Apprenticeships; only those from stable family homes need apply
Connor Green’s IPED student essay on apprenticeship and inclusion confirms that apprenticeship schemes are a highly topical subject in the UK. The debate on apprenticeship schemes has been fuelled by political parties in the run-up to the general election of 2015. The Conservative party have promised to create 3 million new apprenticeship schemes, whilst the Labour party have promise 80,000 new apprenticeship schemes each year (Wintour, 2015). Apprenticeships are seen as a key route into employment that connects with the requirement of young people to engage in education and training till they are 18. Thus new apprenticeships still include traditional skill training and employment recognition but off-the job training offered by colleges and private providers, funding to contribute to off-the-job training costs and an industry wide framework based on NVQs
As the OECD points in its skills report apprenticeships are a good fit for young people who may have the qualifications for HE but who consider that HE is not for them, and for other young people who are less academic and want to learn technical skills while working. It also stresses the need for apprenticeships to be opened up to women and disadvantaged young people generally. This support for apprenticeships is good news for employers who remain committed to training and developing a new generation of young people with key technical skills, which is fundamental to good quality apprenticeships schemes. But the OECD also stress the importance of good governance to avoid young people being exploited as cheap labour, which may be a risk as apprentice routes are widened in the UK to include new industries and new sectors.
As apprenticeship schemes expand from their traditional heartlands of construction and manufacturing to include public services such as local government, finance and even estate agencies. There has been one area that has been politically contentious and that is the low level of minimum pay for apprentices, which is set by government. There has always been an element of cost sharing re training among employers and apprentices but there have been concerns about the low level of apprenticeship wages and the threat of exploitation.
For example the former business secretary Vince Cable has been particularly vocal in support for a rise in the apprentice national minimum wage (Horsley, 2015). Additionally trade unions have expressed concern at the level of apprenticeship pay which they label as exploitative (BBC, 2015). Trade unions bodies including the national union of stduents also express concern that apprentice schemes are not fully inclusive for young people due to the low level of pay (NUS, 2015). On the 17th March 2015 the UK coalition government announced a 20% increase in the apprenticeship national minimum wage which took effect in October 2015.
Minimum Wage Levels
|Year||21and over||18 to20||Under 18||Apprentice*|
|2015 (current rate)||£6.70||£5.30||£3.87||£3.30|
*This rate is for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. All other apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age. Https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates
However, despite these rises Green (2015) indicates that the OECD is right to highlight governance as an issue with apprenticeships. A National Union of Students (2015) report states that the apprentice wage is not enough to cover basic living expenses such as travel, rent and food. In order to cover these expenses many apprentices are having to seek additional part-time employment. It is argued the exploitative wage results in potential apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds being excluded from the scheme due to the unaffordability. London Council (2012) reported that many young people would in fact be better off receiving benefits than partaking in an apprenticeship scheme. It is also argued the low wage of apprentice scheme creates an inclusivity to those with financially secure parental support, with low income families being unable to afford the resulting loss of child benefit. Also there is evidence Winterbotham et al. (2014) found that 24% of 16-18 year old apprentices are paid below their entitled minimum wage rate, a worrying trend when the level of pay is below the minimum wage. And this was the case with one apprentice that Green interviewed. Furthermore there is unequal apprenticeship wage distribution the TUC (2013) reported in (2013) that women had no representation in the highest paid apprenticeship occupations such as electricians, whose training has a higher cost premium. However it has to be recognised that the importance of pay to some apprentices is low because it is offset by training and development opportunities.
The apprentices all had negative perceptions of the apprentice national minimum wage. In regard to the apprentice national minimum wage as Green’s interviews (2015) outline the apprentices found travel and living costs difficult to meet: “It is barely enough to pay the bus fares to work each week…” (Apprentice 1, Sales) “No one could possibly live on £2 something an hour” which was the figure when the apprentice was interviewed. (Apprentice 3, Manufacturing).
A politician who was interviewed accepted that the pay was low but that was why the level was reviewed each year. A manufacturer who employed apprentices picked up on the politicians point about affordability “I recognise it is low…but we must consider the costs”. But this viewpoint was not shared by all the employers with an insurer who pays well above the minimum rate confirming that they didn’t think the low levels were fair.
A notion of unfairness emerged when talking to the apprentices as one apprentice who received over £7.00 a hour indicated with the low rate. It’s ridiculous… it takes the piss out of people” (Apprentice 2, Insurance).The apprentices all had negative perceptions of the apprentice national minimum wage. In regard to the apprentice national minimum wage the apprentices stated that travel and living costs were difficult to meet because they were barely able to pay the bus fares to work and that anyone who had to live on ‘£2, something an hour’ would struggle to keep a car on the road that would get them to work.
It was clear that the apprentices were dependent on family support because of the low levels of pay. For example, a manufacturing apprentice made reference to how cautious he/she had to be when spending and not living at home was not an option. It was the only way to afford the apprenticeship. A hairdressing apprentice considered her/himself to be entirely financially dependent on parental handouts: “I’m not financially dependent on myself at all really… Mum and Dad pay for everything” (Apprentice 4, Hairdressing).
The role of family support in apprenticeships was also mentioned by the trade union representative who viewed it as crucial for successfully completing an apprenticeship scheme because without it they “can’t even get to work” (Union representative). Furthermore the plastics manufacturer who ran 20 apprenticeships regarded parental support as vital to apprenticeship schemes: “It is important with apprenticeship schemes that you have a stable, supportive family” (Plastics manufacturer).
Based on an analysis of Green’s research this suggests that apprenticeships in the UK are viewed as tenable only when apprentices have stable family backgrounds and support, which as the OECD report highlights is not helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have more fragmented families. There also needs to be a recognition of the extent of financial dependency on parents and guardians in being able to pursue an apprenticeship scheme and this is clear in the government web-site which has an information site for parents and guardians. This is a point that needs to be considered politically as there is an assumption that all young people have access to this support, which is not always the case and that young people from more challenging home environment will self-select themselves out of consideration and find themselves excluded from this type of work thereby continuing to perpetuate wider social exclusion for those from unstable family backgrounds.