Gender and apprenticeships

Female Construction Apprentice

I’m excited about the future of vocational education. There is so much going on right now with the T-levels and the apprenticeship levy. There is at least a possibility that we are seeing a serious step forwards in vocational education in England at the moment. What is more, I’m pretty sure that this is a cross-party issue and so even if we do see a change in government the focus on vocational education and skills is likely to endure.

However, there are some things that are concerning about the way that vocational education tends to channel certain young people into certain careers. There is clearly a strong class dimension to this, which I’m also interested in, but in this post I’d like to look at the issue of gender.

A joint TUC and YWCA paper (Apprenticeships and Gender) published a few years ago concluded that the expansion in apprenticeships had replicated traditional gender segregation in the labour market. More recent work by the Young Women’s Trust (Making Apprenticeships Work for Young Women) notes that since 2010 women apprentices have outnumbered men, but that male apprentices get paid 21% more on average.

The Young Women’s Trust presents the following chart to show how male and female apprenticeships differ by sector.

gender differences

What it shows is that women are concentrated in health and social care, business administration and childcare and education. In contrast male apprentices are present in a lot more sectors and have less of a profile in these traditionally low paying sectors.

These differences play out in terms of pay, but they also play out in terms of job quality with female apprentices less likely to report training and more likely to lose their job at the end of the apprenticeship.

All of this is very concerning, but not in all honesty completely unexpected. Similar issues have been reported in the past (as this 2006 article by the Equal Opportunities commission shows). Inevitably the reasons for this phenomenon are complex. It undoubtedly includes a dose of good old fashioned sexism, but the associations of gender with particular parts of the labour market are more complex than this. They undoubtedly include questions about self- and career- identity in young people. How far they can imagine themselves in different careers. They also clearly relate to employer expectations and to the ever questionable idea of ‘cultural fit’. ‘Someone like her just wouldn’t fit in here‘ is a much used excuse.

I don’t have any easy answers as to what it is possible to do about this. But what I am sure is that achieving any change on this issue will require shifts on both the supply and demand side of the labour market. We need both young people and employers to think and act differently. It will also require changes pre-, during, and post- vocational education programme. In other words people need to be recruited differently, supported better whilst on programme and then given ongoing support to transition to the labour market. All of these changes need to be actively alert to gender rather than simply trying to be ‘gender neutral’ – delivering a major cultural change is not going to be easy.

I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts about how they deal with some of these issues in career education and guidance processes.



Show me what you’re made of

I don’t know whether anyone else has seen Stacey Dooley’s Show Me What You’re Made Of? In each episode Stacey takes a bunch of kids and shows them the work that underpins some everyday aspect of their life. In the one that I’ve linked to in this post they learn about how buses are cleaned, but elsewhere they learn about fruit picking, fish canning and a whole host of other undesirable jobs.

This is work experience with a difference. The idea here is not to offer up ‘aspirational’ job, rather it is the opposite. But, these occupations aren’t just being profiled to show young people what could happen if things go wrong. Rather these difficult, dirty and challenging jobs are profiled to demonstrate that all of our lives rely on these things getting done. The show is brilliant for demonstrating the skill and dignity that is associated with difficult work.

I think that Show Me What You’re Made Of offers a brilliant resource for career education. It provides an insight into real work in ways that show both the positives and the negatives. It also opens up space for important discussions about how work is organised and rewarded in our society and also how workers are accorded respect or otherwise for doing important things.

I’d be really interested to hear from any teachers or careers educators who have used it with learners.

Communique from the Eighth International Symposium for Career Development and Public Policy

In June I attended the eighth International Symposium for Career Development and Public Policy in Seoul, Korea from the 18th – 21st June 2017. It was a fantastic event attended by 107 delegates representing 21 countries, international labour market experts, and officials of international policy research and development organisations: the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), and the European Training Foundation (ETF).

The Symposium discussed changes in the labour market and how career development can help societies to respond to and shape such changes. For further information on the symposium process visit the ICCDPP website.

The final output of the event was a Communique which sets out some key principles for effective career development systems. The idea is that it functions as a summary of international good practice and can be useful for countries to review and develop their systems.

View the ICCDPP Communique 2017

Careers work at Catcote Academy

Catcote Academy from Spearhead Productions on Vimeo.

This is a great film about the work that Catcote Academy have been doing to provide high quality careers work for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

I’ve often see special schools that do excellent careers work, but this is really interesting work. In particular the really strong connection with employers is hugely impressive and the quality of the testimonies from the employers involved speaks for itself.

Which of these careers terms do you understand?


We’re trying to figure out what careers terms people do and don’t understand. We’d like to hear from teachers and careers professionals (especially those working in schools and colleges in England) about which terms are clear.

We’ve picked out a list of terms that we commonly use at The Careers & Enterprise Company and thrown them into a survey. All you have to do is work your way down the list and tell us which ones you do and don’t understand.

See the list

Decent work: live happier, live healthier


I’m involved in a project led by Vanessa Dodd at the University of Derby looking at the issue of ‘decent work’. The two researchers working on the project (Jacky Woods and Karen Hooper) have just presented initial findings as a poster (Decent Work Poster). This provides an overview of the project so far.

We’re looking for people to get involved by filling in our survey exploring your experience of work (decent or otherwise). We hope to publish the results both as a discrete UK study and also as part of a series of international papers exploring decent work in different countries.

Complete the decent work survey


Guest post: What is the gig economy?


In this guest post Esther Galvalvi discussed the growth of the gig economy. I’d urge people to get involved with her important research in this area.

The media has tended to use the term “gig economy” to refer to digital platforms like Uber, Deliveroo, and Taskrabbit, where people can work on a short term, free lance basis through apps on their phones.  However, any online platform that allows people to participate in commerce, where people can opt in and opt out at will (on a “gig” basis), could be thought of as belonging to the gig economy.  People are busily making work for themselves on platforms like Ebay, Etsy, and Airbnb, effectively acting as their own employers.  (Different rules apply to Ebay and Etsy, however; no one is checking when you clock in, or how fast you respond; labour platforms like Uber and Deliveroo tend to control worker behaviour a lot more.) 

People involved in platform work find themselves at the crest of a wave of exciting new technology that could afford a great deal of flexibility and freedom – but risk being dragged under by the lack of security and worker protections.  On a policy level, some clear decision-making will be critical to make sure that the people who work on them have a reasonable safety net to protect them in times of difficulty. 

All this is a challenge for careers advisers, because we are learning about these new technologies at the same time that people are being exposed to them.  Young people in particular are at the forefront of the wave; a large proportion of workers in the UK gig economy are under 35.  Gig economy work could afford them a great deal of flexibility and opportunity if they are struggling to fund further education, or want a boost to their CV.  But with so much at stake with their exams, the cost for young people could be high if they overdo it

It is unfeasible for careers advisers to know the ins and outs of every platform, but we should at least know roughly how platforms work and what the key issues are, both in terms of risks and opportunities.  These could include

  • worker rights law
  • time management
  • how to critically evaluate platforms and their practices
  • depending on the platform, the basic skills to build a business 

My PhD project at University of Derby is about young people’s involvement in the online gig economy.  I want to find out to what extent young people are already thinking about or even using these technologies – and if they are using anything we haven’t even thought about yet!  The first phase is a survey of careers professionals who work with 16-19 year olds.  If you belong in this group, I would be grateful if you could take 10 minutes to fill it in.

Complete the survey