Quality Apprenticeships and gender

Women are generally under-represented in apprenticeship programmes. They represented 46.5 per cent in Jamaica (2014); 43 per cent of apprentices in Denmark (2015) and in Italy (2013); 40 per cent in Germany (2014); 37 per cent in the Netherlands (2013); 33 per cent in France (2013); and 20-33 per cent in Belgium, depending upon the type of apprenticeship; and a long way behind, 1 per cent in Ireland (2014) (ETUC/Unionlearn, 2016, pp. 51-71). In other countries outside Europe, Canada for example, they accounted for 14 per cent in 2014 (Statistics Canada, 2017), and in Australia, they accounted for 34 per cent of apprentices and traineeships, in terms of starts in 2015 (Torii and O’Connell, 2017), and in Egypt, they accounted for 15 per cent in 2012 (ILO and World Bank, 2013a).

In few countries (e.g., England), a majority of women are in apprenticeships (table 14). However, ‘while there appears to be a gender balance in Apprenticeships overall, in reality, men and women train in markedly different sectors, reflecting and emphasising occupational segregation in the workforce generally'. Women are significantly under-represented in high-quality sectors such as engineering, while men are under-represented in low-pay sectors such as childcare. Entry into apprenticeships should be a means of reducing such segregation, but there is little sign of a more diverse mix among apprentices’ (Newton and Williams, 2013, p.3).

Table 1: Apprenticeship starts in England by gender since 2009/10

Source: House of Commons Library, 2016, p. 11.

This separation is also mirrored in Denmark and Germany. In Denmark, ‘the boys are more likely to choose a vocational training programme than the girls, and within the training programme, clear differences in choice can also be seen between the genders. Within ‘technologies, industry and transportation’, the boys account for just under 90 per cent of the students in 2014, whereas boys only account for about 14 per cent within the fields of health and education’ (Report/Perspective and action plan. 2016). In Germany in 2015, five most popular occupations chosen for apprenticeships by young women were office management clerk, medical assistant, salesperson, retail salesperson and dental nurse. Whereas young men choice was motor vehicle mechatronics technician, electrician, retail salesperson, industrial machine fitter and plant mechanic for sanitation, heating, and air conditioning systems (Federal Ministry for Education and Research, 2016, pp. 32-33).  The differences have significant economic consequences. The salaries for third-year apprentices in ‘male dominated professions’ in Germany receive an average of 795 Euros per month gross, whereas in the ‘female-dominated professions’, they receive an average of 698 Euros (German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), 2016, p. 28).

Impediments to gender equality in Quality Apprenticeship systems

There are numerous reasons why women are less likely to participate in apprenticeship programmes. While many of these apply to TVET in general, some are specific to apprenticeship programmes.

Culture and traditional gender roles

Cultural and gender roles have a strong influence on women’s occupational choices and participation in vocational education and training. Young women choosing traditionally male-dominated Quality Apprenticeship occupations often face strong resistance, while young men choosing traditionally female occupations can be exposed to ridicule. Entrenched attitudes, often reinforced by family members, make it difficult for young women to pursue career paths in many occupations.

In societies with very pronounced gender roles, social norms may also limit the ways women and men can interact. This can restrict young women’s transportation options to and from a company or a TVET institution, interaction with male apprentices and supervisors, or their participation in a school-based study with male apprentices in the same classroom.

Gender stereotyping, self-limitation and self-selection

Gender stereotypes can lead to discrimination by employers and career counsellors as well as self-limitation by young women. Even in countries with relatively high gender equality such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and Germany, there is a clear gender-based bias in terms of the occupational choices of young women and men.

In many of the traditionally female-dominated occupations, such as hairdresser or beautician, wage levels are often relatively low and career development opportunities more limited, compared to those in manufacturing and other industries. Information about these potential limitations should be part of career guidance for young people, so that it can be taken into consideration when exploring career and Quality Apprenticeship pathways.

Lack of career guidance

Young persons are exposed to different socio-cultural factors influencing their career choices, the most important being family members and friends, school, the community and the media. These influencers might, however, repeat existing gender and occupational stereotypes when giving career advice to girls and boys. In many countries, career guidance services are not well developed, and young people often make career choices with very limited information about their options, including apprenticeships.

Safety concerns, sexual harassment and gender-based violence

An essential concern about young women’s participation in apprenticeship programmes, especially in male-dominated occupations, is their safety from harassment and sexual violence. A recent UNESCO policy paper points out that gender-based violence in education and training institutions affects millions of young people worldwide. Such violence can take the form of bullying, physical aggression and sexual harassment by fellow apprentices, co-workers, teachers, trainers, employers, in-company mentors or supervisors. Gender-based violence can also take place on the way from or to the TVET institution or workplace.  There may be increased risks, given that apprenticeships are delivered in two locations, the enterprise and the TVET institution (UNESCO, 2015).

Family responsibilities

Some apprentices, particularly young women, may have family responsibilities that can make it difficult for them to participate in apprenticeships.

Available Quality Apprenticeship occupations

In many countries, the choice of occupations where apprenticeships are available is often limited and concentrated around traditional trades and crafts, many of them in occupations that are regarded as ‘male occupations’. Some of these apprenticeships are associated with hard physical work (builders, bricklayers, mechanics, and welders), and many young women dismiss them as career choices.

This has particularly been the case in Ireland. As the statistics given earlier in the text have shown,  female participation rates are very low, because most of the apprenticeships on offer have been in craft apprenticeships in sectors such as construction, electrical, engineering and motor trades. This has been recognized, and Ireland is now in the process of designing and launching a series of new occupational apprenticeships.

What steps can be taken to improve the inclusiveness of apprenticeships for young women?

The Young Women’s Trust in England has come up with a series of practical proposals to improve the inclusiveness of apprenticeship training for young women - taking positive action to increase diversity in apprenticeship programmes; improving reporting and accountability; making apprenticeships more flexible and affordable; and improving advice and support (box 36).

Box 1: Making apprenticeships work for young women - England

Taking positive action to increase diversity in Quality Apprenticeships

In the case of apprenticeships where women’s participation is disproportionately low, employers may take positive action to increase the participation of women.

  1. Setting targets for increasing the participation of women in the targeted sectors.
  2. Raising awareness amongst women of opportunities in the targeted sectors.
  3. Reserving places on training courses for women.
  4. Working with local schools, TVET institutions and directly with women and inviting them to open days, promotional events, shadowing opportunities and taster days.
  5. Providing mentoring to women who have an interest in the targeted sectors.
  6. Providing specific diversity training to all staff with recruitment responsibilities.
  7. Explicitly welcoming applications from women in advertisements and marketing material.
  8. Adapting language in advertising and descriptions in jobs/apprenticeships to ensure they attract male and female candidates.

Employers and public sector agencies should develop a diversity action plan.

Improving Reporting and Accountability

  1. Organisations offering apprenticeships should publish the number of apprentices they employ, completion rates and destinations with the figures broken down by age, gender, ethnicity, disability, apprenticeship level and role.
  2. Employers should publish targets for the ratio of male to female apprentices along with a strategy for meeting these targets.
  3. Public sector employers should lead the way on setting gender targets.

Making apprenticeships more flexible and affordable

  1. Governments and/or the social partners should commit to moving towards a single Living Wage for all age groups, regardless of apprenticeship status.
  2. Support to cover childcare costs should be made available to apprentices on the same basis as other workers.
  3. There should be a greater availability of part-time and flexible apprenticeships.

Improving advice and support

There should be a renewed focus on the advice and support given to apprentices before, during and after their apprenticeship.

  1. Employers of all sizes should offer taster days, work experience and mentors with a specific focus on encouraging gender diversity.
  2. Providers of information, advice and guidance should be trained and encouraged to deliver advice that challenges gender stereotypes.
  3. Careers services should be widely publicised to ensure access to ongoing careers advice for women of all ages.
  4. Young women working as apprentices in male-dominated sectors should be given access to mentors and additional support.

Source: Young Women’s Trust. 2016.

Countries are taking affirmative actions to promote gender equality. In Ireland, employers of designated craft apprentices may receive a total grant of 2,667 Euros for each female apprentice recruited, in an attempt to promote the entry of women into the craft apprenticeships. Germany has taken a policy measure ‘Girls’ day’ to motivate young girls and women to take up a vocational training programme. On the fourth Thursday of April every year, companies allow them to visit, gain an understanding of various professions, and make contact with those responsible for a traineeship at an early stage.