Young people from low-income backgrounds less likely to undertake an apprenticeship

Young people from low-income backgrounds are less likely than their wealthier peers to undertake an apprenticeship in every region of England, according to an Education charity. 

Teach First is calling for improvements to be made to apprenticeships to stop them discouraging young people from low income backgrounds. The charity also wants an analysis into the issues of low pay and benefits deterring disadvantaged young people, and to implement a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships.

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James Westhead, Executive Director of External Relations at Teach First, says: “As a country we rapidly need to get over this completely false idea that all apprenticeships are second rate.

“Apprenticeships can offer an important route for young people to get into careers and industries with strong earning potential, but a combination of poor attitudes, low awareness and lack of financial support means disadvantaged young people are losing out across the country.

While the government’s commitment to the agenda is clear, we need to remove the perceived barriers of low pay and benefits facing disadvantaged youngsters who wish to undertake an apprenticeship. And we need a clear and simple UCAS-style application system to ensure disadvantage does not determine destiny for young people.”

Drawing from Department for Education data, the charity found that that across every one of the ten English regions, young people from low income background (those who receive free schools meals) were less likely than their wealthier counterparts to become an apprentice.

As part of a report published next month with PA Consulting Group, which looks at the options available to young people after they leave school, Teach First explains that despite a government commitment to create 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020, a lack of information and financial barriers could continue to put those from low income backgrounds off the route. Download a PDF preview of the report to read the full details.

The Progression Report recommends that in order to make the process of applying for apprenticeships easier for those new to the complex system, the government needs to build on its ‘find an apprenticeship’ website and develop a nationwide UCAS-style ‘one stop shop’ for young people. It should outline all the available apprenticeship opportunities and link them directly to the employer’s application process.

Financial concerns were also highlighted as a potential obstacle in the report. Young people can perceive an apprenticeship to be a low-wage option due to the headline figure of the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage of just £3.30 an hour. In reality, the average salary is closer to £6 an hour with salary progression rapid after three or six months as skills develop.

Young people on apprenticeships also miss out on financial support available to those in full time education or training. Apprentices are not eligible for up to £1,200 through the Department for Education’s 16 to 19 Bursary for transport, food and equipment. Meanwhile parents are able to claim child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds who continue in full-time education or vocational training, but not where they become an apprentice.

The charity therefore calls on the Low Pay Commission to invest in research looking at whether this perceived low pay on the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage and lack of additional financial support is putting disadvantaged young people off applying.

The role that businesses will play in an apprenticeship approach that focuses on those being left behind is also explored in the report through case studies such as those from PA Consulting, that assisted Teach First in putting together the findings.

Already an organisation with an established apprenticeship programme, Chris Green, employability and skills expert, from PA Consulting says:

“Vocational education is not only key to improving the productivity of UK companies, it is also vital in addressing the inequality of opportunities that exist for young people from lower socio economic groups. Our research in partnership with Teach First confirms that there is still a lot of work to do.

We believe the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, which will require many UK employers to make an investment in apprenticeships, provides a once in a generation opportunity to change how vocational education and training is designed and delivered, directly benefiting potential apprentices and opening doors to better jobs and rewarding careers.”

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