Many more young women could be interested in becoming engineering apprentices but for a lack of support and encouragement later in their school careers, according to a new report from the Gatsby Foundation and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Some 494,900 apprenticeships were started in England in 2016/17, 53% of them by women. Yet women accounted for just 8% of those starting apprenticeships in the engineering sector that year. Similarly in 2015/16, just 16% of students embarking on a first degree in engineering and technology were female.
Over the past five years, the emphasis on attracting girls to technology and engineering has focused on activities to inspire at the last stages of primary and the first three years of secondary school. However, the report “Never Too Late: Profiling Female Engineering Apprentices” suggests that there are a large number of girls who might select an engineering pathway post-16 if there were more initiatives to encourage them after leaving school. It recommends that engineering careers initiatives should broaden their outreach to target young women aged 15 to 25 and to include those with interests in creative crafts and the arts.
Jenni French, Programme Manager at the Gatsby Foundation, said: "Although women are under-represented in many STEM areas, this is particularly stark in engineering apprenticeships. Not only does this lead to inequalities in pay, but this gender imbalance has significant implications for the supply of skills into the economy."
The study surveyed current and newly qualified female and male apprentices as well as non-engineering apprentices to identify the characteristics of female apprentices, with the aim of providing input into the design of policies to increase the representation of women in engineering career pathways.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Employers, FE colleges and other organisations should broaden their targeting to include young women with interests in creative crafts and the arts.
- Engineering careers initiatives should develop programmes that target young women aged 15–25, since female engineering undergraduates and apprentices appear to make their career decisions later than their male counterparts.
- The engineering community should ensure that it offers practical support and advice to organisations who wish to promote the value of engineering apprenticeships in schools.
- EngineeringUK, along with its partners in the engineering community, should draw on the report’s findings as they work together to reposition the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme; specifically to act on the knowledge that women choosing routes into engineering careers tend to make this decision later, and that their hobbies and interests are less likely to be ‘tinkering’ and more likely to be linked to creative crafts and arts.
- STEM Learning Ltd should recruit a cadre of female engineering ambassadors who are trained to highlight specific messages about engineering apprenticeships.
The full report can be found here.
The coverage of this report in Times Education Supplement can be found here.