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As national awareness week drew to a close, concerns are raised at lack of opportunities for all.

Between 4-8 March 2019, National Apprenticeship Week sought to create more awareness of apprenticeships and, in particular, the success of these schemes for both employers and those who train for a career as an apprentice. Although the focus has been on celebrating these schemes, there have been a number of surveys which have produced concerns regarding the diversity of such training.

Statistics have shown that white individuals aged 16-24 account for 90 per cent of all apprenticeship schemes, compared to the 82 per cent that they make up of the overall UK population. There are also significant gender differences in apprentice schemes within certain industries, for example, females account for 5 per cent of those starting apprenticeships in construction, planning and the built environment within England, whilst 94 per cent of apprenticeship starts on child development and wellbeing schemes were women.

A complementary survey by the charity Gingerbread has further revealed that 0.5 per cent of single parents of working age were undertaking an apprenticeship during the second quarter of 2018. Over the course of 2017/18, 15,000 new trainee starts were single parents; a decrease from 17,000 starts in 2016/17. The charity highlighted that there were a number of barriers to starting apprenticeships for working parents including lack of flexibility being advertised, low pay as most apprentices are paid the hourly national minimum wage rate of £3.70 in the first year and a lack of childcare options. The general decline in the number of, and quality of, apprenticeships was also pointed to by the charity.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (‘EHRC’) have called for organisations to use their legal right to undertake positive action when hiring those to undertake apprentice schemes. This includes making roles available for women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. Under the Equality Act 2010, organisations can take positive action where they have candidates who are equally suitable for the role, ie the apprenticeship, but one has a protected characteristic that is under-represented within the organisations. In these circumstances, the organisation can select the individual with the particular protected characteristic to undertake the apprenticeship. Care does need to be taken, however, to ensure this is not positive discrimination or any other form of discrimination that is outlawed by legislation.

With apprenticeships providing an opportunity to recruit and train a skilled member of the workforce, and with many organisations paying into the mandatory apprenticeship levy, those who offer these programmes may wish to consider how attractive they are to applicants looking for training opportunities. With matters such as pay, flexibility and workplace support highlighted, there are areas which can be considered to help increase the diversity and range of apprentice roles available.

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