Why apprenticeships aren't just 'jobs for the boys'

Laura Cooney, Workplace Communications Officer, Business in the Community calls on employers to challenge stereotypes.

Earlier this week a survey by Prudential found that two-thirds of 16- to 18-year-olds believed that most apprenticeship opportunities were in male-dominated industries such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture and IT. This is contrary to government research which found there are apprenticeships available in 170 sectors, and that successful applications actually skew slightly in favour of women.

We know there is a growing skills shortage in the UK – it’s estimated that by 2022 there will be a 7.5 million skills gap – and apprenticeships play a key role in equipping people of all ages with those skills in a changing workforce. However, these findings show that there are still key issues surrounding the perception of apprenticeships amongst young people. This may be directly impacting on gender segregation in apprenticeships; for instance, women make up 94% of childcare apprentices but just 4% of engineering apprentices. With women under-represented in STEM sector roles, challenging these perceptions is key to attracting more young women into these high-skilled jobs of the future.

This gender segregation may also be impacting on pay. Female apprentices earn an average of £4.82 an hour, compared to the £5.85 earned by their male counterparts – meaning they are losing out on over £2,000 per year. This concentration of female apprentices in low-paid sectors, alongside the over-representation of women in low-paid work as a whole, is one of the many factors which contributes to the gender pay gap, and getting more women into higher-paid apprenticeships, including STEM roles, may help to reduce that gap.

Gender also has an impact on a candidate’s experience of recruitment. Last year our survey of 4,000 young job seekers backed by the City & Guilds Group found that nearly a third of women aged 18 to 24 say they do not receive feedback after a job interview, compared to less than a fifth of men.

So what can business do to close those gaps? Including images of diverse apprentices in their campaign literature would be a start – after all, apprenticeships can be hugely beneficial for parents returning to work after career breaks or older people wanting to upskill, not just teenagers, and reflecting this will help employers increase diversity.

One way employers can do this is by having their recruitment processes and careers website “mystery shopped” by young people through workshops run by Business in the Community. For example, electrical contractors Clarkson Evans, who recruit between 80 – 100 apprentices each year has their website mystery shopped and as a result of the feedback incorporated new photographic images to illustrate the wide variety of people who become apprentices at the company.

Removing age limits, using a range of channel to advertise apprentices and monitoring applicants’ progress through the hiring process by gender, ethnicity and age can also help to identify and remove any barriers.

There has been some good work on changing these perceptions, such as the recent Get In Go Far campaign which showed young men and women working in office-based roles for organisations such as Lloyds Banking Group, the BBC and Accenture alongside more ‘typical’ apprenticeship roles. Business in the Community’s own Same But Different photography project also include images of women in STEM roles. But we need more employers to take action now to challenge stereotypes and show young people apprenticeships aren’t just ‘jobs for the boys’.