You may not have heard of the apprenticeship levy – but it could be a game changer for women.
So how does it work?
Large employers have to pay a 0.5% levy on their annual pay bill. They must recruit and train apprentices to get this money back.
And if a smaller employer takes on an apprentice, they get 90% of the training costs paid for by the government.
These reforms will certainly boost the number of apprenticeships and hopefully the quality too.
But will they make a difference to women?
If implemented in the right way, the answer is yes.
There is still a massive gender split when it comes to apprenticeships. 94% of childcare apprentices are women, while 96% of engineering apprentices are men.
This split has real consequences. Male apprentices are typically paid 21% more per hour than females – the equivalent of £2,000 a year.
Women apprentices are more likely to end up in low-paid jobs as a result of training in female-dominated occupations where the pay isn’t as high as in male-dominated sectors.
That’s why the TUC is calling on the government to launch a new campaign targeting women apprentices. It should not only target women seeking their first job, but also those looking for a career change or returning to work after having children.
Unless we create better training and employment opportunities, challenge stereotypes and demand greater flexibility to balance work with childcare, women will continue to find it difficult to break into better paid occupations.
The role of unions
Unions can play a key role in spreading the word. There are over 35,000 union learning reps in workplaces across the UK representing all unions affiliated to the TUC.
And we will work with the government and other stakeholders to try and meet sector targets (e.g. a fifth of new entrants to engineering and technical apprenticeships in the transport sector to be women by 2020).
Getting apprenticeships right for women will improve their working lives and is important for the economy too. Britain needs a higher skilled workforce – especially with the loss of skilled migrant labour expected to follow Brexit. Doing more to help women to train for well-paid work in high-skilled sectors is a win-win.
*Kathryn Mackridge is the TUC women’s equality officer.