A FLAGSHIP national apprenticeship scheme set up to prevent a "lost generation" of young workers in Scotland has been criticised for reinforcing workplace segregation of women.

A hard-hitting study of women's role in the labour market in Scotland, led by an equality in business expert, argues Scotland's Modern Apprenticeship (MA) Programme is contributing to gender-based favouritism by prioritising job creation for men.

Professor Ailsa McKay, of Glasgow Caledonian University, recommends that the Scottish Government should consider quotas within the apprenticeships scheme to ensure women are properly represented in all trades and skills.

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The Women in Scotland's Economy (WiSE) Research Centre group study reveals that at September 2012, just 33% of those taking part in the nationwide programme were women, and "patterns of participation were highly gender-segregated" – which they argue is a catalyst for workplace discrimination.

Eight of the 12 most popular MA vocational training courses were "severely gender segregated", five of which were dominated by men – construction (99%), vehicle maintenance and repair (98%), plumbing (98%), engineering (97%) and freight logistics (95%).

The group also warned the recession had "little impact" on attempts to have women better represented in the nation's boardrooms. In 2012 just over 10% of men were managers, directors and senior officials compared to just over 6% of women, with very little change over five years.

The Scottish Government has spent millions offering guarantees of work and financial incentives to support modern apprenticeships since announcing an initiative in June, 2009. The First Minister's pledge for 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year was a major plank of his election manifesto.

However, Ms McKay said: "The problem is young women are not benefiting in the same way from the young apprenticeships scheme as young men. And even the third that do go in, are going into it very short term.

"The MA doesn't necessarily need to fail us. It is just the way it is designed and delivered that is problematic at the moment in terms of equality.

"What we have found on building sites and for women who get engineering apprenticeships is they don't just have to prove their worth as the young men do, they have to prove they are better and they can sustain living and working in that environment in ways that are more efficient than their male counterparts. That's discrimination.

"You could introduce quotas, by saying you want so many women in plumbing by a certain time. And if you start from 2% then you could maybe want it to be 10%. If the Government are funding the programme and are committed to an equality agenda then I don't see why quotas wouldn't be a possibility."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We recognise that more can be done to encourage more young women into areas such as science, technology or engineering.

"The First Minister announced funding of £250,000 to establish CareerWISE (Women In Science & Engineering) Scotland at the Women's Employment Summit in September, which also outlined action on how to tackle occupational segregation and improve women's employment prospects in key sectors."