Anne Milton: employers in the 'Dark Ages' on hiring female apprentices

The skills minister says employers' unwillingness to hire women on part-time or flexible contracts is leading to a 'wealth of talent' being wasted

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Employers need to rethink their methods of recruiting female apprentices if the UK is to advance from “the Dark Ages”, skills minister Anne Milton has said.

Ms Milton, who was speaking today at West Nottinghamshire College Group's "Apprenticeship Reform: Six months on" event in the House of Commons, said that employers were failing to tap into "a wealth of talent" by refusing to look at flexible and part-time hours for women with caring responsibilities who would otherwise want to embark on an apprenticeship.

“If you look at the apprenticeship starts more women than men and actually...over 3,000 people are over 60 as well, so do not see gender or age as a barrier,” Ms Milton said. “[But] the one source of a workforce that companies do not exploit is women. [Some] 89 per cent of those who take off work for caring responsibilities are women; a lot of those women – well over two-thirds – would like to return to work if they had the opportunity. We are in the Dark Ages on this, you know, flexible hiring of staff, part-time working, job shares – there is a wealth of talent out there, if you go look for it."

'The world has a skills shortage'

Ms Milton previously said on her recent visit to WorldSkills 2017 in Abu Dhabi that it was "reassuring" to learn the UK wasn't the only country currently experiencing a skills shortage.

“What was quite interesting for me, and in some way reassuring, is that all countries are facing the same problems, everybody has got a skills shortage – this isn’t a UK problem," Ms Milton said. "The world has a skills shortage. And we all cited the same thing that the way to change this is through employers. Employers are the way that we increase the skills in this country.

Dame Asha Khemka, principal of West Nottinghamshire College Group, earlier told the event that it was the responsibility of everyone – employers, FE providers and the government – to ensure that apprenticeship reforms are a success. This follows the news that apprenticeship starts dropped by 61 per cent since the levy was introduced.

Dame Asha said: "Six months on we are still finding on a daily basis there are severe skill shortages, and not just in those sectors where we have heard these things before like engineering, manufacturing, [and] the Stem-related sectors, but the SMEs they are saying similar things. One-third of SMEs are reporting that they are having difficulty to recruit the right people with the right skills.”

She added: "We are driving the agenda forward, it’s not easy. There are lots of challenges, we have introduced everything in one go – policy is still being baked, operational aspects are still being sorted, but it is a golden opportunity. We have to make it work, we need to ensure that we work together to understand what’s getting in the way, what’s not happening, and play our part in that...because it is everybody’s responsibility."

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