Apprenticeships as they stand are low-paid and inflexible, and that prices out people with care needs and children. This must change, warns Dr Carole Easton

 As the government struggles to reach its target of three million apprenticeship starts, and while employers figure out how to make the most of the new levy, the needs of many potential apprentices are left out of the equation. If ever there were a time to make sure that apprenticeships are attractive to and inclusive of all groups, it is now. Providers and employers must work together to deliver high-quality, flexible, part-time apprenticeships if we are to achieve workplace gender equality.

Apprenticeships are still not working for young women. There are currently 41 men starting a construction apprenticeship for every woman. For each woman apprentice entering engineering in England there are 20 men. And when almost a third of apprentices do not complete their training, it’s clear that there’s room for improvement. Too many don’t even consider apprenticeships in the first place, put off by inflexible hours, low pay and a society that places a higher value on university education.

Developing better apprenticeships would help people from underrepresented groups get into work and training, benefiting families, businesses and the economy.

Despite the rhetoric, there is demand for part-time and flexible apprenticeships. Providers often do not think there is employer demand and employers do not think providers offer them. Meanwhile, potential apprentices have found that resources such as the government’s ‘Find an apprenticeship’ service do not allow them to search for part-time apprenticeships, and many believe they are simply not available. But those employers and potential apprentices who are in the know recognise the benefits.

There are currently 41 men starting a construction apprenticeship for every woman

YouGov research for Young Women’s Trust shows that 54 per cent of employers would be willing to offer part-time apprenticeships, including 65 per cent of those in the public sector.

This would be of huge benefit to those who need to work and train flexibly, such as parents with young children, single parents, carers, care leavers and those with disabilities. A new report written in partnership between us, Trust for London, Timewise and the Learning and Work Institute features potential apprentices discussing how frustrating it is trying to find apprenticeships that can fit around caring responsibilities and health needs.

Without part-time and flexible opportunities, these groups can be shut out of apprenticeships. Instead, many find themselves in low-skilled work with little opportunity to progress, or out of work altogether.

To make apprenticeships more accessible, the government must substantially raise the apprentice minimum wage. Low-pay limits participation – a particular concern for part-time apprenticeships. Young Women’s Trust found that two in five apprentices spend more money completing their apprenticeship than they earn, for example on travel to work, uniform and childcare. An hour’s childcare can be upwards of £4.45 – or £6 in London – considerably more even than the incoming apprentice minimum wage of £3.70.

Many are put off doing an apprenticeship altogether because it isn’t financially viable. We polled more than 4,000 young people, and discovered that their priority is not abolishing tuition fees but raising wages for young people and apprentices. Paying apprentices better would mean more people could afford to do them.

Making apprenticeships more accessible benefits businesses, too: it widens the talent pool, helping underrepresented groups in, and improves productivity.

The new apprenticeship levy offers an opportunity to finally get apprenticeships right. Creating a system that makes apprenticeships attractive and accessible to a wider range of people will bring huge benefits to society as a whole. It may even increase the overall number of people doing apprenticeships, helping the government reach its three-million target.

I hope that all the players involved in delivering apprenticeships will work together to make these changes and ensure that apprenticeships succeed in skilling people up, serving as a great alternative to a university education and contributing to improvements in social mobility for those otherwise likely to be left behind.

 Dr Carole Easton is chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust