18/03/2016 07:33 GMT | Updated 19/03/2017 05:12 GMT

A Change in Mindset Is Needed to Close the Apprenticeship Gender Gap

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, a week created to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy. In recent years apprenticeships have been coming more under the spotlight as a method to teach young people the skills they need to get into successful careers, particularly since the Government made creating three million new apprentices by 2020 one of its key election pledges last year. Despite this boost in apprenticeship popularity, in the last few days there has been evidence presented that they may not be working as they should for women.

Last week, to mark International Women's Day, Siobhan McDonagh MP revealed a 21% pay gap between men and women doing apprenticeships and called on the government to take action to reduce it. From the statistics she shared in Parliament, women dominate the lowest-paid apprenticeships such as health, social care and childcare while men dominate the highest-paid apprenticeships such as engineering and construction. As a result, a female apprentice earns an average of £4.82 per hour, in comparison to £5.85 for a man.

Then this week, research from the Young Women's Trust revealed that as well as being paid less, women are missing out at every stage of apprenticeships, including being underrepresented and achieving poorer outcomes. According to the research, 65 percent of young female apprentices are concentrated in just five sectors, whereas the same percentage of young male apprentices work in twice the number of sectors, giving male apprentices greater career options. In addition to this, 16 percent of female apprentices the Young Women's Trust spoke to said they were out of work following their apprenticeship, compared to just 6 percent of men.

The relatively small number of women doing apprenticeships in higher paying sectors could be because sectors such as construction and IT are still seen by many as 'male', while jobs such as childcare and social care are still seen as 'female'. To combat this, it is essential that young women are shown role models of women working and achieving in those sectors, so that they can see that they could be successful in those careers, and that they are not solely for men.

What is also needed is for women to be made aware of the possibilities in those sectors. Many young women still aren't told about the positive outcomes of getting into those careers while they are at school and don't find out until it's too late. A survey for the Institute of Engineering and Technology found that a quarter of women said they hadn't become engineers because they weren't given enough information while at school.

Happily, there are some apprenticeships where women are bucking the trend. At AAT, we are noticing a trend with women flocking to do our apprenticeships in the accountancy industry. Our 2015 salary survey showed that the majority of our apprentices are female; of the respondents to our survey doing apprenticeships, 68% were women. These women who are doing these accounting apprenticeships are entering a potentially well-paid, respected profession; that is something to celebrate and shows that women can do well in higher paying sectors.

Another reason for less women taking up apprenticeships in sectors that are seen as 'male' is that they don't always look attractive to those who have other commitments outside work. There may be a perceived lack of flexibility in jobs such as construction and engineering that put women off. This should hopefully be changing; the 2015 Institute of Engineering and Technology 'Skills & Demand in Industry' survey shows that 79 percent of businesses in the sector are developing a more positive attitude to flexible and part-time working. This is good news, although that number needs to rise still further. One reason AAT sees so many women doing our accounting qualification and apprenticeship is because it can be studied flexibly, and once qualified there are many accounting roles out there with flexible and part-time working.

Changes to the way people think will be needed to close the apprenticeship gender gap for women; we still need to adjust the mind-set which says that certain careers and sectors are for one gender or another, and we need to ensure that young women know enough about potential careers and outcomes while they are able to make those important decisions about their futures. If we can do this, perhaps during next year's National Apprenticeship Week we could be celebrating that gender gap closing.