Response to The Apprenticeship (Scotland) Bill

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, established under the Equality Act 2006, became operational on 1 October 2007. The Commission took on the powers of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), with new responsibilities for sexual orientation, age, religion and belief, and human rights.

As an independent advocate for equality and human rights, the Commission aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people and promote and protect human rights.  Our vision is a society built on fairness and respect where people are confident in all aspects of their diversity.

The Commission welcomes your proposals to establish a right to undertake a modern apprenticeship (MA) for those aged between 16 and 18. The Commission believes the MA scheme could be an effective tool for providing young people with routes into work and employers with skilled workers, particularly in industries facing skills shortages.  It is necessary, however, for the government to ensure that the MA scheme functions well for all young people regardless of race, disability, gender, faith or sexual orientation.

As you may be aware, in 2003 the EOC launched a General Formal Investigation into occupational segregation in the modern apprenticeship scheme.  The findings from the investigation in Scotland, and across Great Britain, demonstrated how the MA scheme mirrored the gender segregation of jobs in the wider labour market. Further, instead of recognising and taking action to tackle the barriers preventing young people from entering non-traditional occupations, the MA scheme perpetuated gender segregation, funnelling young men into higher paid and traditionally skilled occupations, such as construction and engineering and young women into traditionally low paid undervalued MAs, such as childcare.

In addition, the investigation found the gender pay gap was embedded within the MA scheme with female MAs being paid, on average, £1 less than male MAs.  This is of particular concern to the Commission because the Government’s failure to address occupational segregation within the MA scheme has a negative effect on the earnings of women, compared to men. To comply with the Gender Equality Duties public sector policy should, where possible, include actions to address the gender pay gap.

The most recent figures released by Scottish Enterprise for modern apprenticeships in March 2007 suggest that the situation has not improved since 2003.  For example, of the 5592 construction apprentices, only 47 were female and of the 1500 plumbing apprentices only six were female, while males made up only six of the 686 early years care and education MAs. Additionally the overall numbers of females taking part in apprenticeships is very low; in March 2007 only 15.7% of apprentices were female in the 16-19 age range. These figures also indicate that the situation may be even worse for other equalities groups. For example, of the 18477 apprentices in the 16-19 age range only 53 were from a visible ethnic minority background and only 43 were disabled.  These statistics suggest that, at present, modern apprenticeships are not attracting the full range of talent that exists in Scotland and do not encourage participation from all sectors of society.

It is therefore the Commission’s view that any increase in the provision of MAs should take into account the need to attract interest and participation from all young people in Scotland. Particular attention should be paid to the way schools, colleges, Sector Skills Councils and the Government promote MAs and work should be done to ensure this promotion does not rely on assumptions about where students will most ‘fit in’ or be likely to work based on gender, faith, race, disability or sexuality.  Further, all of the work related to designing, delivering and marketing of MAs should not reinforce gender stereotypes.

To encourage students to make their own choices in this respect the Commission recommends that practical work experience or ‘taster’ sessions should be offered in a range of fields and that the current information offered to students by teachers should be reviewed.

A recent HMIE report, on the implementation of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, points to the management of transitions to post-16 employment, education or training as an area requiring more attention.   As ASL legislation covers many areas of concern to the Commission – for example children and young people with English as an additional language, disability, looked after children – we would welcome further consideration of how children with additional support needs could access MAs, and of the positive contribution MAs could make to the transition debate.

The Commission believes that thinking on equality should be built into the Apprenticeships Bill at an early stage and that a full equality impact assessment should be conducted to ensure that this policy promotes participation from groups that are currently not well served by the MA scheme.

Last Updated: 09 Jul 2009