As things stand just a tiny amount of engineers in this country are women, a paltry seven per cent. That’s the lowest in the entire European Union, a galling statistic in 2015 and one we should all be concerned about.
Three times the size of our retail sector, whether it is transport, factories, hospitals, offices, white goods or communications – engineering is essential to our everyday lives.
The plain fact is the British economy needs another 87,000 new apprentices every single year for the next decade in order to make sure we are able to meet the global challenges of the future – energy, climate change, food and water supplies and an ageing population.
We need to get more women engineers into the workplace but right now just three per cent of engineering apprentices are female; there is a long road to travel.
For far too long women have been held back by an unconscious bias from teachers, parents and employers which has reinforced outdated gender stereo typing when it comes to engineering and science.
Unite is now launching a guide – called ‘Thinking about an apprenticeship?’ – specifically for women considering engineering and science.
Key to the guide is getting young women talking to others just like them about the reality of working in engineering and science, and that includes taking this message into schools. There is a major difference between these conversations and the one-dimensional aspect of official company adverts.
This is all part of an ongoing campaign by Unite to bust myths about engineering being unsafe, dirty work which women aren’t strong enough to do. Such old-fashioned notions belong firmly in the past.
We are talking about vast reserves of untapped potential among the nation’s young women; and the best people to inspire the women engineers and scientists of the future are those doing this kind of work today.
Take Natalie Murray, a maintenance apprentice at BMW. “My male counterparts treat me exactly the same as the male apprentices” she told me. “We should try to step away from the ‘stereo type’ given to women so we don’t assume they want to do a clean, office type role, but a practical hands-on role.”
Amy Ensor, an engineering apprentice at Brush, explained that it’s a ‘standing joke’ that her dad started her career off: “I was one of those females who believed engineering was solely for males…my dad had to ring Brush to confirm they would even consider taking on a female.
“One of my main concerns is that there are plenty of other females out there that have the ability and skill required to perform such engineering tasks.”
Such testimonies show that apprenticeships are a brilliant opportunity with a real, decent and secure job at the end of it.
On offer is qualification gained via a high quality work-based programme with the chance to earn a real wage and gain practical skills. In addition Unite will always work hard with employers to help ensure that apprenticeships being offered are meaningful, never bogus.
I’d say to all women interested in engineering – don’t be put off by outdated sexism. Britain doesn’t need it, but Britain certainly needs you.
Unite’s guide – ‘Thinking About an Apprenticeship’ – can be found here.
There’s also this short video: