Less lucrative options for female apprentices, study shows

Female apprentices are considerably more likely to end up in low-paid jobs as a result of training in female-dominated sectors, research finds.

A study by unionlearn, the learning and skills arm of the Trades Union Congress, shows that while there has been a large rise in the number of women taking apprenticeships over the last ten years, many end up working in female-dominated sectors, such as early-years childcare and hairdressing, where wages tend to be lower and where there is less chance of career progression.

The report warns that gender stereotyping is dissuading young women from pursuing careers in traditionally male industries.

The survey also raises concerns about the low number of black and Asian people taking apprenticeships, especially in higher-paid sectors such as engineering and construction.

Additional findings include a gender apprenticeship split; the number of women taking apprenticeships has more than doubled over the past decade. However, women are still pursuing careers in ‘traditional sectors’ that offer lower wage returns and career opportunities than sectors where men tend to do their apprenticeships.

In 2011/12 half (50.1 per cent) of all apprenticeship starts were female. However, women made up just 2 per cent per cent of all apprenticeship starts in each of the construction, electro-technical and vehicle maintenance and repair sectors, and less than four per cent in the engineering and driving vehicles sectors.

By contrast, more than nine in ten apprentices who started in the hairdressing (92.2 per cent) sector were women.

Furthermore, less than one in 25 black and Asian apprentices entered engineering (3.2 per cent) construction (3.4 per cent) and electro-technical (3.7 per cent) in 2011/12.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says that while there is genuine political will to try and improve apprenticeships and people’s access to them, the research shows that huge inequalities remain.

‘Young women still overwhelmingly find themselves pursuing careers in ‘traditional’ industries which tend to pay less, and black and Asian people continue to be under-represented in key sectors of the economy, O’Grady says.

‘Unless we create better training and employment opportunities for young people, and challenge gender stereotyping and discrimination from the outset, the situation is not going to improve.’

O’Grady adds that unions, employers and government must work together to provide better careers advice in schools and to support and improve opportunities for all young people.

The report recommends policies aimed at addressing gender segregation should be targeted at the bottom end of the youth labour market. This will involve schools promoting apprenticeships as an option for all and challenging traditional gender stereotyping from an early stage.

Further reading on apprenticeships

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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