International Women’s Day highlights lack of females in industry

Posted on 5 Mar 2012

New data shows that the number of female engineering apprentices is increasing at a faster pace than their male counterparts.

The data, released today ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day on the 8 March, shows an 84% rise in the number of women taking an engineering apprenticeship between 2002 and 2010.

Although starting from a much lower base rate, the growth of women entering industrial apprenticeships is 20 percent higher than the 64 increase in the number of male apprentices over the same period.

But, with women taking up only five percent of the apprenticeship places available, it will take at least 50-years at current growth rates for there to be an equivalent proportion of male to female apprentices.

In comparison to other European countries the UK is failing to add balance between the sexes when it comes to entry to industry. EU data shows that the UK has the lowest number of female engineers in the whole of Europe, at just nine percent, while 18 percent of the engineers in Spain, 20 percent in Italy and 26 percent in Sweden are women.

The sector skills council for manufacturing, Semta, carried out the research and highlighted that the lack of women entering engineering is a major problem, and a reason why the UK is struggling to amass the 82,000 new engineers, scientists and technicians it needs between now and 2016.

“Women represent half the UK workforce but only account for 21% of science, engineering and manufacturing employees. They are a great untapped resource at a time when we need a wealth of new talent and higher level skills to improve competitiveness,” said Semta chief executive Philip Whiteman.

Mr Whiteman added: “We need to keep up the momentum on apprenticeship growth as these are high skilled, well-rewarded opportunities which should be attractive to all – regardless of gender.”

Semta has recently announced plans to support and develop more than 400 female employees across the UK, launching the Career Investment and Progression Programme, which has created a new qualification designed to help individuals plan their career development.

Prior to the recent drive from industry and government to support apprenticeships, the lack of vocational training and female-friendly recruitment processes has led to a dearth of women in industry.

Misha Knight, who recently became first female apprentice welder to work on submarines since the 1980s at BAE Systems, said that there is a misconception about women in industry. She urged young women to not be intimidated by manufacturing’s male-dominated image, as reported in a recent report by Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman of JCB, and said that the workplace is a lot friendlier than it is perceived by her peers.

Caroline Brown, head of international business for nuclear at global engineering and design consultancy Atkins, said: “Women’s differences can be their strengths. Whereas I might have previously tried to fit-in to succeed, I now know I don’t have to do that.

Women who work in the sector will be sharing their experiences with business leaders, MPs, peers and training providers at the House of Lords on Thursday, an event that will be covered by The Manufacturer online and on Twitter.