Financial incentives should be used to increase the diversity of apprentices – including an “apprentice premium”, MPs have been told.
In an oral evidence session as part of the House of Commons education committee’s inquiry into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training today, witnesses spoke of the challenges in increasing more women and people from deprived backgrounds into apprenticeships.
Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the IPPR thinktank, highlighted figures from the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), that just 10 per cent of apprenticeships are taken by young people eligible for free school meals (FSM), a demographic that makes up 13 per cent of schoolchildren.
These young people are “less likely to be supported at school”, he told the committee. “At the moment, the public funding going into the apprenticeship system…is not sufficiently incentivising employers to take on people who may have struggled earlier in life.”
Mr Dromey voiced support for the "apprentice premium" proposed by the Learning and Work Institute. This would mirror the Pupil Premium in schools by providing funding for disadvantaged young people who want to undertake an apprenticeship.
This, Mr Dromey said, would involve “giving employers and-or providers more funding for taking on young people who have been on FSM, or for addressing gender segregation in certain industries, so you use that investment in a smart way to stimulate better access to apprenticeships.”
This policy would be best operated on a local or regional level, rather than government “mandating from London”, he added.
Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, told the hearing that a lack of affordable childcare and high transport costs, as well as the perception of low wages, were significant barriers to more women and people from deprived backgrounds becoming apprentices.
“We would be looking to subsidies from transport providers, or bursaries for young people who have little resources to manage living on a low salary for a period of time,” she said.
“Sometimes apprentices lose out because they are considered by some to be in work but some to be in training, so you lose out on both counts. I think we have to be realistic and make sure there are ways of making subsidies [available] so young peope can afford to do them.”