Female apprentices face 5 per cent pay gap, government report finds

15 Jan 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

Experts say ‘depressing’ disparity partly caused by more men studying better-paid subjects, but ‘employer ignorance’ is also a factor

Female apprentices face a gender pay gap of 5.4 per cent, government figures have shown, as experts warn that women are more likely to be on lower-paid schemes than their male counterparts.

A report, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), also found the median basic hourly pay for a male apprentice in 2018 was £7.90, compared to £7.47 for a female apprentice – a pay gap that had almost doubled since 2016.

The BEIS also found that female apprentices were more likely to be underpaid the statutory minimum wage, estimating 21 per cent of women received below either the national minimum wage or the national living wage, compared with 17 per cent of men.

Lizzie Crowley, skills policy adviser at the CIPD, said that the occupational segregation of women in certain types of apprenticeships was the biggest explanation behind the pay gap. “If you look at the types of apprenticeships women are going into, they are concentrated in areas where the pay is lower, and progression prospects are poor,” said Crowley. 

By contrast, she added, men were more likely to be concentrated in apprenticeships that “deliver some of the best returns to individuals”, such as engineering and other STEM-based subjects.

“The challenge is understanding why these choices are made. Women enter different professions and in many cases that might be to do with gender stereotyping, and choices individuals make at school,” Crowley said. “There’s definitely a case for better careers, guidance and support to make women aware of the labour market outcomes for certain types of qualifications.”

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The report found that the highest-paid apprenticeships were in management (£11.44 per hour) and retail (£7.75 per hour), while the lowest were hairdressing (£3.70 per hour) and customer services (£5.70).

Minimum wage non-compliance for Level 2 and Level 3 – GCSE equivalent – hairdressing apprenticeships was highest at 47 per cent, while management courses had the lowest level of non-compliance at 7 per cent.

But Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said wage discrepancies could also be chalked up to ignorance on the employer’s part rather than “wilful exploitation”.

“Our member providers work closely with their employers, but we know that some employers are not always aware of their obligations; for example, of the rules changing after the apprentice’s first year on a programme,” he said.

The government report also said minimum wage non-compliance “may not necessarily be malicious on the part of the employer”, and could arise from an apprentice voluntarily taking unpaid overtime, or from undertaking long hours of training in their own time. 

It also emphasises that pay can appear compliant or non-compliant because of reporting errors, as some apprentices may round their pay up or down or misremember hours worked, which would lead to an erroneous gross hourly pay figure. 

However, Crowley added that the pay gap was “certainly not just apprentices themselves misreporting”, and there was “obviously something going on there that needs to be addressed”.

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive at City & Guilds Group, said the government report made for “depressing reading”.

“It’s simply unacceptable that we continue to hear about female employees receiving fewer opportunities or formal training and less compensation than their male counterparts, purely on a basis of gender,” she said.

“Rather than accepting the status quo and waiting for change to happen, I would urge women to recognise the real value we have in the world and the workplace.”

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