I’ve been exploring this question with organisations of all shapes and sizes who are committed to social change – coaching bodies and training providers, plus individual coaches and coaching supervisors who work in the third sector.

The potential for democratising coaching here intrigues me. In my previous roles – leading learning and development functions, in big, complex, public service organisations – I would have leapt at the chance to engage with the new coaching professional apprenticeship. For me, this presents an opportunity to leverage systemic change at scale, with tremendous scope for cultural shift and social impact – music to the ears of an organisational development practitioner.

Keen to check my thinking, I have sought out the views and perspectives of others. While many of the larger charities and organisations supporting social change are familiar with the apprenticeship landscape, and recognise the value of this new offering, it seems that opportunities for collaboration with smaller charities or social enterprises are not yet happening.

Here, I attempt to demystify the apprenticeship world for those who advocate coaching for social change, who might be less familiar with the opportunities, yet well placed to encourage and influence partnership working across the profession. My hope is that by drawing the attention of those interested in democratising coaching to the financial incentives, potential for and benefits of collaboration and of sharing further information, more organisations working at the margins – and their clients – might benefit.

Accessing professional development

In recent issues, Coaching Today has highlighted a growing awareness of the potential for psychologically informed coaching to make a difference in terms of social impact.1–3 While counselling supports clients to reposition deep foundations, coaching takes us up a storey or two, with opportunities to open windows and doors to fresh chapters in our lives. Psychological safety is imperative in both practices, and more vulnerable clients stand to gain much from working with dual-trained practitioners. Both disciplines require extensive training and continuous professional development. The cost of formal training can be beyond the reach of service providers, who are otherwise well positioned to provide support to discrete client groups – people working with those who have been excluded by the mainstream or considered ‘hard to reach’ groups.2,3 Much of the work is done by learning on the job, including by former clients. How would it be to offer opportunities to professionalise these coaching skills, at very little, or no, cost to the organisation? Or to seek opportunities for collaboration with others who share your social change intentions across sectors and interest groups?

Demystifying apprenticeships: new vocabulary and opportunities for collaboration

Apprenticeships are both as old as time and coming of age – and I’ve done my fair share of head scratching and wondering what the recent iteration is all about. I’m a practitioner rather than an apprenticeship expert, but I’m keen to share what I have learnt in the hope of demystifying and inspiring others to make the most of these opportunities and to signpost those interested in the potential of coaching for social change to the many ready and willing hands waiting to guide you further.

The new apprenticeship standards are opportunities for new and existing staff to ‘earn and learn’, with no restrictions on age. The standards are created by groups of employers, known as ‘trailblazer’ groups, with all aspects overseen by the Government-established regulatory body, the Institute for Apprenticeships.4

Standards are delivered by registered training providers. They can run for anything from one to six years, depending on the programme – from level 2 (GCSE) to level 7 qualifications, including master's and MBAs. All require 20% ‘off the job’ release for learning activities and practice. Assessment is carried out by registered ‘end point assessment’ organisations.

Apprentices need to reach level 2 English and Maths (equivalent to GCSE grade 9–4 (A*–C) to complete their assessment – either through evidence of prior learning or sitting an exam. Many providers will provide additional support as needed.

The coaching professional apprenticeship

The coaching professional apprenticeship was launched in May 2020, the creation of a trailblazer group of employers spanning all sectors and sizes, led by global professional services network Grant Thornton UK LLP.7 The standard is designed to deliver the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to deliver capable practitioners, embedded in the organisations in which they have trained. The programmes are suitable for employees who either coach full time in their work, or as part of their role. The standard is at level 5 – equivalent to an NVQ5 or a foundation degree.

Programmes typically span 14 months, at a cost of up to £5,000 for each apprentice, which is £250 for each organisation, or free for a ‘non-levy payer’ organisation co-investing.

The standard is recognised professionally and equates to the following professional levels:

  • European Mentoring and Coaching Council (Accredited Coaching Practitioner)
  • The Association for Coaching (Accredited Coach)
  • The International Coach Federation (Member).

The purpose of coaching, as described in the coaching professional apprenticeship, illustrates an alliance with BACP’s interest in psychologically informed coaching for social change:

‘The underlying and ever-present purpose of coaching is building the self-belief of others, regardless of the context, to be curious and self-aware, better equipping them to collaborate, innovate, deal with the increasing pace of change and get the best from increasingly diverse environments’, with the behavioural outcomes listed including to ‘...act as an ambassador for a coaching mindset and positive approach to personal development’.7

Sam Isaacson, head of coaching services, governance and board advisory at Grant Thornton UK LLP, describes the professionalisation of coaching as ‘...increasingly an enabler for higher quality and more consistent coaching, so it’s really exciting that so many professional bodies have united behind this standard. The coaching professional apprenticeship offers employers a genuine chance to make coaching more accessible, and it’s been a privilege to play a part in its development.’

Democratising coaching for social change

Through my discussions with a number of small charities, it seems that overwhelm and pressure of work are the key factors limiting capacity to fully engage with the potential offered by the apprenticeship. While debates rumble around the wider apprenticeship agenda, there are clear opportunities here and now for democratising coaching and driving forward social change.

If you are working with small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who are unable to fund wider external coaching support for their clients, for example, you might want to explore with them the potential for collaboration with ‘levy-paying’ organisations or co-investment.

If your organisation is a levy payer and you are keen to progress the coaching for social change agenda, you might seek out colleagues responsible for the levy funding to ask about transfers to non-levy payers within your supply chain and beyond. For recipients of levy transfers, there is both funding and expertise on any heavy lifting around the paperwork to be gained – easing the burden through partnership.

  • Local authorities can offer further support to all parties concerned – many have teams dedicated to local employability and economic regeneration and are actively engaged with promoting apprenticeships.
  • Training providers will understand how levy transfers and co-funding work and will have an ear to the ground for opportunities for collaboration. There are 43 training providers for this apprenticeship listed at the time of writing.8 Training provider BPP Holdings Ltd runs open and closed cohorts for the not-for-profit sector in conjunction with Grant Thornton UK LLP; and the OCM Group, a bespoke coach training company, also offers this apprenticeship.
  • If a level 5 apprenticeship is too big a stretch for those in your network, an alternative for collaboration might be to help fund people on the Learning Mentor apprenticeships.9
  • Find more sources of information and inspiration through the Apprenticeships Ambassador Network,10 the 5% Club11 or read more in the TUC apprenticeships toolkit.12

Coaching for social change only becomes a reality if it’s affordable – and those most in need of support are least likely to be able to afford and access professional coaching services. Many professional coaches offer generous pro-bono or reduced fee sessions to those otherwise unable to fund themselves. However, extending the reach of affordable professional training through the coaching professional apprenticeship seems to me a welcome step towards breaking this cycle of dependency – by effectively widening participation, and allowing for greater agency and control at the point of need. Coaching, as a relatively new profession, with a growing supply of qualified professionals, has everything to gain from greater conceptual appreciation of what coaching is and what it can bring. Encouraging collaboration and partnership through levy transfers and co-investment options, brings coaching for social change a step closer, generates greater connection across client bases and widens the range of opportunities available to all.


1. Watson V. Coaching for social impact: creating a coaching community for change, inclusion and social justice. Coaching Today 2021: April; 16–17.
2 Mumby C, Weaver D. From the inside out: how coaching changes lives. Coaching Today 2021: January; 14–17.
3 Mumby C. One step at a time: coaching for social change. Coaching Today 2020: October; 8–13.
4 Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education [Online.] www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/ (accessed 13 May 2021).
5 Gov.uk. Pay apprenticeship levy [Online.] www.gov.uk/guidance/pay-apprenticeshiplevy (accessed 13 May 2021).
6 Gov.uk. Funding an apprenticeship for non levy employers. [Online.] www.apprenticeships.gov.uk/employers/ funding-an-apprenticeship-non-levy# (accessed 13 May 2021).
7. Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education: coaching professional [Online.] www.instituteforapprenticeships. org/apprenticeship-standards/coachingprofessional-v1-0 (accessed 13 May 2021).
8 Gov.uk. Training providers for coaching professional apprenticeships. [Online.] https://findapprenticeshiptraining. apprenticeships.education.gov.uk/ courses/555/providers (accessed 13 May 2021).
9 Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education: learning mentor [Online.] www.instituteforapprenticeships. org/apprenticeship-standards/learningmentor-v1-0 (accessed 13 May 2021).
10 HM Government. Apprenticeship Ambassador Network. [Online.] https://engage.apprenticeships.gov.uk/aan (accessed 13 May 2021).
11 The 5% Club. [Online.] www.5percent club.org.uk/ (accessed 13 May 2021).
12 Trades Union Congress. Apprenticeships toolkit. [Online.] www.tuc.org.uk/ apprenticeships-toolkit (accessed 13 May 2021).