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Apprenticeships: Women

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many apprenticeships have been created since the Prime Minister’s announcement of their target of 3 million apprentices; how many of those apprentices are female; and what percentage of those female apprentices are in non-traditional occupations for women.

There have been 366,000 apprenticeships since this Government took office in May 2015; 190,000 of these were taken up by females, 52% of the total. Data on apprenticeship starts are held by sector. In 2014-15, of the 74,060 apprentices in engineering and manufacturing technologies, 6.8% were female; in ICT, the figure is 17.5%.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but the figures that I have show that only 4% of engineering apprenticeships go to women, and that figure has declined over the last 10 years. How is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills working with the Department for Education to encourage more girls to study the appropriate subjects that will give them access to STEM-related apprenticeships? Secondly, while more young women than young men take up apprenticeships, they are employed in a narrower range of sectors, earn on average £1 per hour less and are less likely to find employment at the end of their training. Does the Minister agree that a positive action programme is needed to enable young women to work to their full capacity?

My Lords, that was a lot of questions. The figure for engineering and manufacturing technologies in 2014, as I said, was 6.8%. The latest apprenticeship pay survey estimates that the median hourly pay across England for level 2 and 3 female apprentices, who comprise about 95%, is £6.38. That is higher than for males, for whom the figure is £6.16. However, schools have to do more, as do we all. Schools are legally required to provide the independent advice and guidance that young people now need when making career choices, and apprenticeships have to be part of that offer. We are launching a new £10 million apprenticeship campaign in May aimed at young people, their influencers and their employers because role models matter so much. We need to let people know about the breadth of employment opportunities through the apprenticeship route.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the founder and chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowships, which have been given to men and women over the last 30 years. How many of the 366,000 apprentices to which the Minister referred undertook true craft apprenticeships of real duration?

My Lords, I have talked to my noble friend about craft apprenticeships. I do not have the actual number for them but I share his enthusiasm for ensuring that we have apprenticeships in those areas, and I think our new system will help with that. Apprenticeships now are all of a decent quality: they have to be paid jobs; they have to involve substantial training of the kind you need in, for example, filigree gold or artwork; they have to last 12 months, on top of school; and they have to lead to full competency in occupations. That is the kind of change we need in this country, building on the sort of experience that you see in Germany, Switzerland and so on, where apprenticeships have been more successful.

My Lords, my father left school and did an apprenticeship of a duration of five years. The Social Mobility Select Committee of your Lordships’ House took evidence from young people who have completed apprenticeships in the last couple of years, who said that they were of a duration of six weeks in skills such as wrapping vegetables and arranging flowers into bunches. We also took evidence about the number of young people doing apprenticeships. The figure that the Minister gave us must include people over the age of 21. That used to be called “adult training”. I know that the apprenticeships of which she is talking are to be of a duration of one year, but can she assure us that they are to be in proper skills and for people leaving school?

Thanks partly to work done in this House by a series of committees, we are moving in that direction. Of course, people stay at school for longer now, so you would not necessarily get apprenticeships that lasted for five years. However, often you need an apprenticeship of more than one year to pick up all the skills that you need. In the end, you need a proper qualification that allows you to take your portfolio elsewhere. That helps flexibility in our economy, which obviously does a lot better than many other economies because of that very strength.

My Lords, from the Minister’s response, it seems that the target of 3 million is quite a way off yet. However, is that missing the point somewhat? Should we not be concentrating on high-quality apprenticeships across the board? Otherwise we will run into the scenario of “Never mind the quality, feel the width”. On female apprenticeships in non-traditional occupations, what are the Government doing to encourage role models to inspire girls and women to bring their talents into these non-traditional areas?

As I have said, our new campaign will focus on role models, including female degree-level apprenticeships in engineering. We have Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, which responded to the Perkins review of engineering skills. The Your Life campaign, which I think the noble Baroness is well aware of, helps to ensure that the UK encourages women to move into maths and science in schools in a much more fundamental way. There is also the STEM Ambassadors programme, which I hope many noble Lords can help with. Some of us were not lucky enough to study science in school. We have to move forward and change the dynamics in our schools.

My Lords, I was surprised to hear the Minister talk about the payment made to female apprentices because she will be aware of the Young Women’s Trust report which says that female apprentices receive, on average, £4.82 per hour, compared to £5.85 per hour for their male counterparts. However, I should like to ask her about what is happening in her own department; surely there she could show the way. I understand that, according to the latest figures, only 26% of apprentices in the department were women.

We could certainly do better in the department. One of the changes we are making is to require government departments to make a good contribution to apprenticeships, and I think that can be extremely helpful. I have looked at the latest figures and am very happy to have a conversation with the noble Lord about them, because I was surprised and pleased to see that we seem to be moving in the right direction. People must have career choices. It is about freedom: people should be able to do what they want to do. I have a female apprentice involved in my team.