Making apprenticeships work for women

15 March 2017

Last week, to mark National Apprenticeship Week, Learning and Work Institute released research showing women, people from lower income families, and ethnic minorities face a participation penalty in apprenticeships. Our research highlighted that people from BAME backgrounds are half as likely to succeed in their application; women are more likely to be apprentices in low paid sectors, and people from lower income households are less likely to access Advanced Apprenticeships.

On Wednesday, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we focused specifically on how we might encourage more women into engineering apprenticeships, drawing on research that we are undertaking with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The Young Women’s Trust also published a new report ‘Making Apprenticeships Work for Women: a good practice guide’, featuring ten top tips in helping employers make apprenticeships more accessible.

To help raise the profile of this important agenda, Mark Gale, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Young Women’s Trust has written this guest blog:


The 10th National Apprenticeship Week last week came at critical time for the Government’s apprenticeship reforms. Recent figures from the Skills Funding Agency show that for the first time in a decade more men started apprenticeships than women. This is concerning because the system was already working better for men than it was for women. Research by Young Women’s Trust showed that women apprentices get paid less, are less likely to get training and are more likely to be out of work following an apprenticeship.

A key reason for both the poor experiences of many young women and the recent start figures is the dramatic occupational segregation by gender, which has hardly changed in over a decade. In some cases sectors have even gone backwards – for example 10 years ago 5% of engineering apprentices were female compared to 4% last year.

This is despite huge investment from employers, Government and others. So what can be done to change this despite the challenges employers continue to face? As part of its new report ‘Making Apprenticeships Work for Women: a good practice guide’ Young Women’s Trust’s has worked with employers to develop ten top tips to help employers make apprenticeships more accessible:

  1. Increasing apprentice pay. The apprentice minimum wage – £3.40 an hour – prevents many young women being able to finance their training.
  2. Using language that appeals to young womenwhen 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.
  3. Removing academic entry requirementswhere they are not essential to the role. There is no evidence this leads to a reduction in the quality of recruits.
  4. Offering more part-time and flexible apprenticeships. This would help women, particularly those with caring responsibilities, to balance their time commitments.
  5. Involving apprentices in shaping organisational policy. Employers should listen to the views and concerns of young women apprentices in order to meet their needs.
  6. Providing women-only work experienceand open days to expose women to a range of roles in different sectors.
  7. Promoting women role modelswho have completed apprenticeships.
  8. Providing mentoring and women’s networksto support young women apprentices.
  9. Engaging with schools and parentsto improve their knowledge of apprenticeships and help them to better advise young people.
  10. Collecting datarelating to the gender, age, ethnicity and career progression of apprentices to help identify challenges that prevent companies making the most of women’s talent.

It has been encouraging to see real commitment from employers who are keen to address the issues around young women in apprenticeships. However, it is also clear that many employers continue to face challenges in meeting these aims. It is important to work with employers to understand these challenges and develop practical solutions.