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Let’s #BreakTheBias in Apprenticeships for International Women’s Day 2022

Tuesday 8th March 2022 is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias and invites us all to challenge gender stereotypes, discrimination and bias. Of course, this #BreakTheBias message will mean something different to everyone. In this article, we wanted to discuss what Rubitek has been doing, and can do, to challenge gender biases within the apprenticeship industry, and to encourage our peers to do the same.

Female apprentices reaching their goals and celebrating
International women's day - break the bias in apprenticeships

Do We Need to #BreakTheBias in Apprenticeships?

When the average person hears the word “apprentice”, a number of presumptions may be made. They will likely picture a young man, around school-leaving age, training and working at low pay, probably in quite a labour-intensive role, such as construction. Let’s look at why exactly this bias exists, if it’s based in fact, and what we can do to challenge it.

Let’s Talk About the Industry Representation of Women in Apprenticeships

A focus on gender gaps in apprenticeships came about a few years ago. This was partly as a result of a study published in 2016 by the Young Women’s Trust (YWT), “Making Apprenticeships Work for Young Women”, which found that almost 40% of all female apprentices worked in just two industries – Health and Social Care and Business and Administration at 14% and 25% respectively – with the other 60% working in a further 3 industries. The report identified that male apprentices worked in 11 industries, over double, giving them access to a wider range of job opportunities, qualification routes and career pathways than their female counterparts.

And What About Pay?

Every few years, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy produces an Apprenticeship Pay Survey which, in January 2020, reported that the pay gap for level 2 and 3 apprentices is widening. In 2016, the gap was 3.6%, but by 2018/19 it stood at 6% - having almost doubled in under three years. At Levels 2 and 3, female apprentices were more likely to be in receipt of non-compliant pay (21%) compared with men (17%). Male apprentices were also more likely to have received an increase in pay (64%) compared with female apprentices (42%).

Are Apprenticeships Subject to Other Biases Besides Gender?

Gender bias is not by any means the only bias when it comes to apprenticeships, although other biases may have an impact on gender equality in turn. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, when picturing an apprentice people often picture, not just a man, but a young man. At Rubitek we know that this, in reality, couldn’t be further from the truth. The average age of an apprentice in our platform is 47.

This age bias can actually have a negative effect on women. This is because young men are more likely to be engaged as apprentices as new starters in their sector. In 2016/17, 51% of female apprentices starting apprenticeships were at least 25 years old, whilst only 36% of males were over 25. Women are also more likely to already be employed by their employer at the commencement of their apprenticeship.

The issue of the sustainability of employment at the end of an apprenticeship is salient here, too. Young women are less likely to obtain a permanent position when they finish their apprenticeship.

Is It All Bad News for Women in Apprenticeships?

National statistics on apprenticeships in England tell us that the number of men and women who start an apprenticeship is largely the same. That’s an encouraging start. Likewise, in 2019, more girls than boys sat science A Levels (biology, chemistry and physics combined) for the first time ever. There remains a large gender gap, however, in physics and maths. Fewer than a quarter (22.6%) of those taking physics in the same year were girls.

But differences in pay, sector representation and opportunities for progression after completion of an apprenticeship are all factors that contribute to the gender gap in certain industries.

How Can We #BreakTheBias and Address the Gender Imbalance in Apprenticeships?

There’s no doubt that the opportunities for women are there. More and more organisations are developing apprenticeship recruitment plans that promote equality and opportunity for female apprentices in an attempt to balance the female to male apprenticeship ratio. There are almost 700 apprenticeship standards ranging from Level 2 to Level 7 (either approved for delivery or in development) in a whole range of subjects that span:

  1. agriculture, environmental and animal care

  2. business and administration

  3. care services

  4. catering and hospitality

  5. construction

  6. creative and design

  7. digital

  8. education and childcare

  9. engineering and manufacturing

  10. hair and beauty

  11. health and science

  12. legal, finance and accounting

  13. protective services

  14. sales, marketing and procurement

  15. transport and logistics

Unfortunately, however, women are still present in too few of these industries. There’s no doubt, therefore, that more needs to be done to promote the extensive range of apprenticeships available. After all, if you don’t know it exists, how can you apply to do an apprenticeship in it? Additionally, having more female role models talking about their experience of completing non-traditional apprenticeships and the opportunities that follow will only serve to break down the stereotypes and biases, inspire their peers to follow the same route and widen participation.

Employers also have a role to play. Those employers that actively promote apprenticeship opportunities to females report a wide range of additional benefits, including an increase in underrepresented groups; national recognition and awards; increased customer and employee satisfaction; and greater staff retention. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

So, if you’re an employer looking for an apprentice to join your business, ask yourself whether your incumbent recruitment practices encourage applications from females. If they do, ask yourself whether there’s a female apprentice in your organisation who could act as a role model to encourage others. Choose to challenge what you do and how you do it. That’s how biases get broken.

If you would like to learn more about Rubitek’s values, its culture, and what we are doing to make apprenticeships better for everyone, email or call us on 0330 133 0540.


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