The Co-op has launched an initiative aimed at improving job opportunities for people from under-represented groups.
The company has pledged an initial £500,000 for a new fund to create apprenticeships for candidates from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, as well as people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The Co-op urged other employers to help create a £15 million fund to support the creation of thousands of new apprenticeships.
Under the new initiative, businesses will be able to pledge unspent money from their apprenticeship levy, said the Co-op.
Employers seeking to recruit apprentices from under-represented groups will be matched to businesses with spare money.
The initiative is likely to be particularly attractive to smaller businesses and organisations that typically find creating apprenticeships more difficult, said the Co-op.
Chief executive Steve Murrells said: “Apprenticeships are a vital part of the lives of thousands of young people as they start their careers, and vital for the UK economy and business competitiveness.
“We have identified a significant opportunity to make the system fairer and more inclusive and benefit communities which are disadvantaged. Our levy sharing scheme is designed to ensure opportunities are fairly distributed and we believe it will help close an ‘opportunity gap’ that impacts so many young people.”