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National Society for Apprentices is gaining ground

Monday 9 March 2015 Campaigns News

It’s an exciting time to be an apprentice, and for apprenticeships in general. We are seeing a real debate about what apprenticeships should look like, where you can do one, in which subjects and to which level. Apprenticeships are finally beginning to be taken seriously.

Following our research into careers advice and apprenticeships we’ve been talking with apprentices across the country from all sorts of different frameworks. Apprentices have been telling us they are concerned about:

  • Careers Advice
  • Pay and travel costs
  • Respect as an apprentice
  • The quality of teaching and learning.

When apprentices have been talking to us about the quality of their experience we’ve seen something quite disturbing. The experience of men and women in apprenticeships is different. When we followed up these stories and looked at the research we found that training, conditions and pay are better in apprenticeships that tend to be done by men. We believe everyone has the right to access an excellent apprenticeship.

The pioneering society was set up to support apprentices, to champion their rights, to represent apprentices’ views on a national level, and celebrate the part that they play in their communities.

NUS partnered with the National Apprentice Service (NAS) that supports, funds and co-ordinates the delivery of apprenticeships throughout England and is responsible for increasing the number of Apprenticeship opportunities.

In the last year a new committee has been elected and over 3,000 apprentices took part in a nationwide travel survey. The results of this were published in September alongside member events across the country. These events have helped set the society’s priorities, with a focus on apprentice pay, financial support, teaching and learning and working towards a kite mark for excellent apprenticeships.

The travel report showed that across the UK apprentices are paying an average of £24 per week in travel costs. When you could be earning as little as £2.73 an hour this is a lot of money. In fact an apprentice on the national minimum wage would need to start work at 9am on Monday, work all day and then again on Tuesday until 10.18am just to earn enough to pay for travel.

Apprentices are fantastic for businesses, personal careers and creating opportunities for both employers and apprentices, but they can also face many barriers which can adversely affect their work and lives.

Apprentices are some of the most underrepresented learners in the UK. Our own research has showed that the apprenticeship minimum wage, a measly £2.73 per hour, could be a major deterrent for those who would otherwise consider apprenticeships. The Government's own evidence in 2013 showed a fifth of apprentices were paid below even that wage.

Research from the equality and human rights commission indicates that pay and the quality of apprenticeships are inextricably linked. Traditionally male apprenticeships such as engineering and construction have better wages, more classroom time, and more on the job training than traditionally female apprenticeships, such as hairdressing and childcare positions.

NUS wants to ensure that everyone understands the issues that apprentices face and empower them to have a national voice that will give them the protection and power they deserve.

In addition to creating a voice for all apprentices regardless of what or where they learn, the agreement with NAS will to raise the profile of the Apprentice extra discount card, which was launched in 2012 to support work based learners, with a vision that it will one day help fund a national society to act as a voice for apprentices nationally. The card offers apprentices many of the same discounts and benefits as other students as well as a few apprentice exclusives.

Raechel Mattey, NUS Vice President (Union Development), said:

'NUS understands the importance of strong representation and having a voice to shape your environment. I’m delighted that we set up the society. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

'Never before has anyone listened to the views of apprentices at a national level, until now. For the first time ever, apprentices have a voice and it’s high time we started to champion our apprentices by tackling exploitative practices within the industry and rooting out abuse where it exists.'

You can find out more about our work on apprenticeships here.