Are apprenticeships failing young people?

Almost half of apprentices are in debt (47 per cent) and one in five of those who finished their apprenticeship in the past two years is now out of work, which shows that high numbers of apprenticeships are failing, according to a new Young Women’s Trust report, The real cost of an apprenticeship: are young women paying the price?.

The charity, which supports young women on low or no pay, surveyed 508 current or recent apprentices through ComRes and found that three in five struggle to make their cash last to the end of the month, leaving many unable to afford essentials, like transport to work, or having to borrow money.

For lots of apprentices, outgoings are more than income, which can legally be as little as £3.70 an hour. Sixty per cent say they are paid less than non-apprentice colleagues, despite doing the same tasks.

When asked how they make ends meet, one in three young women apprentices and one in five young men have been forced to borrow money from family or friends. One in five have skipped meals, one in six have gone into their overdraft and one in 10 have gone into rent arrears.

Half of apprentices say they have considered dropping out of their apprenticeship early because they struggled financially.

While many have done an apprenticeship to improve their employment prospects, the report finds that one in five of those who finished in the last two years says they are now unemployed and many others are working in a sector not connected to their apprenticeship. Department for Education data shows that women who have completed apprenticeships are finding that their earnings progression is lagging significantly behind men. The charity claims that many apprenticeships are therefore failing young women.

Young Women’s Trust is calling for a significant increase in the apprentice minimum wage – or to scrap it altogether and put apprentices on the same rates as everyone else. One in three young apprentices say that increased pay would make the biggest difference to them financially, followed by free or discounted travel (a Conservative manifesto commitment that has not yet been met), the ability to take out a loan or bursary, food vouchers and free or cheaper childcare. The charity has found that young people and employers agree that the apprentice minimum wage should be increased.

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said:

Young people – and especially young women – are being shut out of apprenticeships by low pay. Their wage barely covers the bus to work, let alone bills and rent – despite many doing the same work as their better-paid colleagues. If the Government is serious about supporting more people into apprenticeships, it must significantly raise the apprentice minimum wage, or put apprentices onto the same rates as everyone else. Making apprenticeships attractive and accessible to a wider range of people will bring huge benefits to employers and the economy. It’s time the Government made apprenticeships work for young people.

Business administration apprentice Caroline, 23, said:

For my level two apprenticeship, I was paid like £3 an hour. I was living with a friend, so my rent was £250 plus council tax and bills. And I brought in £450 a month or something like that. I ended up working on the weekends as well, putting in like 65 hours a week. It made me really stressed.

I was in my overdraft and a couple of grand in debt by the end of it. I was just trying to get by; it wasn’t anything extravagant. I felt punished for wanting to do a career and do well, whereas if I’d just stayed in a minimum wage job I actually probably would have been fine.

Digital and technology solutions degree apprentice Matilda, 21, has faced sexism and a lack of financial support:

I don’t encounter many other women in work or college. I’m the only full-time female engineer in my office, so it can be quite isolating. I had sexist remarks in college. I remember my name would be on the attendance list and some of the tutors would laugh and ask ‘have you ever heard of a female engineer’, which was quite jarring in that environment. I had to put in a report against a fellow classmate. It was about then I thought I could leave this qualification.

There’s a general lack of financial support, especially as you can pay an apprentice less than £4 an hour. It doesn’t feel like you can sit down with your line managers and say ‘I’m struggling to pay to live at the moment’. Would I be able to cope if I wasn’t living at home? Probably not! I’ve known people who have had to leave because they can’t afford to live. It’s sad to hear when it’s your friends going through that and they’ve had some particularly nasty experiences.

Ricarda, 25, a computer-aided design apprentice, is paid less than the colleagues that she trains:

We have a new architect but he’s younger than me and doesn’t have much experience, so I’m actually teaching him stuff. But I haven’t seen that level of responsibility reflected in the amount I’m paid, which is difficult to take. I still haven’t reached the salary that I was on before in my admin job when I wasn’t qualified or experienced.

Sutton Trust Chair, Sir Peter Lampl, said:

For apprenticeships to be an effective vehicle for social mobility, they have to offer a financially viable option for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. So it is concerning that today’s research finds so many young women who have chosen an apprenticeship are struggling to make ends meet.

“Our own research has also found a stark gender difference in earnings prospects for young people entering apprenticeships. If apprenticeships are to become a more important part of the employment landscape for young people, it is vital that this disparity is addressed.

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