A significant gender imbalance at apprenticeship level risks undermining the engineering industry’s efforts to build a more diverse workforce, according to integrated infrastructure services firm AECOM.
Marking National Women in Engineering Day on Thursday, AECOM is warning that unless urgent action is taken to address the growing gap between the number of male and female apprentices, the industry’s gender imbalance will persist for at least another generation.
Industry and government-led initiatives are contributing to a rising proportion of female candidates at graduate level, but the gap is huge – and worsening – among engineering apprentices. According to the most recent data* from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, less than eight per cent of apprentices in engineering and manufacturing technologies are female and their numbers have declined since 2012. In construction, planning and the built environment, women represent less than two per cent of apprentices and their proportion has also been in decline since 2012.
In order to close the gender gap at apprenticeship level, AECOM argues that the engineering industry must be as lateral and creative in its approach to recruitment as it is to technical problem-solving.
Kate Morris, director – strategic planning and advisory, AECOM, said: “Urgent, positive action is required to correct years of unintended gender bias in the industry. The growing gender imbalance at apprenticeship level must be addressed now in order to avoid sleepwalking into future diversity problems. As an industry, we must apply our problem-solving skills to tackle the lack of awareness and interest in engineering among emerging female talent. Disentangling the reality of today’s apprenticeships from outdated perceptions of blue collar manual labour will be part of the solution, along with efforts targeted at those who are harder to reach. It is vital that we showcase our profession to the young people the industry needs, rather than sitting back and waiting for them to find us.”