Apprenticeships must work for young women too

Huge numbers of women are now taking apprenticeships, but Dr Carole Easton explains why YWT thinks they are missing out “at every level” compared to their male counterparts.

Much has changed since apprenticeships mainly acted as a route into trades for men, with few opportunities for women.

Last year 264,750 women and 235,140 men began apprenticeships, which would seem to represent one of the huge successes of the apprenticeship programme.

However the reality is not so clear cut.

At their best, apprenticeships can offer young people new skills and excellent routes into employment, help employers fill skill gaps and make a huge contribution to a productive economy.

Sadly, not all apprenticeships are created equal and it is young women who are losing out at every level.

We recently reported there is a gender pay gap in apprenticeships.

And 16 per cent of young women told us they were out of work following an apprenticeship compared to 6 per cent of men.

Gender segregation is also very high in apprenticeships.

For every woman starting an apprenticeship in engineering there are 25 men. In plumbing the ratio is 1:74.

Gender segregation is very high in apprenticeships

Having asked young people about apprenticeships YWT commissioned a survey of the general population from ComRes and found that university continues to be preferred by middle class parents.

Working class parents were more likely to prefer apprenticeships for their children.

Overall, there is a tendency to see apprenticeships as best suited to young people, under 25 with low academic qualifications and seeking skilled manual work.

Some 89 per cent consider apprenticeships to be equally suited to men and women, but 7 per cent say they are better for men and 3 per cent for women.

In my view, these statistics demonstrate that there is a long way to go before apprenticeships are seen by everyone as a genuine and valued alternative to university degrees and before they become a route to greater equality of opportunities for young women with and without academic qualifications.

Even when young women do consider apprenticeships, they report that there are a number of deterrents.

They have told YWT that poor quality, stereotypical careers advice; lack of confidence; bullying and harassment in male dominated work places — and the portrayal of what constitutes women’s work in the media — all contribute to the persistence of job and apprenticeship segregation.

They are also deterred by the lack of flexible working hours and very poor pay (it is legal to pay an apprentice £3.30 per hour in their first year) — which is completely untenable for most people and particularly for young women who have caring responsibilities.

YWT is making recommendations which can make a difference.

We are asking employers and training providers to take positive action where the numbers of women are disproportionately low.

This could include setting targets, reserving places on courses and providing work experience placements.

To improve the opportunities for those who have left school with few qualifications, YWT is also encouraging employers and training providers to remove any formal academic entry requirements for apprenticeships unless they are directly necessary for performing the role.

We are also asking for clearer data which shows what is happening to women and men during and after apprenticeships.

We want pay and financial support increased and a greater availability of part time and flexible opportunities.

We also want to see improvements in the advice and support given to apprentices before during and after their apprenticeships.




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

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