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Apprentices are worth the national minimum wage

By James McCrory

Wednesday 11 March 2015 Student Journalists

General election campaigning in the lead up to May has so far seen a lot of attention put on further education apprenticeships. It seems to be, on all fronts, the answer to lowering unemployment and battling reliance on benefits, states NUS Journalist James McCrory.

Negative comments from the government’s apprenticeships ambassador and a report produced by NUS have shed light on the fact that while it is important for the government to create more apprenticeship opportunities, there are internal issues within apprenticeships that need addressed for that to happen.  

The minimum wage for apprentices aged 16-19 and anyone in the first year of their apprenticeship is currently different than the National Minimum Wage (NMW). They are paid at a staggeringly low rate of £2.73 an hour which is about half the NMW for 18-20 year-olds.

This is obviously a very unfair rate and is simply not practical. According to the NUS report at this rate apprentices working a 35 hour week will get paid a meagre £95.55. I think that it would resonate with everyone that this much hard work for such a low return is simply unjust and creates an unsustainable situation for the apprentice.

The obvious solution to this problem would be that all apprentices be paid the NMW for their age which is the fairest and most practical thing to do. After all that is how it worked for years before apprenticeships became integrated with further education institutions. It seems now that because apprenticeships are carried out through an educational body there needs to be an incentive for the employer.

Employers taking on apprentices have gotten so used to receiving government grants and other monetary incentives, as well as the cheap source of labour that going back to paying apprentices the full NMW would be a step backward for them.

From my point of view small and moderately sized companies should be legally obligated to pay their apprentices the NMW, but that might prove quite difficult now. While it would be unfair to legally force employers to take on apprentices there are incentives that, if put in place, could get more employers to take on apprentices.

Big companies that dodge tax and pay their top dogs big bonuses should receive increased rates of corporation tax while the smaller companies training apprentices should receive tax reductions, see one compliments the other. There are also other methods that could aid increased apprenticeships like governments grants for specific things like advertising and marketing, or even free company training programmes of the same kind to help employers advertise and grow their business.

These sorts of things will enable employers to take on more apprentices through growth but they still won’t want to pay them the full NMW, so what then?

All the main parties respectively have been claiming the vast amounts of money they plan to save, may it be through cuts or other means. They are all also championing the importance of apprenticeships and how they are the future of employment. So then with all this extra money in the next government and the need for more apprenticeships it would only make sense for them to create channels of financial aid available for apprenticeships.

Higher education students receive financial support in the form of maintenance grants, loans and in some cases bursaries. Full-time further education students also receive financial aid through bursaries and education maintenance allowance.

This same approach and concept should, if apprentice minimum wage stands, apply to apprentices who are, at the crux of it all, students as well. Apprenticeships grants of £400-500 two or three times thorough the year is nowhere near as much as what HE students get but would go a tremendously long way in enabling apprentices to cover their expenses while training.

Things like “student-type” bank accounts for apprentices with 0% interest on overdrafts would also provide apprentices with a financial safety net in the event that they need it. Widely available discount travel cards for students should also include apprentices to help with travel expenses getting to and from work.

There are plenty of things that could be implemented to help drive apprenticeships and create sustainable lifestyles for apprentices. The government want to create more apprenticeships so that they can gloat when they have good unemployment or apprenticeship stats. But that is not good enough because the daily struggles for apprentices and the internal problems of apprenticeships will still exist. It isn’t good enough for our government to just scratch the service they need to start with the people.


NUS journalist for work in the lead up to the 2015 general election. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am currently a student studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford in Manchester. I studied Broadcast Journalism for two years at Belfast Metropolitan College where I attained a level 5, Higher National Diploma in the subject.

I have had work published for the Salfordian, NUS and various student publications in Belfast. I have had experience working with UTV in Ireland and the BBC and I was also the Vice Chairperson of the Royal Television Society (RTS) Futures programme. I aspire now and in the future to be an activist journalist, never short of an opinion on a range of historic and contemporary issues.