Never too late: Profiling female engineering apprentices

Many more young women could be interested in becoming engineering apprentices but for them to be “converted” to engineering, there needs to be more support and encouragement later in their school careers.

Apprenticeships are seen as an important part of the answer to the UK’s technical skills gap, and more generally as an undervalued alternative to university for developing work-related skills.

Some 494,900 young people were enrolled on apprenticeships in England in 2016/17, and the total number of active apprenticeships reached 912,200; about 74,000 new starts (15%) were in engineering-related roles. However, while 53% of new apprentices are female, there is a striking gender imbalance in engineering – only 8% of engineering apprentices are women.

The past decade has seen a strong drive to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships. Since 2010/11, about 500,000 new apprenticeships were started each year, linked to strong support from Government. Yet the percentage of female engineers remains stubbornly low.

To provide more insight into the characteristics of women who do choose engineering apprenticeships, in 2017 the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Gatsby Charitable Foundation commissioned the research agency ICMUnlimited to undertake a survey of current and newly qualified female and male engineering apprentices and undergraduates, as well as nonengineering apprentices.


1. Employers, FE colleges and other organisations should broaden their targeting to include young women with interests in creative crafts and the arts.

2. Engineering careers initiatives should develop programmes that target young women aged 15–25, since female engineering undergraduates and apprentices appear to make their career decisions later than their male counterparts.

3. The engineering community should ensure that it offers practical support and advice to organisations who wish to promote the value of engineering apprenticeships in schools.

4. EngineeringUK, along with its partners in the engineering community, should draw on the report’s findings, as they work together to reposition the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme; specifically to act on the knowledge that women choosing routes into engineering careers tend to make this decision later, and that their hobbies and interests are less likely to be ‘tinkering’ and more likely to be linked to creative crafts and arts.

5. STEM Learning Ltd should recruit a cadre of female engineering ambassadors who are trained to highlight specific messages about engineering apprenticeships, including:
  • The creative problem-solving aspects of engineering 
  • Providing The suitability of engineering careers, even for those who have not harboured a longstanding interest in the subject
  • How the changing nature of engineering and technology will require future engineers with a variety if skills and interests.


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