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Combating Occupational Segregation Through Apprenticeship Programs

What is Occupational Segregation


Occupational segregation is the disproportionate representation of groups of workers into particular jobs, which largely affects people of color and women. Research suggests that occupational segregation is the primary cause of disadvantaged groups being funneled into unstable jobs that don’t provide the necessary wages to sustain a family.


Over the past 100 years, occupational segregation has represented an economic barrier for all minority racial groups as White men have historically held most high-paying jobs. Even after people of color and women successfully assimilated into the labor market in the 20th century, they still faced discrimination, racism, and sexism as they were funneled into overrepresented fields of work resulting in wage gaps across the United States.


Historically, people of color have been funneled into more labor-intensive jobs, while White males typically move into technical jobs that require advanced education. Furthermore, until recent years, women—minority and White women—were funneled primarily into nurturing jobs so that they could be easily replaceable once they started a family.



Additionally, in trade industries such as construction, STEM fields, healthcare, and hospitality, White male workers disproportionately dominate the workforce while minority workers and women struggle to obtain equality in wages, promotions, benefits, and more.

To help rectify this systemic problem, more companies are turning to Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs), as they have been successful in providing family-sustaining opportunities to apprentices. However, even among the most successful RAPs, White workers far outnumber people of color, women, and people with a disability—an issue becoming more prevalent over the past decade.


The Impact of Occupational Segregation on the Workforce


Occupational segregation creates a lopsided workforce nationwide due to minority groups being overrepresented or underrepresented in low-wage jobs. American Progress reported that in 2019, “19% of Black women work in just five occupations with an average salary of $30,789,” with 18% of Hispanic women at an average of $23,196 for their top five occupations compared to White women at $38,304. For White male workers in their top five most common occupations, the average annual wage was $59,760, with Black men at $29,488 and Hispanic men at $30,424.


Furthermore, the United States Census Bureau reported that in 2019, White men dominated the top ten highest-paying jobs in the United States. For example, 56% of physicians are White males, 30% are White women, 4.9% are Hispanic men, 3.7% are Black men and women, and 2.5% are Hispanic women. The data for Chief Executives and legislators is far more skewed, with White men representing 68%, White women 30%, and Black and Hispanic men and women representing less than 5%.


Meanwhile, men of color and women dominate the top ten lowest-paying occupations in the United States. For example, 61% of childcare workers are White women, followed by 21% of Hispanic women, 13% of Black women, 3.7% of White men, and 0.9% of Black men. Similarly, 55% of restaurant hosts were White women, 18% Hispanic women, 10% Black women, 11% white men, and 1.9% Black men.


As occupational segregation persists, the racial and gender wage gap widens, and minority groups continue to lose out on substantial wages, opportunities, and benefits.


Registered Apprenticeship and Occupational Segregation


Registered Apprenticeship Programs provide an excellent way for workers to enter family-sustaining careers while receiving paid on-the-job training from day one. Many workers who take advantage of RAPs successfully enter the competitive workforce without the traditional pathway of higher education. This ‘earn while you learn’ model is a life-changing opportunity for workers to make a progressive wage without college education requirements. For some workers, it helps bring them and their families out of generational poverty and into the middle class.


While RAPs are exceptionally valuable to the US economy, just like most high-paying occupations, they are dominated by White men, leaving many minority groups—including women of all ethnicities—severely underrepresented.


In data compiled by Zippia, the following statistics summarize the current state of RAPs:

  • 21.6% of all Apprentices are women, while 78.4% are men.

  • The most common ethnicity of Apprentices is White (69.3%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (18.5%) and Black or African American (7.7%).

  • Apprentices are paid an average annual salary of $36,283 and a starting salary of $27,000.

  • In 2021, women earned 96% of what men earned, with a male income of $35,764 and a female income of $34,224.

  • The top 10% of highest-paid Apprentices earn as much as $47,000.

  • Female apprentice participation in 2010 was 22.38%, and in 2019 was 23.70%, an increase of only 1.32%.

  • Black apprentice participation in 2010 as 8.42% and decreased to 7.69% in 2019.

  • Hispanic apprentice participation in 2010 was 15.94%, and in 2019 was 18.47%, an increase of only 2.53%.

  • Asian apprentice participation in 2010 was 2.13% and only increased by .03% in 2019




How Apprenticeship Programs Combat Occupational Segregation


In recent years, there has been an intentional push to diversify RAPs so that minority groups are better represented throughout the various sectors. In 2016, the US Department of Labor created the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) regulation for Registered Apprenticeship Programs to help prohibit “discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age (40 or older), genetic information, and disability.”


By actively promoting diversity, more businesses are setting goals to intentionally diversify their RAPS by targeting minority and disadvantaged groups. In Maryland, aerospace company Lockheed Martin turned to Registered Apprenticeship to increase the representation of women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities. As a result, the company successfully increased diversity among entry-level hiring and increased retention.


In the healthcare sector, RAPs like the Healthcare Career Advancement Program aim to remove entry barriers for women—especially women of color. Their RAP is comprised of 85% female apprentices, with 65% being women of color.


In the hospitality sector, to diversify the restaurant industry, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation created a Youth Registered Apprenticeship Program that equips students for careers in restaurant management. Their apprenticeship works with local communities to help students enter higher-paying food service careers.


Finally, in the construction sector, one of the largest trade industries, a pre-apprenticeship program located in Boston called Building Pathways, Inc. set a goal to address disparities in construction apprenticeships for women, people of color, and other under-served communities. In their journey to prepare minority groups for RAPs, female apprenticeship representation increased by 200% in Massachusetts.


Although RAPs still have much room for diversifying their apprenticeship field, they remain a viable solution for the nation’s occupational segregation crisis.


Understanding Occupational Segregation through the Lens of Apprenticeship


Our team at Intelligent Partnerships, Inc. put together three highly researched eBooks on the impact of Occupational Segregation on the workforce and the vital role of Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Each eBook is available for free download by clicking the links below.


Historical Conditions that Created Occupational Segregation by Race and Gender


Over the past hundred years, occupational segregation has impacted people of color, women, and women of color in the American workforce. This segregation has created extreme wage gaps that see White men earning higher wages in stable careers while people of color and women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs with less room for financial and professional growth. Click here to read the eBook.





Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation by Sector


Construction, STEM, Hospitality, and Healthcare represent major industries in the United States workforce. Currently, each sector is dominated by White males. To see a detailed racial and gender breakdown of each industry and how different companies are purposely targeting diversity within their companies, click here to read the eBook.





How to Reduce Occupational Segregation in the Workplace through Registered Apprenticeship Programs


Occupational segregation is a rampant issue that requires a targeted approach to make meaningful change. Registered Apprenticeship Programs are a proven way to increase workplace diversity by targeting minority groups and women while increasing opportunities for workers to earn and maintain family-sustaining wages. Click here to read the eBook.





Key Takeaways


There is no denying that occupational segregation exists in the United States workplace. Registered Apprenticeship Programs provide a viable solution to combating segregated workforces, but to be successful, RAPs must continue to desegregate their programs and offer fair opportunities to apprentices of all backgrounds.


For more information on occupational segregation, check out How Modern-Day School Segregation Leads to Occupational Segregation



This product was developed as a contribution to JFF’s National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship. Operated by Jobs for the Future, the Innovation Hub drives change in the Registered Apprenticeship system to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for populations that do not yet have access to the full promise of apprenticeship.


This workforce product was funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA). The product was created by the recipient and does not necessarily reflect the official position of DOL/ETA. DOL/ETA makes no guarantees, warranties, or assurances of any kind, express or implied, with respect to such information, including any information on linked sites and including, but not limited to, accuracy of the information or its completeness, timeliness, usefulness, adequacy, continued availability, or ownership. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it.


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