Apprenticeships have been hailed by the government and others as an essential tool in tackling rising youth unemployment in the UK.

However, according to a new study, apprenticeships in their current guise may be harming equality and diversity in the workplace by benefiting male workers far more than they do female job seekers.

According to Unesco’s 10th Education for All Global Monitoring Report, discrimination in the labour market and the types of jobs for which training schemes are available means that apprenticeships are far more likely to go to men than women.

Furthermore, when it comes to apprenticeships, a significant gender pay gap still exists in the UK, claims the report.

It cites research that shows female apprentices in the UK earn 21 per cent less on average while in training than their male counterparts.

In addition, the wage benefit for a woman who has completed an apprenticeship is just four per cent, compared with 20 per cent for a man.

“Young women who have taken apprenticeships get paid less in them, find it harder to get a job and receive lower pay once they are in work,” said the report.

The news follows an announcement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that the number of people taking up apprenticeships rose to 502,500 for the full 2011/12 academic year, up from 457,200 in 2010/11.

Meanwhile, UNESCO’s study also highlighted the need to provide young people across the world, especially women, better access to skills training in order to improve their inclusion in the workplace.

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, commented: “The best answer to the economic downturn and youth unemployment is to ensure that young people acquire the basic skills and relevant training they need to enter the world of work with confidence.

“Many, and young women in particular, need to be offered alternative pathways for an education, so that they can gain the skills needed to earn a living, live in dignity and contribute to their communities and societies.”