Unionlearn welcomes report into apprenticeship gender balance

Unionlearn has welcomed a new report into gender segregation within apprenticeships which calls for national targets to support women enter male-dominated sectors.

The report, ‘Equality at Work? Positive action in gender segregated apprenticeships’ is written by Professor Chantal Davies of the University of Chester and sets out solutions as well as highlighting the issues facing young women.


The report was commissioned by Young Women’s Trust, a charity that supports young women on low or no pay. The Young Women’s Trust is calling for national targets to help women into male-dominated apprenticeships and boost the economy. The Trust says women are shut out of sectors that face a shortage of workers, such as construction and engineering.

There are 50 men for every woman starting a construction apprenticeship in England and 25 men for every woman embarking on an engineering course.

A YouGov poll for Young Women’s Trust found that three in five employers think that positive action – steps like encouraging more women to apply and actively choosing women over men where they are equally qualified – is needed to achieve workplace gender equality but just a quarter have taken steps to improve women’s representation.

Young Women’s Trust is calling on the Government to set time-limited national targets to boost the number of women apprentices in sectors where they are underrepresented and says organisations should set their own targets, too – incentivised by linking chief executives’ bonuses to results. If targets are not met, Young Women’s Trust says the Government should consider imposing quotas.

The charity is also calling for employers in sectors where women are under-represented to take positive action by:

* making use of the ‘tiebreak’ provision in law that allows them to shortlist and appoint a woman over a man where they are equally qualified;
* provide women-only work experience, taster events, training days and mentoring to encourage more women to apply; and
* targeting job adverts at women.

These measures are designed to redress disadvantage to put women on a more equal footing with men in the recruitment process – thereby helping to tackle women’s underrepresentation in many sectors. Many employers are unaware that they can legally use these measures.

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said:

The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering will not be plugged unless employers help more young women into relevant apprenticeships. But Young Women’s Trust has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors due to gender stereotypes and a lack of support.

For every woman apprentice entering the construction sector in England there are 50 men and there are 25 men for every woman starting an engineering apprenticeship.

Employers can take far more action within current legislation to create a more level playing field for women.”

Professor Chantal Davies, Director of the University of Chester’s Forum for Research into Equality and Diversity and author of the report, said:

Positive action in theory is an effective measure to address underrepresentation, but our research found that there is confusion about whether and how it can be used – which also means that it is being under-utilised.”

The majority of employers who took part in our research were committed to measures to bring about gender equality. However, our participants felt that there was a lack of consistent adequate guidance and a code of practice, which meant that employers lack awareness and/ or confidence to implement effective positive action measures. This can be down to a fear of legal liability.

Unionlearn Director Kevin Rowan said:

This is an important report and unionlearn back’s its call for more to be done to encourage and support young women who want to follow the apprenticeship route to enter jobs in traditionally male dominated areas like construction and engineering.”

Unionlearn would encourage employers in sectors where women are under-represented to work with trade unions and take positive action to increase the number of women applying for these apprenticeships.”

To read the report go to report here.