This essay explores apprenticeship pay as a key area of employee relations. It considers how apprentices perceive their current level of apprenticeship pay and critically evaluates the impact on young people’s future careers and inclusion. The essay considers the perspectives of employers, policy-makers, and trade unions within this evaluation. Thus the predominant aim of the essay is to investigate apprenticeship schemes, the perceived low level of pay, and to discuss to what extent they are either an opportunity to develop new skills whilst earning, or an opportunity for businesses to gain cheap labour. The main research question of the research project considers: “Are apprenticeship scheme wages exploited by business as a way to gain cheap labour, or do apprenticeships offer value and opportunity for people to develop skills whilst earning?”
In order to answer the research question, the following secondary research questions were devised:
- How do apprentices perceive their level of pay?
- How do apprentices perceive their type of employment?
- What opportunities does an apprenticeship scheme present to employers?
The most significant finding of the interviews was the consensus amongst all of the parties that the current apprenticeship minimum wage was insufficient: “It is way too low” (Apprentice 4, Hairdressing). The apprentices all had negative perceptions of the apprentice National Minimum Wage. In regard to the apprentice National Minimum Wage, the apprentices stated that travel and living costs were difficult to meet:
“It is barely enough to pay the bus fares to work each week…” (Apprentice 1, Sales),
“No one could possibly live on £2 something an hour” (Apprentice 3, Manufacturing).
A notion of unfairness emerged as one apprentice who received well above the minimum wage rate indicated:
“It’s ridiculous… it takes the piss out of people” (Apprentice 2, Insurance).
Travel and living costs
A common sub-theme when discussing the perceived low level of pay with the apprentices was the cost of travel expenses. Three out of the four apprentices made specific reference to the cost of travel:
“I was barely earning enough to get to and from work as well as pay for other things that I needed” (Apprentice 1, Sales).
While another apprentice commented on the cost of commuting to London daily:
“…so that takes up quite a large amount of my wages” (Apprentice 2, Insurance).
Cheap labour and the link to exploitation
Another common theme that occurred was that apprentices perceived their low pay to be exploitative. Three out of the four apprentices understood the point that employers can use apprentices as cheap labour, although one apprentice rejected the statement and another alluded to mitigating circumstances. However, the sales representative was vehement on this topic:
“To me it felt as if I’d been conned into doing cheap labour” (Apprentice 1, sales).
Relative importance of pay to training
A key final theme identified from the data were the differing views of the apprentices in how important they regarded their actual pay in comparison to training and career development. There were mixed views from the apprentices who identified the importance of both:
“Pay is important but… I have to look at the future and focus on my training” (Apprentice 4, Hairdressing).
While the commuting apprentice considers that:
“Pay probably edges it, although… the main reason I joined this company was that I was looking for a career” (Apprentice 2, Insurance).