Apprenticeships my way
When we talk about women’s need for flexible work options, we often think about those professional mums who need flexibility to break back into the job market. However, we often forget the needs of those young women taking their first steps into the world of employment.
Despite the much heralded success of young women in education, 120,000 girls leave school each year without at least 5 good GCSEs and, even when they do get the grades, young women are far less likely to make the successful transition into employment. At their best apprenticeships can offer the chance to develop real skills and get a foothold in a career. However, they are not serving young women as well as they are young men and one of the reasons for this is the lack of flexible apprenticeships currently on offer.
Making apprenticeships work for young women
In March, Young Women’s Trust launched the results of its research into apprenticeships. What we found was startling; young women apprentices are paid an average of £1 an hour less than their male counterparts. Just as importantly, they were less likely to receive additional training and less likely to stay in employment once they had completed their apprenticeship. It is clear from these findings that the apprenticeship system is badly letting down many young women. At a time when the Government is following an admirable path to dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships with 3 million new starts by 2020 it is more important than ever to ensure the system works for young women.
The gender divide
One driver of the different experiences of young men and women is the ongoing gender segregation in certain sectors. Just 4% of engineering apprenticeships are taken up by women, a figure that hasn’t changed in over a decade. In fact women remain hugely underrepresented in sectors such as IT and construction which often offer good progression and rates of pay. It is critical that improved careers advice helps young women challenge these stereotypes and that employers take positive action to increase the representation of young women on their apprenticeship schemes. However, our work shows that the lack of flexible opportunities is often just as big a barrier for young women when it comes to making decisions about which apprenticeship to choose (or whether to choose an apprenticeship at all).
Even when they do choose apprenticeships young women are concentrated in very few sectors. Two thirds of female apprentices work in just 5 sectors including childcare; health and social care; and customer service. These are all valuable career choices for the young women who want to follow that path. However, polling for the Young Women’s Trust revealed many will choose these sectors because of the flexibility they offer even though the pay and opportunity for progression is often below that found in other sectors. 1 in 4 young women with caring responsibilities said they had taken a different job from the one they would have chosen. Similarly 15% of young women said they would be more likely to undertake an apprenticeship if it offered flexibility- twice the rate of young men. A lack of flexible working options should not be a barrier to a young women choosing the career path that is best for her.
So why are there so few part time apprenticeship opportunities? One reason can be found in the lack of clear guidance from Government. Current guidelines state that an apprentice should be employed for at least 30 hours a week apart from in “exceptional circumstances”, including having caring responsibilities. If these criteria are met an apprenticeship can be reduced to 16 hours per week, with the length of the apprenticeship extending accordingly. However, many employers are unaware they are able to reduce the number of hours an apprentice works, and which circumstances enable them to do so. Greater clarity would give employers the confidence to take that step.
Flexible working should be a central feature of all workplaces. The Hire Me My Way campaign has been valuable in bringing about a new way of thinking in which employment is flexible enough for employees to accomplish all the other things they need to do in their lives. We hope that employers will respond and think creatively to offer this flexibility from the very top to the very bottom of their organisation, including their apprenticeship schemes.
Some employers are already rising to the challenge. Asda, a signatory of Young Women’s Trust’s apprenticeship employer pledge to increase diversity in apprenticeships, offer many of their apprenticeships part-time and Camden Council have run a pilot scheme to offer part-time apprenticeships to carers with good success. Young Women’s Trust would like to see many more employers taking that step in all sectors. We would also love to hear from employers who are going the extra mile in other ways to make apprenticeships work for young women, or who would like to do so.
Mark Gale, Campaigns Manager, Young Women’s Trust