From education to employment

Investigating the pay and employment conditions of apprentices

Last week I had been mainly thinking about apprenticeships – and not just because of an amazing and inspiring evening at the National Apprenticeships Awards. The evening was a showcase of what is the best in apprenticeships and the young people were a tribute to their employers, trainers and tutors. However, to maintain this high quality, there needs to be solid data on pay, length of training, information on off-the-job study and statistics on gender and BME participation. Unfortunately this information is hard to come by. That is why we commissioned Incomes Data Services to undertake a survey and we published the results last Friday (July 1).

The survey found that salary levels ranged considerably by apprenticeship, subject area and year/stage, but across all years and subjects the average gross salary was £12,634. Interestingly, while the average private sector salary was £13,351, the average public sector salary was £11,433. There was a correlation between size of employer and pay, however salaries in the smallest private sector firms are only 3 per cent below the all sector/all year annual salary. But most telling was the finding that subjects with the highest pay had the highest retention rates, post-training.

There were other benefits – most popular was a bike scheme provided by employers, but more important, 13.3 per cent said their apprentices were entitled to a pension and 9 per cent said that their apprentices received the same benefits as fully-qualified staff.

The IDS survey of 7,000 employers also confirmed work the TUC has already carried on comparing pay rates between men and women apprentices. Previous research shows a pay gap of 21 per cent and the survey showed a clear concentration of female apprenticeships in the lower-paying sectors, such as hairdressing and social care. For example, in Extractive and Mineral Processing Occupations where the average salary was £17,609, no female apprentices were recorded. On average, contracted apprenticeship hours were found to be 36.8 per week, actual hours worked were 34.3 hours with 7.3 hours spent in off-the-job training. Contracted working hours ranged from a maximum of 39.3 hours in Arts, Media & Publishing, down to an average of 35.3 hours per week in Retail and Commercial Enterprises.

When employers were asked why they employed apprentices, 98 per cent said that they recruited apprentices to train the workforce of the future, 85 per cent said apprentice schemes provided value for money and 32.9 per cent said they employed apprentices because they received funding to do so. Employers (88.7%) agreed that it is the best way to learn and almost 80 per cent said it was a way to bring in younger workers to an aging workforce. When employers were asked why they did not employ apprentices, four out of ten said they prefer to recruit fully-trained staff, a third said that a lack of funding was the reason they did not employ apprentices and more than a quarter (27.3%) said they did not employ apprentices because they did not know how to do so.

This is all useful information, but it is only a start. It is imperative that the government carries out an annual survey on this subject. What the IDS survey shows, and this was borne at the Apprenticeship Awards, is that the most successful apprenticeships are those in the companies which are unionised and provide high quality schemes with good pay and conditions. However, too many employers are not doing enough to provide and fund apprenticeship places.

And on the subject of apprenticeships: look out in Tuesday’s Education Guardian for an interesting unionlearn Roundtable on the subject. Skills minister John Hayes joined Frances O’Grady, TUC deputy general secretary, Gordon Marsden, shadow skills minister, and representatives from BAE Systems, SERCO and Caterpillar among others for a thoughtful and thought-provoking debate.

Tom Wilson, is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and skills organisation

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