Johnson has failed to address the gender divide in London apprenticeships

The mayor promised 250,000 apprenticeship starts by May 2016, but is still 100,000 short


Boris Johnson has miserably failed both men and women wanting to undertake apprenticeships in the capital. In fact, recent government data shows that the Mayor’s failing apprenticeships programme has well and truly entrenched the gender divide in London.

Many women seeking an apprenticeship in traditional ‘male’ industries such as construction are finding that the door is still firmly shut. Meanwhile, male candidates for apprenticeship positions in education and healthcare – areas historically deemed ‘female’ – are also facing an uphill struggle. It’s not a great legacy with which to leave Londoners.

March is the month to mark the value of apprenticeships.  National Apprenticeship Week, which runs from14th to 18th March this year, is designed to ‘celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy’.  

But the celebrations could have been more jubilant if it weren’t for Boris Johnson’s incapacity to get a grip on apprenticeships during his time as Mayor of London.,

March also sees the celebration of International Women’s Day. This provides a prompt, if it were needed, to highlight the continued need to tackle inequalities, including in the skills agenda. My recent analysis of Skills Funding Agency data has identified that a significant and worrying gender divide in apprenticeships in London.

Highlighting the positive contribution of apprentices should encourage businesses to increase the number they hire. Nowhere is this need more starkly felt than in London. Despite promising to deliver 250,000 apprenticeship starts by May 2016, Johnson is trailing behind his own target, and leaves London lagging behind much of the UK.

Indeed, Boris has managed to deliver just 142,340 apprenticeship starts to date; over 100,000 off target with just months to go until his deadline. The Mayor failing on his 2012 manifesto pledge is disappointing in itself. However, an investigation into the details of the 142,340 apprenticeships delivered so far, gives way to a whole new set of concerns.

Recently published data from the Skills Funding Agency reveals that the gender divide in London’s apprenticeships has become firmly entrenched.

Last year men dominated apprenticeships across all levels, from Intermediate to Higher in London’s construction and engineering industries, while women continued to make up the majority of apprenticeships in health, education and retail.

It is clear that gender stereotypes continue to influence the gender ratio of apprenticeships, particularly in those industries which have most fervently been considered ‘male’ or ‘female’.

If we look further into the gender breakdown of London’s apprenticeships, it’s clear that women aren’t just overwhelmingly confined to training in industries that tend to be less well paid, they are also finding higher level apprenticeships are increasingly unattainable.

You need look no further than London’s construction and engineering industries to see just how bad this problem is, with higher level apprenticeships going exclusively to men in 2014/15.

Gender stereotyping needs to be tackled from an early age. The concepts of ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ belong to 1956, not 2016. Not only is this impacting on the lives of young women who may dream of being an engineer or contribute to the construction of our future homes, London is missing out on talent and training in industries that need them the most.

There are so many reasons we need to challenge the unfair societal norms that lead to gender inequality and the Mayor should be at the forefront of this.

One way in which we can address gender stereotyping is through careers guidance, which is in dire need of improvement and investment. London Ambitions, the Mayor’s framework to attempt to improve careers guidance in the capital does mention the issue of gender stereotyping and has plans to ‘identify opportunities and overcome barriers.’

This is a clear admission that the Mayor is aware of the scale of the issue in London, but makes it all the more frustrating that he has done so little to address the fundamental causes of gender inequality.

If we’re serious about tackling the gender gap then we need to ensure that young women in London can access the opportunities in sectors like engineering and construction, and boost their chances of gaining a higher level apprenticeship.

It is not good enough to help women into these industries but not allow them to progress to the higher levels, confined to a life of lower skills and lower pay.

The Mayor has the ability to encourage businesses to take on apprentices and find innovative ways in which we can give both young men and women get the skills they need to succeed and get the high-skilled, well paid jobs of the future. It’s time he took action.

Dr Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly Economy Spokesperson

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