Apprenticeships – an opportunity for women to re-train?

6 June 2017 | Leave a comment

In this guest post, CEO of the WISE Campaign, Helen Wollaston explores apprenticeships as an opportunity for women to retrain. At a time when women struggling to get back to work after a career break is estimated to deprive the UK economy of £1.7bn and the STEM talent pool is running dry, we think smart science, technology and engineering organisations will take note.

We hear all the time about skills shortages in engineering and technology. Although numbers are steadily rising, WISE statistics show that women are only around a fifth of the UK’s STEM workforce. Our analysis of the 2016 data showed that only 7% of girls leave the UK education system with a degree or equivalent level vocational qualification relevant to engineering or technology roles. The common response is to get more positive female role models into schools. Whilst this is worth doing, there are many hurdles to overcome and a long lead in time before the girls are ready to enter the workplace.

Many of the women working in engineering or construction or IT came into the sectors more by chance than design, often after starting out on a different career path. Increased interest in apprenticeships, in part driven by the Apprenticeship Levy facing employers with a salary bill of £3m or more, is an opportunity to offer a route into STEM for women who chose other subjects at school, college or university but would like to re-train.

HRH The Princess Royal visit to WISE at Leeds College of Building, Hunslet Campus, Leeds.

There is no age limit on being an apprentice. If you are woman thinking about returning to work and fancy a change of direction – there are some great apprenticeships around in engineering, digital and science-related fields. The pay and prospects are a lot better than in traditionally female sectors.

If you are an employer with skill shortages in engineering or technology – why not offer apprenticeships to women returning from career break or indeed those in support roles in your business who might want to re-train? Larger employers can get credits back from your Levy contributions, smaller employers get most of the training costs re-imbursed. See the National Apprenticeship Service website for details. Going live at the end of June, our apprenticeship toolkit is a free resource for employers and training providers wanting to attract more women onto STEM apprenticeships.

Under current rules, apprentices must work at least 30 hours a week and often have a day at college. WISE would like to see more flexibility in provision to open up opportunities for those with caring responsibilities. Sky, winners of the WISE Employer Award 2016, offer women-only software development courses part-time and evening as well as full time and have been overwhelmed with demand. We would love to see more companies follow suit as a practical initiative to get more women into STEM. Good for women, good for your business and good for the UK economy.


#9PercentIsNotEnough Conference 23rd June










The IET is holding a one day conference and workshops on International Women in Engineering day,  addressing the barriers to inspiring, attracting, retaining and developing women in engineering and technology. We are hosting a workshop on best practices around managing maternity transitions focused on line manager behaviours during the afternoon. See the programme here.

Why 9% percent is not enough? That’s the proportion of engineers who are women. It’s time to innovate, pivot, collaborate and problem-solve. Join us?


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