IWD 2023: Apprenticeships are key to encouraging women into the sector

Hannah Mehr is an apprentice data scientist at Arup and won Apprentice of the Year at the 2022 Association for Consultancy and Engineering awards

It is not news to anyone in the industry that there is a chronic skills gap in the construction and engineering sector. But the shortage will only continue to challenge the future of the industry unless more attention is paid to diversifying recruitment. Women are a huge potential pool of talent which to this day remains untapped. One way we should be looking to attract more women into the sector is by maximising the use of apprenticeships, and inspiring girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers from a much younger age.

“Women are a huge potential pool of talent which to this day remains untapped”

In my experience, by engaging with students at school level to promote apprenticeships, the industry has the opportunity to bust some of the myths around what a job in the sector looks like, encouraging female role models and creating more equitable outcomes long-term. I joined Arup over three years ago as an apprentice in the software development team, fuelled by an interest in digital but searching for an alternative route to a traditional education. I opted to do a Level 3 Software Development Technician apprenticeship rather than A-Levels and am now completing a Level 6 Degree apprenticeship in data analytics.

A different path

Apprenticeships open the doors to a non-traditional pathway into the sector and are perfect for people who are unsure whether the A-Levels and university route is right for them, or are looking for more practical experience. I have found that there is a stigma around apprenticeships which leads people to believe that they are only for those who don’t do well at school. However, the reality is entirely different. Apprenticeships are for all – those who do well at school and those who learn best outside of the classroom. By encouraging people into STEM careers at the school stage, we have the chance to engage with a much broader pool of potential talent compared with those who graduate with a particular set of degrees.

Research suggests that girls tend to have the same level of interest in mathematics and science as boys throughout their primary schooling. But, girls’ interest in these subjects wanes later in life. There are a number of reasons at individual, institutional, and societal levels that prevent women from pursuing STEM degrees and careers, but showcasing the breadth of a career in digital, construction and engineering at school-leaver age could help dispel some of the misconceptions about the sector.

A huge gap still persists in the perception versus the reality of a career in STEM and has resulted in an insufficient number of young people – especially girls – choosing it as a career path. Through engaging with schools to promote apprenticeship programmes, we have the opportunity to smash some of those stereotypes and demonstrate what a modern career in digital, engineering and construction looks like.

This article was published on 8 March to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023.

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