Women in apprenticeships - not just for the boys

The role of an apprentice – where you earn while you learn – has become a hot topic in the employment market, driven in part by the cost of university tuition fees. And while it was once seen as a male-dominated position, women are now seizing the opportunity too.

Apprenticeships are a great hands-on route into an industry where you can develop essential skills for a new career. Little wonder, then, that there’s been a rise in female apprentices over the last 10 years.

But what’s surprising is the split between apprenticeships applied for by women and those by men. New research from British Gas shows that over 70% of girls thought they were most suited to careers in beauty, childminding, nursing or education. While these careers are rewarding in their own right, a recent report in The Independent highlighted that putting more women in ‘male’ apprenticeships could bridge the gender pay gap.Infographic about 70% of girls thinking they were more suited to careers in beauty, childminidng, nursing or education. "When I started, I didn't know one end of the screwdriver from another" Kirsty Haig, New Recruit Manager (former apprentice). Only 49% of women feel they are getting the right careers advice - as a result, 70% feel more suited to roles in beauty, childcare, nursing, and education.So why aren’t there more women in engineering apprenticeships? Research has revealed that this could be down to the information provided by parents and teachers. When it comes to careers advice, 52% of girls say their parents don’t mind what they do (compared to 35% of boys), while half of girls (51%) surveyed said the career advice they got wasn’t that helpful compared to boys (39%).

It’s an issue that springs from the home too, with over a third of parents revealing that they offer differing career advice to their sons than to their daughters.

Could this mean that young women aren’t getting a balanced view from an early age? Or that the benefits of an apprenticeship are simply less well known?

Kirsty Haig, 33, is a former British Gas apprentice who’s risen through the ranks and now manages new recruits at the company’s Thatcham academy. She says: “All types of people become apprentices. I applied for the apprenticeship because I decided that I wanted to keep my mind busy and I’d be doing something physical rather than sitting behind a desk. When I started, I didn’t know one end of a screwdriver to another. A year down the line I got my Gas Safe badge so I was competent, then I went out on my own.”

Despite being one of the few females working in engineering, 24 year-old Stephanie Walker says this doesn’t bother her at all: “Working in a male dominated role is absolutely fine. I was slightly nervous at first and worried that I wouldn’t be accepted, but that wasn’t the case. All of my colleagues, male and female, have a really good attitude to their work and they aren’t concerned with what gender I am.

“I’ve never looked back. I absolutely love my job and meeting new customers every day is really rewarding. No day is ever the same, so it never gets boring.”

This is a good time to be a female apprentice with UK companies increasingly aware of the value that apprentices offer. Since 2007, British Gas has invested £150 million into apprenticeships and now trains more than 1,200 apprentices across the business, many of these through six dedicated engineer training academies in Leeds, Leicester, Thatcham, Dartford, Scotland and South Wales.

So, the next time you think an apprenticeship or industry is not open to you, consider those who have blazed the trail. From women on the homefront working in munitions factories during the first and second World Wars, to British boxer Nicola Adams fighting her way to an Olympic gold medal. Or remember Libby Lane – the UK’s first female bishop and Nancy Astor, the first lady in the House of Commons. Then, think again.

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