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Apprenticeships: Gender Segregation

Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of any gender segregation in publicly funded apprenticeships in different (1) sectors, and (2) occupations.

My Lords, we are committed to ensuring that apprenticeships in all sectors and at all levels are accessible to anybody with passion and drive. Overall, there is a good gender balance in apprenticeships, but we want to ensure that more women access apprenticeships in traditionally male-dominated fields and benefit from those that offer the highest returns. Our Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network is championing gender representation in apprenticeships among employers in industries where we know improvement is needed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. While apprenticeship diversity champions are a useful tool, I am sure she will agree that gendered job segregation reinforces the pattern of low pay for women. The latest BEIS apprenticeship pay survey shows that women continue to be paid less and trained less and are more likely to be paid below the legal minimum. Does she agree that change needs to happen, and will she consider introducing part-time and flexible apprenticeships, which would help attract more women into higher-paid sectors?

My Lords, with the growing emphasis on apprenticeships, for a time, of course, these will reflect the existing sector issues, but I have good news for the noble Baroness, because there are part-time apprenticeships, with a 12-month minimum, and people can extend the hours of training and the time of the apprenticeship. We are working very practically with the “Find an apprenticeship” website to encourage it to offer those apprenticeships and highlight them on the website.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness alluded to, engineering and construction tend to be better paid apprenticeships than others, so what are the Government doing to encourage more girls and women into construction and engineering and to show them that it is not all greasy overalls and muddy fields? Might they consider putting 25% of the apprenticeship levy, say, into a social mobility fund to encourage more diversity, both in the regions and among these sectors?

In relation to promoting construction for women, that is one of the underrepresented sectors, but the Fire It Up campaign profiles women in all these sectors, and there is our Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network. One of those champions is Nottingham City Homes, which aimed to have 25% of their apprenticeships filled by women and it is actually 47%. I accept that we need to go further, because the figures for construction are still too low, but there are good examples to show that the initiatives we are trialling are working.

My Lords, last year 48,000 young people, predominantly women and girls, applied to train as nurses in this country, but half were turned away because we ration the number of places for training in nursing. Why do we ration these places while unlimited numbers are able to study every subject from art history to zoology? Why do we pretend we have to recruit nurses abroad because not enough people in this country want to study nursing, when we are turning away half of those who do?

My noble friend will be aware of our commitment to recruit 50,000 nurses. I will have to write to him in detail about whether the apprenticeship offer refers to any such training.

My Lords, is it not a fact that only two out of five women in apprenticeships have any formal training? Does that not make a mockery of the concept of apprenticeships?

My Lords, historically there have been issues to do with the quality of apprenticeships, which is why we have moved from the framework to the standards. They should be 12 months long, there is a minimum of 20% training off the job, and there is an end-of-year assessment. The quality is improving, we are monitoring the standards, and Ofsted is in charge of monitoring the standards of training providers, so we can assure the noble Lord that the quality of apprenticeships is going up.

My Lords, I hosted an event for an initiative called Maths4Girls, which seeks to increase the number of girls involved in maths, mainly by connecting them with role models from maths-based industries. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the Government are doing anything to encourage people to offer themselves as role models or mentors as a way to address gender imbalances in apprenticeships?

Yes, mentors are particularly important in schools, and we are ensuring through the careers guidance that there are STEM encounters within schools. There has been good news on the number of girls who are now studying A-level maths, which has gone up by 31%, and undergraduates for Maths4Girls has gone up to 34%. Those are encouraging signs, which will of course help with the recruitment of girls into engineering; we are encouraging those entry-level subjects.

My Lords, the allocation of apprenticeships continues to grow, and the Government have promised a £3 billion skills fund over the next five years. Can my noble friend say whether this may be used to top up apprenticeship funding for small companies and therefore help to address the gender balance?

My noble friend is correct that there is much more to be done to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises. That is why the larger levy paying firms can now spend 25% of that levy down their supply chain with subcontractors and can use their corporate social responsibility to indicate to those subcontractors the diversity requirement. The £3 billion national skills fund concerns adult education, but I will take that back to my department.

My Lords, surely the fact that two-thirds of female apprenticeships are concentrated in just five sectors of the economy, with more than 25% in health and social care alone—I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—is a reflection more on the stereotypical behaviour of schools and colleges regarding career paths rather than any prejudice among employers? Last year, the Augar review warned of weaknesses in the provision of guidance and of school examination advice. It suggested that the Government’s career strategy should be rolled out across the whole country so that every school would have access to a careers hub, with young people getting meaningful careers activities and meetings with employers. Can the Minister say what the Government plan to do regarding the Augar recommendations?

On the Augar recommendations, I believe that the timetable is for later on this year, in the autumn, with the spending review. However, it is correct that we need to challenge those stereotypes from a young age, which is why we have given £2 million to go down even to primary school level to undo those stereotypes. The noble Lord is correct, but we also need to undo the stereotypes and encourage men to go into sectors such as education that are overrepresented by women. We have also been funding the Fatherhood Institute to ensure that that happens. Further, we have trained teachers through the ASK project so that those who do not have experience of apprenticeships can promote them to their students.