Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

We celebrated International Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd, but there’s plenty more work to be done in addressing the shocking gender imbalance in the industry. Apprenticeships should be a part of that – getting more girls to take up programmes in engineering would be good for employers, consumers, the UK economy, and for individual women themselves.

In 2017, a survey by WISE – an organisation that campaigns revealed that only 11% of the engineering workforce in the UK was female. Government statistics also show that the UK is lagging behind other European countries such as Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, who have almost 30% of women in engineering roles.

In terms of apprenticeships, WISE found that in 2017 more than 90% of people achieving STEM apprenticeships were men. This was despite an increase in the number of women achieving a STEM apprenticeship – 250 more, a 6% growth on the previous year. The percentage of women went down from 7.7% to 7.5% however, because the number of men increased by just over 5,300, an increase of 10%.

In 2015/16 women accounted for only 6.8% of Engineering apprenticeship starts and 1.9% of Construction Skills starts. And when it comes to the different apprenticeship levels, the gender imbalance becomes markedly wider the higher the level of the programme: the proportion of women doing Level 3 STEM qualifications (which includes Advanced Apprenticeships) was 34% in 2017; the proportion doing Level 4 (including Higher Apprenticeships) was a meagre 7%.

There is real demand from employers and consumers

The UK engineering sector is currently suffering from a serious skills shortage, and this is being compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls, choosing it as a career path. A recent report from Engineering UK estimated that the country needs 1.8 million new engineers by 2025.

Meanwhile, 61% of engineering employers say a recruitment of engineering and technical staff with right skills is a barrier to business; 32% of companies across sectors have reported difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff, and 20% find it difficult to recruit entrants to STEM.

We know that employers find apprentices (as opposed to university graduates) often have the workplace and specific industry skills they need, due to the nature of apprenticeship programmes, and want to stay in the industry: apprenticeships can help plug the skills and recruitment gap, as well as the gender one.

Consumers want more women in the industry too. Earlier this year, Coleen Everitt – who runs her own electrical business Alto Electrical – spoke of her firm belief that there is plenty of demand for female electricians.

Coleen said:

“I’ve found first-hand that there’s a huge demand. I have been going two years now and there is just not enough of me to do all the work I get. I try to get to the people who I feel specifically want a female.”

Likewise, Natasha Clark-Withers runs Get Her Trade, a directory of female tradeswomen in the UK, and she found the same:

“From the research we have done, there is a massive demand for tradeswomen and we need to encourage women to join the industry to cope with the demand.”

Young women have plenty to offer the industry & they get a lot from it

In a survey of 300 female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice; apprenticeships could get more women into that position.

Verity Jackson won School Leaver of the Year at the School Leaver Awards last month: a mechanical engineering apprentice at DSTL, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory ensuring that innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK.

Her work demonstrates the equal ability of young women to bring top skills and enthusiasm to the industry, via apprenticeship programmes.

"I can't believe I've won,” Verity said on winning her award. “I didn't think I was going to, but I'm really pleased, especially because a small company like DSTL got the recognition. I've loved my time as an apprentice so far and I'm so glad that I chose to do this route". 

Likewise, Bethany Preston – an Operational Support Systems Engineer at Arqiva – spoke earlier this year about her engineering apprenticeship, which gave her the experience needed to become the engineer she is today.

“The hands-on training that you receive through apprenticeships gives you a real chance to put your skills into practice and gain competency and confidence in a working environment,” Bethany said. “You don’t always get on-the-job training as a student, but as a Communications Engineering Apprentice at Arqiva I was able to build up my skills as I worked.”

However, work still needs to be done to address the engineering gender pay gap

Despite it being an industry that more young women should pursue – and many of them via good quality apprenticeships – it would be remiss not to mention the gender pay gap in engineering.

The Engineer’s 2017 Salary Survey found that women engineers earn on average £10,000 less per year than their male colleagues. The average salary for female respondents was £38,109. This compares to £48,866 for men, and an industry average of £48,000.

Although the figure represented a slight increase on the average salary among women in 2016, of £36,201, the overall gap in salaries between men and women remained unchanged, and it seems that female engineers have benefitted less from an industry-wide average salary increase of 6.6% in 2016-17.

Perhaps most concerning is the finding that women at every level of seniority are on average paid less than their male colleagues. For example, at junior level women earn on average £4,000 less than their male colleagues. The gap widens at director level with women paid on average £20,000 less.

However, a better gender balance in the industry could go someway to addressing this (with more female bosses hiring and setting salaries) – more young women should get into engineering, and do it with apprenticeships.

Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

Copyright © 2018 FE News


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