From education to employment

Challenging stereotypes around the defence sector and apprenticeships

Marcus Hutchings, Skills Academy Manager at AWE

With a long history of apprenticeships, spanning over half a century, AWE has witnessed the many individual and organisational advantages that apprenticeships can bring. With impetus from the new apprenticeship levy, we are now looking to widen the appeal of our apprenticeship programme. Through reaching out to underrepresented groups, we hope to challenge stereotypes around both the Defence sector and apprenticeships, to attract the best talent and build a more diverse and innovative workplace.

Step in the right direction

AWE plays a crucial role in the defence system of the United Kingdom, providing and maintaining the warheads for the country’s nuclear deterrent. We have been running apprenticeships for 65 years, traditionally providing training for science and engineering roles. The nuclear industry, however, is a highly technical one, which requires a unique set of skills and expertise and with the recent introduction of the apprenticeship levy, this prompted us to increase the breadth and depth of our apprenticeship programme. Apprenticeships at AWE will now offer a greater number of qualification levels, potentially up to degree level apprenticeships, as well as courses in new areas such as finance and HR.

In line with the expansion of our apprenticeship programme, we are keen to engage with a more diverse range of groups, primarily aiming to inspire more women and those not in education, employment, or training (NEET) to enter our industry. Innovation is essential to us and there’s no question that diversity drives that. We’ve been working to improve diversity within the organisation, as well as in apprenticeships, for a number of years and the introduction of the levy has allowed us to put even more focus on this objective

In fact, we carried out research to find out which types of apprenticeship qualification most appeal to our targeted groups. One insight we found was that higher-level apprenticeships, Levels 4 and 5, in engineering were a more attractive option for women. Therefore, by expanding our apprenticeship offering to accommodate some of these findings, we hope this can take us another step in the right direction towards improving diversity among our apprentices.

Community outreach

The increased momentum behind diversity at the business has been consolidated through our membership of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN). We’ve previously done lots of work around getting women into STEM, but the opportunity to collaborate with other employers on diversity initiatives was not one we could miss Marcus We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. As businesses, we all have a responsibility in this area. By working together and sharing ideas we can better drive forward the diversity agenda across all sectors

Through the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, we have made a number of pledges to tackle the diversity challenge head on. Recruiting more female apprentices has been a priority for the business for several years, and now we are also looking to put in place initiatives for reaching NEETs and those from deprived backgrounds.

We have also pledged to partner with community groups. We need to think how best to really engage with young people. So, we are planning to go to youth clubs and sports clubs and create a more informal setting for talking about apprenticeships and careers more widely

We are also keen to communicate with parents and one of our ADCN pledges involves developing a parents’ information page on our website. This is because parents often don’t get the same information about apprenticeships as young people and can hold outdated ideas on the value of apprenticeships as a result. We want to bridge this gap and ensure that parents also understand the variety of pathways available

Long-term goals

Although it is early days, we are positive that our diversity initiatives are already starting to take effect. This year’s apprenticeship applications from women have already increased by up to 15%.

AWE plans to continue this drive and has set long-term targets with the support of the ADCN. By 2020, we aim to have an apprenticeship intake of 20% women. Another goal is for 13% of our intake to be from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background – which exceeds government BAME diversity targets.

Ultimately, apprenticeships are a fantastic route for creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. We are excited to see what working with the ADCN can bring to our apprenticeships and we hope to make a real difference in this arena.

Marcus Hutchings, Skills Academy Manager at AWE

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