Women with vocational qualifications ‘earn 15 per cent less’

TUC says pay in female-dominated sectors remains low; concern that growth in apprenticeships may exacerbate the problem

Young women with vocational qualifications earn 15 per cent less than their male counterparts, according to research from the TUC that will add fuel to the debate around equal pay in UK workplaces.

The analysis of reported earnings found that men aged between 22 and 30 with vocational qualifications above GCSE level earn an average of £10 per hour, compared with £8.50 for women with the same level of qualification.

Where women have an academic qualification above GCSE level, the pay gap lessens to 10 per cent (£11.50 per hour compared with £12.80 for men).

The TUC suggested that one of the main reasons young women earn less is because they work predominantly in sectors where pay is poorer.

The research found that, in 2015, just one in 40 vocational qualifications in construction and 11 per cent of those in engineering and manufacturing were awarded to women. Vocational qualifications in health and care, however, were dominated by women, who were awarded 64 per cent of the qualifications in these lower-paid sectors.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Young women with vocational qualifications experience a huge gender pay gap. Many are still pursuing careers in traditional industries that offer lower wages, whereas in better-paid sectors like engineering and construction they remain a rarity.”

The government has said it is committed to tackling the gender pay gap, with mandatory pay gap reporting for larger companies due to begin in 2018. But the increasing focus on vocational qualifications – spurred by the commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020 – suggests that systemic issues driving the problem could get worse.

A survey by the Young Women’s Trust recently found that female apprentices earn £2,000 a year less than their male counterparts.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said of the findings: “This is an indication that the roles young women are doing are significantly undervalued. Women are not getting into the higher-paid apprenticeships like engineering, for example, where they are going to get a better salary.”

Smethers said she felt the government had missed an opportunity in its current apprenticeship reforms to address the gender issue. “It could have set out some targets around gender balance on apprenticeships, to prioritise getting girls into higher-paid apprenticeships,” she added.

The idea that jobs traditionally associated with women are considered intrinsically less valuable is further supported by US-based research from New York University (NYU), which found that when large numbers of women move into previously male-dominated fields, the value of roles in that field drops.

Census figures from 1950 to 2000 showed significant decreases in average salary in the recreation sector – where hourly wages declined by 57 per cent as more women moved into the roles – and among ticket agents, which suffered a 43 per cent drop. When large numbers of women became designers, salaries fell by 34 per cent, while biologists suffered a wage drop of 18 per cent.

The study’s co-author, Paula England, professor of sociology at NYU, said: “It’s not that women are always picking lesser [occupations] in terms of skill and importance. It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay less.”

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