Apprentice Pay: Survey reveals Gender Pay Gap and Minimum Wage Avoidance

The Government’s Apprenticeship Pay Survey 2018 to 2019, released on 10 January, makes for a depressing read, with nearly a fifth (19%) of employers in England failing to pay apprentices the minimum wage for apprentices in stages 2 and 3.  This remains at 10 per cent for apprentices at stage 4.

Employers in Scotland fared only slightly better, while this reduces to 10% for employers in Wales – however, this is nothing to celebrate, the minimum wage is already lower for apprentices, minimum wage compliance is a legal requirement and this survey shows a significant number of employers across the UK are continuing to flout the law and take advantage of people at the start of their career.

Level 2 apprentices were slightly (yet statistically significantly) more likely to receive non-compliant pay (21%) than Level 3 apprentices (17%). Receiving non-compliant pay was also more common among women (21%) compared with men (17%), showing a distinct gender pay gap.  The survey uncovered that men undertaking apprenticeships are also paid nearly six percent more than their female counterparts – almost double the gap since the survey was last carried out in 2016, and just two in five women receive formal training as part of their apprenticeship compared to three in five men.

Many organisations representing young women have voiced concerns that young women continue to be pushed into lower quality apprenticeships with fewer opportunities to progress, and the overall picture is one of gender disparity, unequal training and general non-compliance with the minimum wage.

Sophie Walker, Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust raised concerns about the quality of apprenticeships for women. and the lack of STEM opportunities for women: 

“This report once again highlights the sexism and discrimination that young women face even at the very beginning of their careers. This discrimination not only shuts them out of apprenticeships such as engineering and construction that have the best opportunities for pay and progression but fails to provide high quality opportunities in childcare and social care in which the majority of young women apprentices work. 

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft focused on the apprenticeship gender pay gap and called for more conscious behaviour from employers:

“This gender pay gap needs to be called out. One of the main challenges is both conscious and unconscious bias still permeate the workplace. Conscious bias is much easier to call out with naming and shaming, but unconscious bias is much harder to address. Often it’s still hidden, and those holding it are completely unaware. Studies show that for many people in this situation, when their unconscious bias is demonstrated to them, they hate it – they can’t rationalise the prejudice they are displaying with their perception of their own behaviour. So what’s the solution? When unconscious bias is identified in an individual, we need to address it across the entire team to eradicate the behaviour.” 

Amy Dowling from the National Society of Apprentices called for the Government to respond robustly to employers who flout the minimum wage for apprentices:

“The findings are a serious insight into the failings of the governments approach to making sure all apprentices are paid what they are legally entitled to. If this report was about any other part of the workforce the response would be severe and far reaching, we fully expect for the response to this survey to match this.

Overall, the survey shows when it comes to training the future workforce to tackle the UK’s talent shortages, apprenticeships still have a long way to come.