Who can afford to do an apprenticeship?

 6 September 2018

Is the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices too low? Partnership Manager Madeleine Lund considers the financial barriers people from low income backgrounds face and talks about the work being done to help care leavers access apprenticeships.

Low pay for apprenticeships make them inaccessible to many.
Low pay for apprenticeships make them inaccessible to many.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we are passionate about fair access and diversity. We have always worked hard with employers to help them think about changing traditional and potentially closed recruitment practices: moving away from unpaid internships to paid internships, from offering casual employment or zero hours contracts to permanently embedding apprenticeships.

We all know that if we offer work that is unpaid we will only ever reach out to a particular demographic. If we continue to do that our quest for diversity will never be achieved and we will keep missing out on talented people.

National Minimum Wage for Apprentices is currently set at £3.70 per hour.

Not only do unpaid internships contravene National Minimum Wage regulations in most cases, they are also unethical and incredibly short-sighted. But what about low paid jobs? What about apprenticeships that are paid at the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices?

National Minimum Wage for Apprentices is currently set at £3.70 per hour. This can be paid to an apprentice who is 16-18 years old and to an apprentice who is 19 or older and in the first year of a first apprenticeship.

Who can live on such a low wage?

If you live at home and have family support perhaps this is possible, but probably not if you need to pay your own rent. If you live locally and don’t have extortionate travel costs, then maybe you are able to accept a lower wage. Someone who has no dependents could possibly live on the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices but it’s unlikely a parent who needs to pay for childcare could.

It starts to look as if the same people who can afford to do a low-paid apprenticeship are those who can afford to do an unpaid internship…so what about everyone else? 

Data provided by the former Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (now merged into the Department for Education and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and The Children’s Commissioner showed that in 2015:

  • Around three in 100 of all young people in care aged 16-18 were apprentices, compared to 10 in 100 of the population not in care in the same age bracket
  • Only three per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 (who were not at university) were in apprenticeships compared to 24 per cent of the population not in care in the same age bracket.

Young people leaving care are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our society and they are under-represented in apprenticeships and within our sector.

To try and address this we began conversations with Artswork, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk & Norwich Festival Bridge and the office of the Children’s Commissioner to explore the possibility of a pilot that would see young care leavers offered a supported apprenticeship programme.

Inevitably one barrier to apprenticeships for young care leavers is financial.

Inevitably one barrier to apprenticeships for young care leavers is financial. Not only do they not have families to support them if the job is low paid, but their financial needs are also more likely to equate with older people than their peers.

Apprenticeship reform

One significant and welcome change to come from the apprenticeship reforms is that if you are an employer with less than 50 employees, which is the case for many in our sector, who recruits a young care leaver (aged 16-24) you will be eligible for £1,000 towards employment costs, the care leaver will be eligible for a £1,000 bursary and the training provider will be eligible for £1,000 towards training costs. This is great news and a huge incentive.

Through Artswork’s Portsmouth Creative Skills programme and Suffolk County Council’s partnership with The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, exciting programmes have been developed specifically for care leavers. We agreed that the best use of our small pot of funding was to increase the pay from National Minimum Wage for Apprentices to Adult National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage, so that these targeted apprenticeships were at least financially possible for both the employers and the young care leavers.

Apprenticeships should be for everyone regardless of background or academic achievement

One of the other significant changes that the apprenticeship reforms brings is that apprenticeships can now be offered on a part-time basis over a longer period of time. This could work well for our sector as often one of the challenges for our employers in taking on apprentices is that their working patterns or budgets mean they struggle to employ an apprentice full time, even when they recognise the value of training someone new.

However, what are the implications of this change for care leavers? If you don’t have family support and you are not living at home how possible is it to only work for 15 hours per week rather than 30, even with a £1,000 bursary?

Apprenticeships should be for everyone regardless of background or academic achievement and until the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices is increased to a wage that people can genuinely live on this will continue to not be the case.

One year later

One year on from starting our pilot and we are very proud to be supporting three young care leavers. Two are undertaking technical theatre apprenticeships with Portsmouth Guildhall and The New Wolsey Theatre and one is doing a year-long paid internship with New Carnival Company.

It’s fair to say that this pilot has not been without challenges for all involved and it’s not over yet! The numbers are small but it’s a start and we are hoping to support two more young care leavers into apprenticeships later this year. Importantly we are already gaining invaluable learning for future work that could be developed with and for this disadvantaged and under-represented group of young people.


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