From education to employment

Problems Highlighted at TUC Young Members” Conference

Pay and gender inequality were high on the agenda at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Young Member’s Conference held recently in Eastbourne.

The TUC says it is putting pressure on the government to review its policy over wages for apprentices. Under current laws, employers do not have to meet the minimum wage for any apprentice under the age of 19. Furthermore, the Equal Opportunities Commission says it has identified a substantial pay gap between male and female apprentices.

There is also cause for concern with the high dropout rate for some apprenticeships. It is believed that substandard training and a high degree of gender separation are to blame. Speaking at the event, TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O”Grady said: “Some apprenticeships offer training that is either of poor quality or is non-existent”¦ So we need to ensure that the minimum wage exemption is not a loophole being exploited by bad employers who look for young workers on the cheap.”

Advice Leaflet

A new advice leaflet has been produced to provide young workers with a hard copy of their rights as apprentices. The leaflet also urges them to join unions in order to protect their rights and help them to “get on”. There is no doubt that the resolution of pay inequalities is key to improving the dropout rate- that equal pay for under-19’s will encourage them to stay in their apprenticeships is simply common sense and more certainly needs to be done to ensure that all apprentices are given the same opportunities.

Defeating gender stereotypes in the workplace would also help to reverse the downward trend. If men and women are on equal footing with regards to pay and are treated as equal within the workplace, it can only help to build upon the current number of people successfully completing apprenticeships.

Some Areas for Thought

There are, however, some key areas that the TUC looks to have failed to pick up on. One concern is weeding out the good employers from the bad. Tackling pay issues will only go some of the way to rooting out the problem- more checks and balances must be put in place to ensure that employers provide the right quality of training and high standards within the workplace. The apprenticeships must provide value for money, both in pay and also in the quality of training they provide.

Both are essential factors in attracting new people to take up apprenticeships and in keeping hold of those who are already undertaking training. Another major issue that seems to have been overlooked is diversity within the workplace. Gender stereotypes were addressed at the conference but putting an end to racial stereotyping is just as important. More must be done to promote diversity within the workplace- everyone should be given the same opportunities based on merit, whatever their ethnicity.

If these factors are taken into account, the signs will undoubtedly be encouraging.

Joel Goldman

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