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Tackling Apprenticeship Inequality

Published: Monday 19th August 2019

In the past, apprenticeships were associated with the working class. Those from privileged backgrounds went to university, while those from lower-income groups became apprentices, mostly in manual trades. Today, that perception has changed considerably. However, when it comes to inequality and discrimination, new problems have arisen. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 90% of 16 to 24-year-old apprenticeships are white and the numbers of female apprentices in certain higher-paid industries are very low.

Carpenter Training Female Apprentice To Use Plane

Getting more candidates from minority backgrounds into apprenticeships

Unionlearn, the lifelong learning arm of the TUC, puts the figure of those entering apprenticeships from minority backgrounds at just 6%, while recently released government data suggests 7%. Meanwhile, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), a government-led agency that works with employers to increase and promote apprenticeship opportunities, puts the figure at 8%.

Those from ethnic minorities that do become apprentices tend to be concentrated in programme-led apprenticeships, rather than employer-led apprenticeships. These are sometimes known as pre-apprenticeships and often won’t lead to a paid apprenticeship, or job with the firm.

Multi-ethnic team of workers wearing overalls and protective helmets using lathe in order to machine work piece

Addressing the balance

There have been calls for employers to make more use of their powers underneath the 2010 Equality Act to tackle un-representation and the archaic perception that certain types of people should do certain types of jobs. It’s thought that because of these perceptions, women and those from minorities are less likely to apply for apprenticeships in certain fields.

Jeremy Crook, director of the British Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), a national charity that works to improve education, skills and employment outcomes for black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, says that employer attitudes are part of the problem, especially in construction. Tom Wilson of Unionlearn agrees and says education is vital for change and there needs to be recruitment strategies that target BME candidates.

Professional hairdresser and trainees working with clients in salon. Apprenticeship concept.

Millions of new apprenticeships on the way

With the UK government focussed on creating three million apprenticeships in the coming year, Crook believes the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) needs to do more to ensure that more apprenticeships go to minorities. The NAS itself can do little to compel employers to take on more from minority backgrounds. At the same time, some organisations are worried about positive discrimination. An employment tribunal recently found Cheshire police guilty of discriminating against a white, heterosexual, 25-year-old man, using positive action unlawfully when running a recruitment campaign for new trainees.

One area where these new apprenticeships could certainly help is in tech where there is a huge digital skills gap. It’s thought there could be one million vacancies in the sector by 2020. If they’re staffed by people who look and act the same, the industry will miss out on a huge pool of talent.

Startup business and entrepreneurship problem solving. Young AI programmers and IT software developers team brainstorming and programming

PwC is one organisation trying to fill that gap. In 2018, the company launched the technology degree apprenticeship programme in partnership with five major UK universities. Sunil Patel, Chief Operating Officer of Technology and Investments expects a high representation of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethic) in the programme.

In 2019, being an apprentice shouldn’t be seen as a second class career choice in a manual profession. Apprenticeships are a valuable way to gain first-hand experience in an industry sector and, in many cases, secure a full-time role, without the time and effort involved in a job search. If you, or someone you know, is looking to start an apprenticeship programme, you’ll find plenty of opportunities on Zoek.

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