The Government’s plans for apprenticeships seem to be having a bit of a bumpy ride of late. The latest figures show the number of apprenticeship starts has dropped since the introduction of the levy to boost numbers. There have also been concerns that thousands of apprentices will be unable to complete their training because of a lack of assessors and, despite indications that the Government may well fall short of its target of three million starts, that quantity has been prioritised over quality.
What has been lost in these technical debates is how we make sure that apprenticeships work for apprentices. At the moment, there isn’t a clear case that they do, especially for young women. Young Women’s Trust’s research has highlighted that women are paid less, receive less training, are less likely to be employed after completion and are largely restricted to roles in just a few low-paid sectors. This not only limits young women’s opportunities for development but prevents apprenticeships from reaching their potential to plug the growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering – sectors that are almost exclusively male as far as apprenticeships go.
This calls for a renewed focus on designing apprenticeships in a way that work for young people. Creating a system that makes apprenticeships attractive and accessible for a wide range of apprentices will bring huge benefits to employers and the economy as a whole. Pay is a key part of that – Young Women’s Trust polling shows that 60% of those not choosing an apprenticeship route say that low pay is the key deterrent – and the apprenticeship minimum wage minimum must rise significantly.
However, equally important is the lack of flexibility in the current system. Just one in ten apprentices are contracted for less than 30 hours per week, leaving the training out of reach for thousands who are unable to work full-time – particularly women, people with caring responsibilities, disabled people and young people leaving the care system. Instead, these groups often find themselves in low-skilled work with little opportunity to progress, or out of work altogether.
A new report from Young Women’s Trust, Trust for London, Timewise and Learning and Work Institute shows potential apprentices speaking of the frustration of finding apprenticeships that they could fit around caring responsibilities and their health needs. Employers, too, seem to recognise the potential. Polling done by YouGov for Young Women’s Trust showed that more than half of employers (54%) would be willing to offer part-time apprenticeships, including 65%of those in the public sector.
Despite these findings, many employers wrongly continue to believe there is no demand or that part-time apprenticeships would be difficult to administer. Meanwhile, potential apprentices found that resources such as the Government’s ‘Find an Apprenticeship’ service did not allow them to search for part-time apprenticeships, meaning many thought they were simply not available.
More needs to be done to raise awareness of the huge potential part-time apprenticeships have to increase access for new starters to apprenticeships and enabling existing staff to upskill. By starting with the principle of what works for apprentices, employers may find huge benefits in terms by giving them access to a wider talent pool and increasing productivity. It may even help increase the number of people accessing apprenticeships as the Government continues to chase that elusive 3 million target.