To mark the start of National Apprenticeship Week, Young Women’s Trust publishes guidance for employers to help them recruit more women, as figures show that more men than women are starting apprenticeships for the first time since 2010.
The charity’s research finds that young women are often shut out of male-dominated sectors like construction and engineering due to gender stereotypes. Young women who have gone into male-dominated industries have reported a lack of support and even outright gender discrimination.
As demand in these areas increases, Skills Funding Agency and Department for Education data shows that the overall number of men starting apprenticeships is overtaking the number of women – a reverse of the recent trend.
Women instead tend to go into lower-paid sectors, such as care and beauty, contributing to an apprentice gender pay gap of 21 per cent – or £2,000 a year. They are less likely to receive training during their apprenticeship and less likely to get a job after.
Young Women’s Trust’s report, ‘Making Apprenticeships Work for Women: a good practice guide’ provides ten tips to help employers and the government make apprenticeships more accessible. It recommends:
Increasing apprentice pay
The apprentice minimum wage – £3.40 an hour – prevents many young women being able to finance their training. Increasing the basic wage and offering support for essentials like childcare and transport would make apprentice schemes more accessible.
Using language that appeals to young women when advertising roles and include pictures of women. Words like ‘support’, ‘understand’ and ‘interpersonal’ have been shown to appeal to women in job adverts, while ‘leader’, ‘competitive’ and ‘dominant’ deter them.
Removing academic entry requirements where they are not essential to the role. There is no evidence this leads to a reduction in the quality of recruits.
Offering more part-time and flexible apprenticeships. This would help women, particularly those with caring responsibilities, to balance their time commitments.
Involving apprentices in shaping organisational policy. Employers should listen to the views and concerns of young women apprentices in order to meet their needs.
Providing women-only work experience and open days for exposure to a range of roles in different sectors.
Promoting women role models who have completed apprenticeships.
Mentoring and support
Providing mentoring and networks to support young apprentices. Being the only woman, or one of a small handful, in the workplace can be daunting. Young women have asked for more support during their training.
Engaging with schools and parents to improve their knowledge of apprenticeships and help them to better advise young people.
Collecting data relating to the gender, age, ethnicity and career progression of apprentices to help identify challenges that prevent companies making the most of their talent.
The guide includes examples from employers that are taking action to recruit more women. BAE Systems, Balfour Beatty, Barclays, Camden Council, Centrica and Network Rail are all featured.
Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE says, ‘The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering is all the more reason to support more young women into relevant apprenticeships. But Young Women’s Trust has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors. It is shocking that last year, in London, there were no higher level women apprentices in either construction or engineering.
‘Supporting young women into these apprenticeships benefits them, benefits businesses and benefits the economy. We need urgent action.
‘We would like to see clear pathways made available to young females with low or no qualifications, so they can start apprenticeships and progress to the higher levels. Much greater provision of part-time and flexible apprenticeships would also help young mothers and carers in particular, who often have to balance care with work.’
Former construction apprentice Glynn Davies, a member of Young Women’s Trust’s Apprenticeship Working Group, says, ‘I wanted to be a bricklayer, so I started an apprenticeship with City and Guilds. I was excited and highly motivated and I couldn’t wait to get muddy. At 17 I was yet to be exposed to society’s strong view of gender roles.
‘From the moment I stepped onto the building site, I was automatically treated differently. There was a view among the other apprentices that I didn’t belong there. There was one other female, but we were two out of 20 and it quickly became difficult to persevere. I experienced constant sexist remarks like ‘get us a cuppa’ or ‘be careful, you don’t want to break a nail’.’
Davies adds, ‘I approached my course coordinator but the general response was, ‘it’s only banter’, or, my favourite, ‘don’t be so emotional’. It was irritating and emotionally draining, so I decided it would be more beneficial to terminate my apprenticeship and go straight into the labour market.’
Young Women’s Trust is now encouraging employers to sign its pledge to support more young females onto apprenticeship schemes. Asda, Barclays and Network Rail are among those that have signed so far.