Being a female apprentice in the automotive industry

Posted on 25 Jun 2019 by Maddy White

Women make up around 12% of engineers in the UK, but just over 7% of engineering apprentices are female. To find out more, we spoke to two second year female apprentices at automotive part maker, Unipres.

apprentices at unipress - unipress
Second year apprentices at Unipres – image courtesy of Unipres.

Although the majority of new apprenticeship starters are now women (51%), female apprentices in manufacturing are outnumbered 14-to-1 by their male peers.

“I thought you just made cars in the automotive industry,” says second year engineering apprentice at Unipres, Eden McGlen. “I didn’t realise how many different types of engineering there are and how complex it is.”

McGlen has been named as one of Women in Engineering Society’s (WES) Top 50 Women in Engineering. With its theme for 2019, Current and Former Apprentices, WES hopes to highlight the opportunities that engineering apprenticeships offer women.

Expect the unexpected

Technical education has been considered inferior to glossy university degrees for years, but that notion is an outdated one according to the young apprentice. “I knew that I didn’t want to go to sixth form and university and have lots of debt,” she tells me. “I am a practical person and so I learn while I am working.”

She says that her cousin, a design engineer, inspired her to work in industry. “I saw her and thought I would like to do that,” McGlen says. “My school didn’t really offer anything like engineering, so I did a pre-apprenticeship first, and then I did work experience at Nissan and Unipres.”

eden mcglen apprentice at unipress
Eden McGlen has been named as one of WES’ Top 50 Women in Engineering – image courtesy of Unipres.

McGlen says what she likes most about engineering is that every day is different and offers a new challenge.

“When you come into work, you don’t know what to expect. I don’t think people understand how many different opportunities there are in manufacturing, there are apprenticeships in so many things, business, quality.”

The trainee engineer is a STEM ambassador and became one because engineering apprenticeships need to be understood and promoted more. “We go into schools and speak about apprenticeships and visit companies to tell them why it is good to have apprentices.”

Shattering the stereotype

“I always get asked to do videos, podcasts and talks because girls don’t really understand that engineering is not just for boys. People think that when you are making cars, it is all heavy work, but it is not. I thought that before too,” McGlen adds.

Megan Gorman is another second year apprentice at Sunderland-based Unipres. Both Gorman and McGlen tell me that engineering careers are not encouraged at school enough.

Gorman says: “When I was in school, I wanted to go to sixth form and then to university as that was the standard path, but then there was an opportunity to do a pre-apprenticeship in engineering. I did that for one year and I got my level 2 qualification. Then the Nissan and Unipres apprenticeships came up, so I applied for those.

Megan Gorman is an apprentice at Unipres – image courtesy of Unipres.

“In engineering you are in the classroom, but you are also on the shopfloor, using your tools, equipment and problem-solving skills. Now, I am in the assembly maintenance department and that involves fixing robots, I like programming and mending them.”

Go for it!

Gorman and her fellow apprentice say the plan is to continue to progress in industry. McGlen says, “It has already given me loads of opportunities I never thought it would. I have spoken in front of hundreds of people about why apprenticeships are important.”

Adding her advice, Gorman says, “I’d say don’t be scared to go into engineering, you might be put off as it is a male environment, but we are all treated the same. If you want to go for it, you should.”