targets related to Stonewall Workplace Equality Index which means it can incorporate feedback from LGBT+ employees directly into its working policies. However, The National Society of Apprentices (NSOA) says that many young people who identify as LGBT+ are not considering apprenticeships because they are worried about how their employers will react to them coming out.  This alone shows that there is still a real need to make progress, and show young people that whatever their background, sexual orientation or gender identity, apprenticeships can offer them the opportunity to excel in the careers.

Changing perceptions and practices starts with authentic leadership.  That is why, this week, we at WorldSkills UK are working in partnership with PinkNews and the Tes to convene senior leaders across education and industry to discuss how we can work together to create inclusive learning and working environments. Joining the discussion will be Helen Grant MP, who in her role as Chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champion Network (ADCN) in England, is working tirelessly to look at what more can be done to make apprenticeships more welcoming for all.

For me, one of the most powerful ways to show young LGBT+ people that apprenticeships can offer high-quality training and a range of exciting career options is through role modelling.  More visible LGBT+ role models at work in the public and private sectors can help change the conversation on LGBT+ inclusion at work. At WorldSkills UK, we run a successful programme which involves young people in apprenticeships or technical careers who have been involved in our skills competitions going back into schools and sharing their experiences. Giving young people role models from within their own age is a proven and powerful way of ensuring all talent is realised.  But, it is also important to ensure there are more role models in senior leadership positions who young people can look up to and learn from, demonstrating that you can be out at work and successful.

For employers, getting the right approach to LGBT+ inclusion will not only bring loyalty, but also higher productivity.  We need to do more to extend LGBT+ initiatives and programmes to embrace apprentices entering the workforce. This year’s National Apprenticeship Week, which kicks off on 4 March, is the perfect opportunity for us us all as leaders to commit to ensuring apprenticeships are a positive choice for all young people.    

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