Don’t leave single parents behind – apprenticeship inclusivity matters!
I am writing in this issue of the Skills, Employment and Health Journal in my capacity as a Trustee of Gingerbread. Gingerbread does sterling work providing expert advice, practical support and campaigning for single parents.
We have concerns about the current design of apprenticeships for single parents and there are also difficulties within current employability contracts which contain funding conditions connected to single parents moving into apprenticeships. We have some ideas about how these could be improved.
We are delighted that the new Skills Minister Robert Halfon is an advocate of apprenticeships and has already highlighted that he wants them to become more inclusive for single parents. This is particularly constructive because while the single parent’s employment level is c66.5% they tend to get stuck in low paid work for longer than other workers.
However, there is evidence to show that single parents (9:10 of whom are women) with a level three qualification (equivalent to an A-level) have longer periods of sustained work, spend less time on out of work benefits, command better wages and are more likely to secure increased hours. Acknowledging the Government’s aim to create three million apprenticeships before the end of this parliament, Gingerbread wants to ensure that single parents are not left behind in this ambition.
Unfortunately, single parents tell us that, under the current design of apprenticeships, they are locked out. So, if the Minister wishes to encourage single parents onto apprenticeships then he will need to address some critical areas to open up their participation. Two key modifications are needed - addressing apprenticeship pay and making apprenticeships more flexible including making them available to part-time hours.
Let’s look first at apprenticeship pay. The Minister has talked about the aspiration for the apprenticeship wage to eventually become aligned to the National Living Wage. Single parents tell us that that the current low rate of pay for the first year of an apprenticeship is a major disincentive to start on an apprenticeship scheme whilst bringing up a child on their own. There are great examples of innovative ways to address this as shown in a recent programme in Camden (Interim evaluation of an adult apprenticeship programme: Camden Council, nef consulting, October 2015). We need to learn from these exemplars and do all we can to make apprenticeships financially worthwhile for all participants, particularly those with caring responsibilities.
With regard to part-time apprenticeship the Government’s guidance on apprenticeships states that people on apprenticeships should work for at least 30 hours a week and that it’s only “in exceptional circumstances” that apprenticeships will be agreed for a minimum of 16 hours a week. It is unclear how single parents who want to undertake an apprenticeship but must combine that with the care of a young child would have access to apprenticeships and how they could negotiate shorter hours with an employer.
Gingerbread would like the Minister to actively promote part-time apprenticeships and work with employers to help them design apprenticeships for part-time employment. We would like to see a more partnership approach between the employer and apprentice in apprenticeship design. In the next five years the Government is calling on the public sector to increase the number of apprenticeships available in local and central government. Gingerbread is encouraging the public sector to lead by example (as it has when advertising job vacancies) by making every public sector apprenticeship open to flexible hours.
The current poor fit in the design of apprenticeships for single parents also has an impact on Gingerbread’s ability to satisfy contract conditions on many employability programmes. It is an increasing condition of employability contracts with payments by results that single parents are moved onto an apprenticeship programme. The current design of apprenticeships makes this virtually impossible, unless they have extensive wider family support. Whilst single parents are locked out of apprenticeships these conditions in contracts are a discouragement to engage in employability contracts, further disadvantaging single parents as a group.
The better design of apprenticeships could be a golden opportunity for improving the vocational skills of single parents setting them on a path of better paid and more sustainable work. That’s a win-win for single parents, employers and for the Government.
For more information about Gingerbread and apprenticeships contact Laura Dewar, Policy Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing Director, Bright Sparks Consultancy Ltd