Report/Research

Diversifying Apprenticeship: Acknowledging Unconscious Bias to Improve Employee Access

At a Glance

Promoting frontline workers to more senior positions is a great way to improve workforce diversity, but unconscious bias can prevent employees from getting the training they need to advance.

Many corporate diversity efforts focus on recruiting entry-level workers from outside of the organization. But promoting current employees from frontline jobs to more senior positions can be a more effective way for employers to advance equity within their workforces.

Some companies recognize this and are beginning to set up apprenticeship programs that provide current employees with opportunities to develop new skills through on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the guidance of experienced mentors. Workers who successfully complete apprenticeships can stay with their current employers but move into new jobs that offer better pay and more responsibility.

Apprenticeships benefit employers too—especially those that have a diverse pool of workers in frontline jobs. By nurturing homegrown talent, they can increase diversity at every level of the enterprise and fill their managerial ranks with proven employees who are already familiar with the organization. They can also reap tangible business benefits, such as better retention rates, improved business performance, and a competitive advantage in the labor market.

Unfortunately, unconscious biases among executives and managers can unintentionally create barriers that prevent workers from underrepresented populations from having access to apprenticeships and other training programs, and thereby limit their career advancement opportunities.

Often derived from social stereotypes that shape the way individuals think about certain groups of people, unconscious biases can cause otherwise well-intentioned leaders to have a preference for people who are similar to themselves when they fill jobs or recruit participants for training programs. Though this may be unintentional, leaders whose decisions are informed by unconscious bias can put people who are culturally different from them at a career disadvantage.

Read the full JFF report for recommendations on how to overcome unconscious bias and make career advancement opportunities accessible to all of the workers in your talent pipeline.