This review synthesizes what is currently known about single parents’ take-up and experiences of apprenticeships and traineeships in Britain, with a particular focus on London. On the basis of this evidence, we consider how far these schemes address the skills gap for single parents and their particular needs in relation to work and caring. We showcase current examples of good practice and present a series of recommendations, to demonstrate how schemes could be better designed and delivered to address these issues.
Single parents have a particular set of characteristics and needs that affect the extent to which they can access and progress in employment; they tend to have fewer qualifications, are more likely to live in poverty and, by default, are less likely to be able to share their childcare responsibilities. However, Universal Credit has a requirement on claimants to secure and progress in work and to become more financially independent. The current government focus on apprenticeships and traineeships has the potential to enhance single parents’ take-up and progression in work. However, there is little evidence that these schemes have had a significant impact on single parents to date. Rather, we find substantial evidence of barriers that may be inhibiting single parents from accessing and progressing in these schemes. These barriers include a lack of advertised part-time vacancies (with companies tending to recruit existing employees as apprentices), low pay, especially in the first year, and insufficient childcare. Specific examples of good practice showcase how these barriers can be overcome within individual schemes, including by making part-time and flexible opportunities available, by subsidising wages to increase accessibility for single parents and by demonstrating clear progression routes from the outset. There are also a number of changes which government and employers could make to the design and delivery of these schemes to maximise their accessibility and value for single parents.
Key recommendations for change
- Government should scrap the existing apprenticeship target measuring apprenticeship starts and introduce more nuanced indicators measuring apprenticeship quality, the availability of part-time opportunities and the proportion of external recruits. The public sector should lead by example in the development of part-time and flexible apprenticeships and this should be explicitly reflected in their targets.
- The DWP should set a priority to increase the skill level of single parents with pre-school children aged three and four, whose work obligations will change under Universal Credit, by better promoting and implementing available flexibility and easements (the ways in which ‘lead carers’ can be treated differently under welfare rules), to develop routes for single parents into a wide range of traineeships and apprenticeships.
- Career and skills support should be provided to all single parents who move onto job-seeking benefits, encompassing part-time skills training and support with childcare. This should include opening up access to the extended 30 hour childcare offer to those undertaking a traineeship.
- Further work should be undertaken to test and evaluate a range of approaches to incentivise companies to take on single parent apprentices, including subsidising participation, promoting part-time opportunities and other innovative ideas.