Learning and Work Institute and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation are calling for greater efforts to be made to encourage women and girls into engineering apprenticeships.

Just 9% of the current engineering workforce in the UK is female. This is not only a missed opportunity to address the widespread skills shortage in the sector, but also in tackling the wider problem of the gender pay gap.

The move comes as International Women’s Day (8 Mar) launches #PressforProgress on equal opportunities for women. This theme for 2018 follows on from a World Economic Forum report on gender last year which found that gender parity is currently 200 years away.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director Research & Development, Learning and Work Institute said:

“Unless the imbalance in apprenticeships is addressed, we face a significant risk of the apprenticeship programme further exacerbating the gender bias within the engineering and manufacturing technologies sector, rather than providing opportunity for women and men alike.”

The call for action is supported by a report on Understanding the under-representation of women in engineering apprenticeships. Sponsored by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the report reveals that women accounted for just 6.7% of successful applicants for Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (EMT) apprenticeships in 2015 and early 2016.

Jenni French, Programme Manager at Gatsby said:

“Although women are under-represented in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing) areas, it is particularly stark in engineering apprenticeships” said. “Not only does this lead to inequalities in pay but this gender imbalance has significant implications for the supply of skills into the economy.”

Apprenticeships are vital to address vital skills needs and facilitate social mobility. While just over half (52.5%) of those on apprenticeships are women, when analysed on a sector basis, only 3.7% of EMT apprentices are female.

To help better understand and tackle gender stereotypes in STEM apprenticeships the Learning and Work Institute analysed 2016 data gathered by Find an Apprenticeship, the official website for searching and applying for apprenticeships in England.

The main findings were:

  • Women are much less likely to apply for apprenticeships in the EMT (Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies) sector. Only 3.7% of female applicants applied compared with 34.6 of male applicants and overall women accounted for just 140 (6.7%) of successful EMT applicants.
  • However, when women do apply there is little difference in the success rates for male and female applications to the EMT sector, one of the few where there is no significant difference between the genders.
  • Women who do apply to the EMT sector generally apply to a wider range of sectors that are frequently unrelated to EMT and only 25% of women made further EMT applications if they were unsuccessful, compared with 43% of men. The more concerted focus on the sector by male applicants, and greater persistence when initially unsuccessful – also adds to the lack of female representation in EMT.

To tackle gender parity in EMT apprenticeships, the report recommends that:

  1. More encouragement is given to women and girls to apply in the first instance for apprenticeships in EMT and that once an application is in progress that ways of intervening are explored and piloted to find effective ways of making sure a female applicant stays the course.
  2. The government should change the way it provides data so that a more detailed analysis can be made including more information on the demographic characteristics of candidates and their successful and unsuccessful applications.

About Learning and Work Institute - Learning and Work Institute is an independent policy and research organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment and inclusion. We bring together over 90 years of combined history and heritage from the ‘National Institute of Adult Continuing Education’ (NIACE) and the ‘Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion’.

About Gatsby Charitable Foundation - Gatsby is a foundation set up by David Sainsbury to realise his charitable objectives. We focus our support on a limited number of areas: plant science research; neuroscience research; science and engineering education; economic development in Africa; public policy research and advice; the Arts.

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