Tory apprenticeship stereotype attacked

July 31, 2008

David Willetts, the Conservative Shadow Higher Education Secretary, has come under fire for a "bizarre" suggestion that young men need apprenticeships to help them attract women.

Female academics criticised Mr Willetts and Evan Davis, a presenter on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, for focusing on men in their discussion of a Conservative Party plan for more apprenticeships.

Introducing Mr Willetts on Today last week, Mr Davis said the Conservatives wanted to reduce numbers of young Neets (youngsters Not in Education, Employment or Training) as "part of a far bigger ambition to produce more marriageable working-class men, more stable families and less crime".

He asked: "Can the policy make any impression on Neets, the problem of family breakdown and women not feeling that they need to marry men because men are not earning enough to support them?"

Mr Willetts said that "young men ... are not getting decent work, and then the women look around and say where are the guys that we are supposed to be able to have a stable relationship with?"

Val Singh, deputy director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield University, said the focus on men was "worrying".

"Do today's women want to go back to being totally dependent on a man? I don't think so. Unfortunately, stereotyping of gender roles is so firmly entrenched that even well-educated presenters and politicians promote it on air."

Judith Glover, professor of employment studies at Roehampton University, said: "To focus on men, and to link it to their marriage prospects because it is assumed that women are looking for a breadwinner husband is bizarre and unhelpful."

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: "While apprenticeships are important for young men, women and men from all ages and backgrounds need access to high-quality, decently paid training."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

Listen to the interview at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7520000/7520744.stm.

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