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Apprenticeships are letting down young women

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Young Women's Trust, pay, apprenticeships, hardship, travel costs, bullying, discrimination, employment prospects, reportRidiculously low pay and bullying, harassment and discrimination rife.

The Young Women’s Trust is calling for a significant increase in the apprentice minimum wage – or for it to be scrapped altogether and apprentices to be put on the same rates as everyone else.

This comes after the latest report from the Young Women’s Trust’s apprenticeship campaign highlights ongoing concerns about the ability of the apprenticeship system to provide opportunities for all young people to gain vital new skills and progress into high quality employment.

The report, ‘The real cost of an apprenticeship: are young women paying the price?’, found that:

A significant number of apprentices are struggling financially;

Progression is uncertain, especially for young women;

Many employers continue to treat apprentices as second-class employees;

Apprentices with children face greater challenges; and

Bullying, harassment and discrimination are rife.

The last year has seen the government’s reforms to apprenticeships come under increasing scrutiny as the growth in numbers has decreased after the quality of apprenticeships was called into question by the Education Select Committee.

This report looks at apprenticeships in the context of these critiques and finds some room for optimism, but also significant remaining challenges that hold back too many apprentices, especially young women.

If apprenticeships are to live up to their potential and deliver the vital skills the economy needs, urgent changes are now needed to tackle the challenges outlined above.

The low level of the apprenticeship minimum wage – currently £3.70, rising to £3.90 in April 2019 – is a key factor in the struggles faced by apprentices.

Low pay makes it difficult to cover essential costs – even covering the cost of travel to work is a challenge – and it is worse for young women; half of all apprentices, and 3 in 5 apprentices with children (59 per cent) said they have considered dropping out of their apprenticeship because they could not afford to continue.

Research also found that progression for apprentices is uneven – with women facing greater uncertainty, and that according to government statistics men’s wages are progressing faster.

Apprentices were worried about the quality of their training, as graduate routes were being preferred by employers.

And bullying and discrimination were rife: 54 per cent of apprentices were bullied or talked down to by other staff during their apprenticeship (66 per cent of parents); 43 per cent were bullied by non-apprentice colleagues (54 per cent parents, 37 per cent non-parents); 46 per cent worry about being bullied; and 57 per cent experienced sexist remarks (69 per cent of parents).

In short, apprentices need access to decent levels of pay and financial support.

They need opportunities to access quality apprenticeships and progress, no matter what their background.

And they need protection and support so that their apprenticeship is an environment in which they can flourish.

This is true for all apprentices, but it is young women who are least likely to benefit from apprenticeships and who stand to gain most from these changes.

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