Overcoming The Barriers To Accessing Apprenticeships

This paper was written by Julia Muir, CEO Gaia Innovation Ltd, as a briefing document for The 5% Club. Gaia Innovation works to build long lasting relationships between schools, employers and universities, and provides Inspirational Careers Events, Apprenticeship Out Reach Programmes, and School/ Employer Engagement Programmes


Apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16 living in England, although there are different entry requirements depending on the sector and job. However, although they are available, they are not currently accessible to all. In a blow to social mobility and inclusion, young people from low income families, females and ethnic minority groups face higher barriers than others. The “Building ladders of opportunity” paper published in March 2017 by the National Learning and Work Institute found that there are currently significant inequalities in access to apprenticeships by household income, ethnicity, gender, disability, and caring responsibilities.

The barriers to accessing apprenticeships include:

  • financial – insufficient household income
  • lack of access to information and careers advice in schools
  • negative image and lack of parity of esteem reinforced by parents and teachers
  • relatively limited transferability of the apprenticeship qualification
  • prior qualifications – being under or over qualified
  • lack of access to apprentice role models and employers
  • an application process that is difficult to navigate
  • gender stereotypes and segregation
  • lack of apprenticeships with flexible hours
  • ethnicity
  • geographical location



There are a number of factors that combine to cause significant financial barriers, particularly for those from low-income families. Leaving full-time education and becoming an apprentice changes the status of 16-19 year olds as being in employment rather than in education, and this has significant financial implications for the young person and their family.

The gap in participation in higher education between young people from higher and lower household incomes is well known. Perhaps less well known is a similar gap in apprenticeships. Research has shown that young people eligible for free school meals (a proxy for low household income) are less likely to undertake apprenticeships. Young people eligible for free school meals are half as likely to undertake an Advanced Apprenticeship as their peers in some regions.

Low wages

Lower level apprenticeships typically pay minimum wage. The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £3.50 per hour. This rate applies to apprentices under 19 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year, after which they are covered by the relevant age related minimum wage. The age related minimum wage is:

  • £4.05 under 18
  • £5.60 between 18 and 20
  • £7.05 between 21 and 24
  • £7.50 25 and over (the National Living Wage)

Therefore apprentices under 18 are earning only 47% of the National Living Wage, which for a standard apprentice 35-hour working week equates to just £122.50 per week before deductions.  This barely covers the costs of meals, travel and clothing required to look presentable in the job.


Due to the employment status of apprentices, they are no longer classed as dependents

Families on a low income lose benefits due to this change of status, which will incur a greater loss than their child is earning. These benefits include:

  • Child benefit
  • Child tax credit
  • Council tax reduction
  • Housing benefit

In addition, single parent families lose the child maintenance from the non-resident parent if the young person is no longer in full time education.

Due to apprentices not being classed as students, they are no longer eligible for school/college related assistance

Such financial assistance includes:

  • Free school meals
  • Study bursaries
  • Care to Learn assistance – which pays for childcare when studying

Apprentices usually have to travel much further to work than travelling to school, thus incurring greater travel costs than those in school

  • The cost of public transport varies significantly across the UK
  • Some regions have this year started to offer access to subsidised fares but this is not an entitlement everywhere.
  • If travel is truly unaffordable, the young person’s access to apprenticeships will be severely limited to only those near to home

Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships are not eligible for student loans

  • A higher level/ degree apprenticeship away from home would therefore be inaccessible to a young person from a low income family
  • Access is therefore limited by means of either socioeconomic status because higher income families can subsidise travel or accommodation, or geographical location; leading to a huge barrier for low income families in deprived, low opportunity areas

In order to enable apprentices from all socioeconomic backgrounds to access the full range of apprenticeships the following solutions should be explored:

  • Reclassify apprentices under 19 as dependents due to the fact that most will be remaining at home and earning insufficient wages to contribute to the family income. This should apply to child maintenance settlements as well as welfare benefits
  • Give apprentices under 19 the equivalent status of students and so enable access to subsidised travel across the UK
  • Introduce an Apprentice Premium, mirroring the Pupil Premium, along with a Quality and Access Fund in the Apprenticeship Levy that will assist employers to widen access to Free School Meal eligible youngsters, as suggested by the National Learning and Work Institute
  • Widen the number of employers and universities offering higher and degree apprentices to enable a better geographical coverage. Employers situated a long distance away from universities could look to the Open University as a potential solution
  • Higher and Degree Apprenticeships could be made eligible for student maintenance loans (tuition fees are covered by the employer) to cover accommodation costs and to enable access to universities far from the employer and apprentice home location. The repayment could be recovered in the form of a graduate tax as per other student loans, but perhaps at a lower rate to reflect the lower loan value.

As inflation rises, employers should consider including benefits such as free or subsidised meals, accommodation or travel passes, or increasing apprentice wages to the National Living Wage level as per employers such as Barclays and Prudential.



Apprenticeship start rates have been sluggish, and there has been a decline in apprenticeship success rates. Around 30 per cent of apprenticeship starts by people under 24 do not result in a completion.  This could partly be as a result of insufficient information being available to a young person to ensure that they make the right career choice. There are multiple reasons why students do not get sufficient access to information about apprenticeships.

Education Policy

Education policy in the last 20 years has been to promote the need to achieve high levels of academic attainment, and widen access to university. This is not aligned with the policy to increase the number of apprenticeships. Far less focus is put on widening participation in apprenticeships, compared to higher education (where £750 million is invested annually).

Schools are Incentivised to Keep Students in the 6th Form

Funding, attainment league tables and Ofsted assessments all combine to create pressure which leads to a school either not informing students about apprenticeships or actively discouraging them to consider them.

Schools admit to targets of up to 90% staying in their 6th form – so if the students pass their 3 A*to C grade GCSEs needed for A level study they are actively encouraged to stay on in order to maintain school funding levels. This is because the funding for the school is linked to pupil numbers, with extra provision for special needs.

School leadership often oppose the promotion of apprenticeships to all but the least academically capable.  Apprenticeship providers wishing to talk to school students have often only been given access to those unlikely to progress to 6th form or college, so other students remain in the dark about their options. The All About School Leavers Research 2017 found that one third of school leaders do not tell students about apprenticeships.

Careers Policy

In 2011 the responsibility to provide careers guidance was taken away from local authorities and the Department for Education funded Connexions service that coordinated this was closed down. The responsibility was given directly to schools but with no extra funding or controls on how careers guidance should be given, and this led to the removal of many dedicated careers advisers who would perhaps have had a broader outlook on the employment landscape than teachers. Many schools now have a member of the teaching or leadership staff with the responsibility for overseeing careers provision to the very minimal level required by Ofsted, but with minimal budget to assist. For many pupils the only careers guidance they will receive will be a short interview in Year 9 with an external careers specialist to discuss GCSE option choices.

With the goal to send the vast majority of students on to higher and further education courses, it is easy to see how schools will not feel obliged to inform students about apprenticeships.

A nationwide study undertaken by Prudential among 16-18 year olds found that nearly half (47 per cent) admit to not knowing about apprenticeship opportunities and 61 per cent do not know which employers offer apprenticeships.

2016 research from LifeSkills created with Barclays revealed over a third (36%) of 14- to 25-year-olds felt an apprenticeship was just a backup if they weren’t able to get into higher or further education. Nearly one in four (23%) also felt that it was only a route for those that are not academic.

The recently published UK careers strategy has now communicated a requirement for all schools to “give providers of apprenticeships the opportunity to talk to all pupils” from January 2018. However, providers tend to be specialists in certain sectors, and so pupils would only get to hear about a narrow range of apprenticeships.

It is no longer mandatory for schools to arrange work experience for their Year 10 students. Schools that have continued to provide this service to their students report that it is beneficial for many young people, and often helps them to make future career decisions.

Teacher Influence

Many teachers have only experienced a route to their job via university, and have a very limited understanding of the requirements of other forms of employment and career routes.  Giving teachers the role of Careers Leader and removing dedicated careers specialists who often did not go to university has helped to reinforce bias towards the university route.

All About School Leavers surveyed 210 UK head teachers as part of its annual research into the school leaver careers market – alongside 15,200 students, 5,300 parents, 500 teachers and 380 careers advisers – to gain a broad understanding of relevant parties’ knowledge and opinions on school leaver options such as apprenticeships.

The resulting report – The School Leaver Careers Market 2017 – found that, despite not being trained specifically to do so, 67% of subject teachers say that their students ask them about school leaver options. And this is a frequent occurrence too: 44% say their students ask them for advice about the future more than once a week, and a further 19% say it happens more than once a month.

However, many head teachers underestimate how often their subject teachers are asked about careers: more than half think this only happens a few times a month or a few times a term. This contradicts what their subject teachers are experiencing on the ground.

The same research showed that many heads do not know what is legally required of them in terms of careers guidance. Just over 30% of head teachers do not think it is a legal requirement to “ensure independent careers guidance is presented in an impartial manner”, despite it being a duty of theirs.

Almost half of head teachers surveyed also believed “helping every pupil develop high aspirations and consider a broad and ambitious range of careers” was not part of their legal duty.

The Education Act 2011 places schools under a duty to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils from September 2012. It inserted a new duty, section 42A, into Part VII of the Education Act 1997, requiring schools to secure access to independent careers guidance for pupils in years 9-11, which must be presented in an impartial manner and promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships and other work-based education and training options.

Despite being approached by both students and parents, subject teachers display a knowledge gap when it comes to school leaver options. While nearly all of them (97%) know about university options, less than half are aware of apprenticeships, school leaver programmes and work shadowing schemes.

In the same study, when asked about Intermediate Apprenticeships, the number of teachers recognising their equivalence with GCSEs declined this year – 82% in 2015, down to 67% in 2017. Roughly the same is true of Advanced Apprenticeships: the number of teachers correctly identifying them as equivalent to A-levels dropped from 83% in 2015 to 68% in 2017. Over half identified Higher Apprenticeships correctly (59%), but a significant number did not. Head teachers’ knowledge is similar to that of subject teachers.

To improve the access to information and advice about apprenticeships in schools the following solutions should be explored:

  • Research undertaken by Professor Louise Ryan of Sheffield University concluded that it was necessary to rethink school league tables to incentivise schools to promote apprenticeships so that apprenticeships are counted as a positive destination outcome and success is not judged simply on A-level results and progression to university
  • With the imminent introduction of T- Levels to further complicate post 16 career choices, clear and detailed guidance must be provided to schools to enable them to inform students about A levels, T levels and Advanced Apprenticeships as alternative pathways with equal weighting
  • Teachers, head teachers and careers specialists must be advised of how apprenticeships could be the right choice for far more students than they currently anticipate. This must be in addition to any nominated Career Leader in the school
  • A third party could be funded to visit schools to provide advice to students and teachers on the full range and levels of apprenticeships, e.g. the recent visits to schools by Inspiring the Future and GetMyFirstJob.co.uk
  • Timing of such advice is critical. The end of Year 10 would be the optimum point, particularly if aligned with work experience weeks because post 16 options will begin to be on the young person’s radar.
  • Work experience in Year 10 should be reintroduced, with employers encouraged to participate and promote their involvement as part of their corporate social responsibility actions
  • All About School Leavers have created a “Careers Pathways Cheat Sheet” to provide “at a glance” information to advise school staff of the equivalency of apprentice qualifications, and this type of handy guide should be made available to all school staff, students and their parents
  • The National Careers Strategy requirement to give apprentice providers access to all students should be strengthened to include an obligation to give students information about the full range of apprenticeships, and this should be written into Ofsted requirements
  • A single digital portal should be used to inform students, parents and teachers about apprenticeships. It is recommended that this should be via a recognised and trusted site such as UCAS, that schools are familiar with and that will help apprenticeships to be given parity to advanced and higher education



In research undertaken by the Partnership for Young London examining the perceptions and attitudes young people have of their post-16 choices, it was found that apprenticeships are still viewed as a fall back option, with participants seeing them as a ‘Plan C’, providing less opportunity, respect, and flexibility.

Apprenticeships have a negative image amongst parents and teachers that is based upon traditional blue-collar stereotypes of an Intermediate Apprenticeship, and tainted with experiences of past youth training schemes or unregulated apprenticeships that did not lead to secure employment or progression.

Apprenticeships are seen as only for low academic achievers with low literacy levels

Teachers and parents view them as for low achievers because there is a legacy that apprentices had very few O levels or CSEs in the past. School staff often do not know that GCSE passes are needed by employers for many Intermediate apprenticeships, and believe they are largely a route for students with special needs or learning difficulties, or who are not suited to classroom based learning.

This perception leads to teachers, students and parents believing that the apprenticeship route is not suitable for a student capable of achieving GCSE passes, particularly in English or humanities.

The Partnership for Young London research also found that apprentices are more stereotyped than university students, negatively seen as ‘school leavers’ or as someone who ‘can’t do college’, and that university, unlike apprenticeships, has a strong lifestyle appeal. Participants have clear positive perceptions about university student life, ranging from independent living to clubs and societies, which are not associated with apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are seen as only for low skilled blue-collar trades and low paid sectors.

The research findings also reinforced that apprenticeships are viewed as more for males under 18, a reflection on the perception that apprenticeships provide skills for male dominated sectors such as construction and plumbing.

There is still a widely held perception in schools that apprenticeships involve only low or semi skilled jobs using manual labour, and which in particular do not use high level literacy skills. This means that young people with good literacy skills, and those wishing to pursue careers in technology, the creative industries, engineering and business tend to believe that staying on at school is the most suitable option for them.

According to the Prudential research, 47 per cent of 16 – 25 year olds they surveyed believe most apprenticeships involve manual labour and 53 per cent believe opportunities for girls are mainly in nursing, health and beauty and childcare.

According to the Social Mobility Commission, the most popular apprenticeship frameworks for young people do actually remain in areas associated with lower pay. The 2014 apprenticeship pay survey identifies four frameworks that pay below average: hairdressing, children’s care, construction (and related), business (and related) and engineering. Of the top ten most popular apprenticeship frameworks for under-19s (by apprenticeship starts in 2014/15) the top four all fall into the lower paying categories listed above. Many of the others fall into categories identified by the Social Mobility Commission as problematic in terms of low pay and progression.  This serves to reinforce the negative image of apprenticeships.

Lack of awareness of variety of apprentice roles

There is very little awareness of the variety of apprenticeships and how job roles have advanced due to technology.  Whilst running automotive sector apprenticeship awareness programmes, Gaia Innovation have found that students and school staff expressed amazement that it is not a “mechanic” role but a vehicle technician role using advanced technology diagnostic equipment needing electrical and digital rather than mechanical skills, and that have been surprised that there are multiple apprentice roles in the sector including marketing, digital, IT and customer service.

Logistics industry professionals have reported finding that schools and students are unaware that the role of picker/packer has been replaced by skilled supervisors who programme automated systems.  School staff are often unaware that many “white collar” sectors such as law, management consultancy, accountancy and insurance have apprenticeship programmes.

Lack of awareness of apprenticeship levels and limited access to progression opportunities

In a question to students in the All About School Leavers Research 2017, 56% didn’t know the difference between the levels of apprenticeships. Only half of parents could name the four levels. However 72% of students said they would choose a degree apprenticeship over a standard degree if possible. It is evident that the word “degree” in the title gives the apprenticeship equivalent currency.  If the Advanced Apprenticeship was to be more widely known as A Level Apprenticeship this could perhaps achieve parity of esteem also.

There is a perception that apprenticeships only lead to entry-level jobs with limited progression opportunities, and that more senior roles are only filled by graduates.

There are limited opportunities to access Higher and Degree Apprenticeships because currently they are only available in they are only in a narrow range of sectors. Of the 4,200 Higher Apprenticeship starts by 19-24-year-olds in 2014/15 the top ten most popular frameworks make up 90 per cent (3,800) of the starts. The list is dominated by accountancy, care, IT, business administration and management roles. This shows that while there are growing apprenticeship routes into some professions, there remain many sectors that higher apprenticeships do not penetrate.

Most young HE entrants at 18 or 19 are working towards an undergraduate degree – a level 6 qualification. UCAS recorded just fewer than 180,000 entrants to HE in 2015 aged 19-25 – around 40 times the number of 19-24- year-olds starting higher apprenticeships in the same period. There need to be more apprenticeship opportunities at a higher level if it is to truly compete with university in terms of both routes to high quality work and perceptions of employers and potential students.

Parental Influence

Parents are a key influence on the career paths which children choose and many parents see university as a route to a higher social status and therefore preferential to an apprenticeship.  Many parents are also likely to have a limited or out of date understanding of the apprentice job roles currently available.

Redrow’s survey of 1,000 parents of school age children revealed that 33% of parents believe a career in construction mostly involves manual labour and more than a quarter (28%) of parents believe a career in construction mostly involves being on a building site. The result is that more than 72% of parents have never discussed the prospect of a career in construction with their child. More parents have discussed the prospect of their child undertaking an apprenticeship (65%); however this means that approximately one third are not speaking to their parents about this option.

In the Investors in People Apprenticeship Perception poll 2017 52% of parents surveyed described their understanding of an apprenticeship as predominantly being a career route for people who want to work in the trades.

The Partnership for young London research found that families are a source of direct pressure to go to university, with cultural and racial identity and attitudes towards education being significant.

In order to improve the image and attractiveness of apprenticeships the following solutions should be explored:

  • More must be done by employers to promote and celebrate apprentice progression and success stories because long term earnings and employment outcomes are the ultimate indicator of the quality of apprenticeship and whether it was a smart career choice
  • Employers offering non stereotypical apprenticeships, particularly in new high tech roles such as cyber security and digital marketing should be encouraged to make their apprenticeships more visible and widely known
  • Employers in sectors currently only offering Intermediate apprenticeships should be encouraged to provide progression opportunities and offer Advanced and Higher level apprenticeships, so these are more accessible in a wider range of sectors. The Sutton Trust recommends that “There should be a focus on higher and advanced apprenticeships, along with automatic apprenticeship progression”
  • Apprenticeships need to be promoted with equivalent currency to further education, as has been achieved at the Degree Apprenticeship level. It is recommended that Advanced Level Apprenticeships could be rebranded as A Level Apprenticeship, and Intermediate could be referred to as GCSE Level Apprenticeship to improve understanding amongst employers and applicants.
  • A media campaign by the 5% Club to inform parents and teachers about apprenticeships would be beneficial
  • The range of transferable skills gained through an apprenticeship, such as leadership and project management, and the demand from employers for these skills, should be better communicated to young people and to those advising them, including parents and teachers



Many employers and business sectors prefer to create their own specialist apprenticeships when in fact the more generic the apprenticeship the more attractive it would be to a young person due to potential transferability.  It is potentially seen as a decision that could limit their future career options, as opposed to further and higher education that widens career possibilities.

The following solutions to the lack of transferability of apprenticeships should be explored:

  • Through the new apprentice frameworks employers should be encouraged to adopt more generic apprenticeships that have cross sector currency, and encouraged to include additional training that sets the learning into their individual business context. E.g. the automotive retail sector is currently trying to get approval for apprenticeships in sales, service advisor and parts advisor roles when all could be covered by a generic cross sector customer service apprenticeship with specific job role training added.
  • More information should be made available to students about the transferability of apprentice qualifications both within employers and across sectors and professional specialisms



The Intermediate level apprenticeship is the equivalent of GCSEs, yet many employers require three GCSEs grade A* to C (often the same entry criteria for school 6th form to study A levels) thus creating confusion and limiting access for those who do not have the required qualifications.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s March 2016 submission to the Apprenticeships Inquiry by the sub-committee on Education, Skills and the Economy stated that the majority of apprenticeship starts by young people are not a step up from their last level of study. For young people, an apprenticeship is rarely competitive in qualification levels with academic equivalents studied by the same age group: 68 per cent of A-level age apprentices (under 19) are studying at GCSE equivalent; 98 per cent of degree-age apprentices (19-24) are studying at A- level equivalent or lower. This really matters: higher qualifications bring higher rewards.

Almost all (97%) 19-24-year-olds and most (68%) under-19-year-olds start apprenticeships at qualifications levels below what a natural next step would be if apprentices were following a standard academic track.

While there has been an increase from 22 to 31 per cent of apprentices of A-level age (under 19) doing A-level equivalent apprentices over the decade, less than 3 per cent of apprentices of degree age (19-24) start Higher Apprenticeships

While apprenticeships are seen as a lower level offer than the academic alternative there is a risk of their being perceived as a route for those with less potential.

For the degree-age group, 19-24-year-olds, almost all apprenticeship starts are below higher education level. Only 2.6 per cent of this group started Higher Apprenticeships in 2014/15. This is important because it signals what the apprenticeship route can offer in comparison to university.

Barclays have removed academic entry requirements to encourage a more diverse range of applicants. Evaluation of this policy has shown that, with the right support, these recruits have the same level of success as those who met the previous entry requirements.

The following solutions to students being under or over qualified for apprenticeships should be explored:

  • Employers should be encouraged not to use equivalent qualifications as selection criteria for apprenticeships e.g. employers should not use GCSE qualifications above D grade as a filter for Intermediate Apprenticeships. Alternative assessments such as verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning tests could be employed, along with work based assessments.
  • If employers require A* to C grade GCSEs they must be encouraged to offer Advanced Apprenticeships rather than the Intermediate Apprenticeships.
  • If employers require A level or equivalent qualifications they must be encouraged to offer Higher or Degree Apprenticeships



There is a lack of positive visible apprentice role models, and it is important for young people to  “see it to be it”. Arguably the BBC’s The Apprentice does not help to portray apprentices in a positive light, and there are few depictions of apprentices in TV soaps and dramas.

There is also little awareness of what the lifestyle, training and working environment of an apprentice is in comparison to attending school, college or university. The reality is that there is a huge variation in terms of the working life of apprentices, with some employers investing in dedicated training facilities, high tech office and work environments, and higher than average levels of compensation and benefits.

Many employers undertake out reach programmes with schools, but not many focus on the apprenticeships they offer as their key message, or take apprentices into schools to meet students.

The following solutions to providing access to apprentice role models and employers should be explored:

  • It would be beneficial for government and employers to promote what an apprentice lifestyle entails through case studies on websites, social media and promotional literature
  • Employers could organise social groups and networks e.g. Rolls Royce have an Apprentice and Graduate Association that organises social events and activities
  • Employers who invest in a high standard of working environment and training should promote this fact widely
  • Employers should engage with schools both locally and further afield to promote their apprentice programmes to teachers and students, and to explain the application process, the different levels, and to invite students to open days at their training centres and work locations. Taking an apprentice to schools will help to bring transparency to the apprentice role
  • Employers should be encouraged to undertake out reach programmes to the wider local community to inform parents about their apprenticeships as well as young people



The process for continuing on to further and higher education is relatively simple. Schools dedicate curriculum time to assist with UCAS applications and personal statements, and assist students, but either do not know how to or are unwilling to help those who are interested in applying for apprenticeships.

There is a lack of awareness that UCAS also provide information about apprenticeships on their website, although notably the statement on their website says that apprenticeships are an “ideal option if you have a clear idea of the career path you want to follow”. This gives the impression that those who do not have clear idea (arguably most young people) are not suited, or reinforces that there is a limited transferability of the apprenticeship qualification.

Charlie Burton, a final year electro technical apprentice at NG Bailey, wrote in an article for FM World:

“It’s been hard for all of us to get to where we are. We had little support in finding courses and advice about becoming an apprentice. We were largely left to our own devices, researching our options and making decisions based on limited understanding and knowledge about what would be required.

My school tried to push me down the university route, but I knew that wasn’t for me. When I asked about apprenticeships they just told me to go online.”

It is possible to apply for apprentice roles via the UCAS website, but currently not all vacancies are advertised there. The Gov.UK Find An Apprenticeship website is an alternative source, but the location on Gov.UK is not an intuitive place to host vacancies, and the visual look and style is very unattractive. There are multiple specialist websites and generic jobs boards advertising apprenticeships. Many large employers with household names only post vacancies on their own website.

It is possible that the lack of a one-stop-shop for apprentice information and applications is a key factor leading to the situation where the apprentice population does not reflect the wider population in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, young people are undertaking apprenticeships they are over qualified for, and applications are lower than employers need.


The following solutions to make the application process easier to navigate should be explored:

  • It should be mandatory that all apprenticeship opportunities appear on the UCAS website. This is the most likely portal that school staff will use to assist students because they are already familiar with it. Being located in the same place as higher education opportunities will help to improve the understanding of the equivalent value of apprenticeship.
  • The UCAS website could be powered by the Gov.UK Find An Apprenticeship database, and so it would be mandatory that all employers post their apprenticeship vacancies to the database, and in so doing they appear on both websites
  • Employers would be free to advertise elsewhere also, such as on their own and specialist websites
  • The Social Mobility Commission recommends that a UCAS like system be introduced that brings together not just what courses are available but also their likely outcomes.
  • A UCAS type clearing system could be introduced within sectors, which would forward unsuccessful applicant details to other local companies with similar vacancies. This significantly reduces effort required by both the potential apprentice and the employer. This currently operates successfully in the automotive component supplier sector, and is powered by the Get My First Job.Co.uk database
  • Potential apprentices should be encouraged to apply to at least five apprenticeship vacancies, applying the same principle of choosing five universities via UCAS



Apprentice roles are traditionally gender stereotyped and there has been little progress in closing the gender gap in occupations such as hairdressing, childcare and beauty or bricklaying and plumbing.  This leads to female students who wish to develop their skills out of school being channelled solely into relatively few “hair and care” roles that are therefore significantly oversubscribed (thus driving wages and security down in the sector) and male students being channelled into construction and repair roles which they may not be suited for.

The National Learning and Work Institute found that in 2015/16, women made up 52 per cent of apprenticeships. However, this hides significant segregation by sector and occupation. Men account for the majority of apprenticeships in: construction (98%), engineering (94%), information and communication technology (82%), and leisure (67%). Women make up the majority of apprenticeships in: health (81%), education (80%), business administration (63%), and retail (60%).

While the level of an apprenticeship will determine earnings and future opportunities, the sector an apprenticeship is in matters hugely. Different sectors have varied potential for pay increases, and progressing in skill and responsibility – different sectors also offer a variety of working arrangements to help family’s balance earning a living and raising children. This underscores the importance of informed choice and of the need for all jobs to be designed in such a way to reduce gender segregation.

The sectors and occupations women are more likely to undertake apprenticeships in tend to be lower paid. This inequality in participation therefore contributes inequalities in pay. Therefore apprenticeships are too often reinforcing gender pay inequalities.

The National Learning and Work Institute also found that women represent just 7 per cent of engineering and manufacturing technologies (EMT) applicants. In addition, 75 per cent of female EMT applicants submit just one application to the sector, whereas 43 per cent of men submitted two or more applications. There is little difference in success rates for each application submitted: the difference is that more men apply and they each make more applications on average.

In a bid to overcome gender segregation in the construction sector, Balfour Beatty has set targets for the recruitment of women onto its apprenticeship and graduate schemes. The programmes will aim to have an intake that is 20% female in 2017, 30% female in 2020 rising to an equal split in 2025.

In the automotive sector, some members of the UK Automotive 30% Club have this year set targets of 30% of the apprentice intake to be female, to help reach their goal of 30% of leadership positions to be filled by women by 2030.

National Infrastructure Plan supplier companies are also expected to put actions in place to employ more female apprentices.

The following solutions to ending gender stereotypes and segregations should be explored:

  • More action must be taken by employers in male dominated sectors with skills deficits to increase the number of women applying for their apprenticeships. It is beneficial for these employers to be “publicly passionate’ about diversity.
  • Employers should visibly promote their part time and flexible working practices, because many female students do not believe it is possible to work in male dominated sectors and balance future child care obligations
  • Employers should reach out to female students in schools, have open days for female students and their parents
  • Female students should be encouraged to submit multiple applications in order to ensure success
  • Students must be given advice in schools that sectors such as hairdressing and beauty are highly competitive, oversubscribed, and lead to insecure and low paid jobs
  • Healthcare is a growth sector with a skills deficit and so both male and female students should be given more advice about opportunities in that sector



A lack of flexibility in the apprenticeship offer, whether in terms of hours, length or type of delivery, will mean some people cannot undertake an apprenticeship. It will also mean some employers, who may not have a full-time vacancy but could have a part-time opening, are not able to offer an apprenticeship.

A range of people could potentially benefit from flexible apprenticeships, including people with disabilities and health problems, and with caring responsibilities One in five people have a health problem or disability. But just one in ten apprentices has a disability or learning difficulty.

Many young people have caring responsibilities for their own children, siblings or parents, and so find it difficult to undertake full time work on apprentice level pay.

The following solutions for providing apprenticeships with flexible hours should be explored:

  • Employers should publicly promote their flexible and part time working practices, and extend them to their apprenticeship programmes
  • The Camden Council flexible apprenticeship pilot involves working with employers to encourage them to offer flexible apprenticeship opportunities, linking parents with these opportunities, and offering on-going support to apprentices and employers as well as financial support to top pay up to the London Living Wage. This could be offered in other towns and cities
  • Part time apprenticeships of 15 hours a week would reduce the likelihood of losing in-work benefits, and be aligned to the entitlement of 15 hours of free child care



People from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds make up 15.6 per cent of the working age population but just 10.5 per cent of apprenticeship starts.

National Learning and Work Institute analysis found that people from BAME backgrounds make up 19 per cent of all applications to the Skills Funding Agency’s Find an Apprenticeship website. However, white applicants were twice as likely to succeed in their application than BAME applicants.  The research shows sector and geography play an important role. BAME applicants are more likely to apply to sectors with high competition for apprenticeships, and to live in areas (such as London) with relatively low apprenticeship vacancies.

It should be noted that white working class men and women are also currently under-represented in apprenticeships, as well as other groups.

The following solutions should be explored to close the ethnicity gap in apprenticeships:

  • Increasing apprenticeship opportunities in areas with relatively high BAME populations would improve availability
  • Employers should communicate their inclusion policies and ensure a diversity of role models when undertaking out reach to schools
  • Marketing and communication actions should feature diverse role models, and target particular geographical areas and media
  • Employers should take action to ensure there is no conscious or unconscious bias in the recruitment process that may lead to discrimination. Examples include removing names and addresses from application form



Young people living in “transport poverty” in geographically isolated areas, and regions with low economic activity and low educational attainment such as the Government designated “cold spots” have limited access to employers offering apprenticeships. Yet these are the very people that an apprenticeship could help the most.

Young people in highly populated areas such as London face intense competition for apprenticeship opportunities.

There is a definite north-south divide in terms of the type of apprenticeship offered, with higher paid and higher level apprenticeships in digital, media and publishing, and financial services mainly available in the south, and lower paid lower level apprenticeships in child care and warehousing clustered in the north.

The following solutions should be explored to improve reduce impact of geographical location:

  • Employers should be encouraged to provide free or subsidised accommodation near to the place of work, particularly for Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, and undertake out reach programmes in cold spot areas
  • Employers with branches in cold spot areas should ensure they are included in apprenticeship programmes
  • Employers could provide free or subsidised transport from isolated outlying areas to their place of work, due to bus services being too limited



In order to address the significant inequalities in access to apprenticeships by household income, ethnicity, gender, disability, and caring responsibilities, it is essential to reduce the barriers to accessing apprenticeships. These include insufficient finances, information, advice, role models, flexibility, help with the application process and transferability of the apprenticeship qualification, as well the negative image, gender segregation, geographical location and inflated prior qualifications requirements of apprenticeships.

Many financial and parity of esteem barriers would be overcome if the apprentice status for Intermediate and Advanced Apprentices was reclassified as being in further education rather than employment, and if Higher and Degree Apprentices could access student maintenance loans.

Employers must encourage the government to invest as much in widening participation in apprenticeships  as is currently invested in widening participation in higher education, including significant investment in advice and guidance resources, as well as financial incentives for employers such as  “Apprentice Premium” funding to recruit Pupil Premium students eligible for free school meals.

Schools must be incentivised to ensure all young people are given equal levels of information and advice about A levels, T levels and apprenticeships, and to ensure gender stereotypes and segregation are challenged.

The application process for apprenticeships must be radically transformed and streamlined, and given parity of attention, esteem and assistance with university and 6th form college applications.

Employers must engage in out reach activities to showcase their apprentice programmes not only with local schools and colleges but also further afield, and should provide free of subsidised travel or accommodation to young people from isolated and cold spot areas .

Employers must ensure that they publicly promote their commitment to inclusion, feature diverse role models on websites and promotional material, and include diverse apprentices in their out reach activities.

Employers should extend their flexible and part time working policies to their apprenticeship programmes, and take action to remove any discrimination through the recruitment process

The combination of these actions would significantly reduce the barriers and widen participation in apprenticeship programmes in the UK.


– Julia Muir, CEO Gaia Innovation