‘Girls still stifled by outdated gender stereotypes’

Lucy Martin of British Gas
Lucy Martin of British Gas
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GROWING numbers of British firms are desperately seeking qualified engineers.

But it seems that many girls are still being discouraged from taking up potentially lucrative careers in engineering by their parents.

A new study concludes that many parents still believe that apprenticeships are just for boys, despite overwhelming evidence that women can play a significant role in bridging the UK’s skills gap.

The new research from British Gas has revealed that parents in Leeds are more likely to advise teenage boys to take on an apprenticeship.

The study also found that just under half of parents (47 per cent) admitted offering their children career advice depending on their gender. Only four per cent of parents surveyed said they would like their daughter to pursue a career in engineering.

By contrast, 22 per cent selected engineering as their preferred career choice for their son. The study also found that only 10 per cent of teenage girls view an apprenticeship as a viable career option. More than three times as many teenage boys (31 per cent) are keen to go straight from school into an apprenticeship scheme, the study found. Last year, only four per cent of applicants for British Gas’s technical and engineering apprenticeship schemes were female.

Poor careers advice has resulted in teenage girls limiting their own career choices, the British Gas survey found. More than 70 per cent of teenage girls across the UK expressed a preference for traditionally “female” stereotyped roles. Meanwhile, in Leeds, the preferred roles for teenage girls were: the beauty industry (75 per cent), nursing (73 per cent) and childcare (72 per cent).

Stuart Rattray, the academy operations manager at British Gas’s Leeds Academy, said: “Young women from Leeds could be missing out on the opportunities an engineering apprenticeship offers, perhaps because of a lack of awareness among career advisers that engineering can provide an excellent start to a great career.

“We’ve also found that some parents may never consider advising their daughters towards engineering as a career option.”

Andy Tuscher, the Yorkshire and Humber region director at the EEF, which lobbies on behalf of the engineering sector, told The Yorkshire Post: “Sadly this type of stereotyping is all too familiar.

“It is stifling young women’s ambitions and career prospects and leaving women under-represented in manufacturing at every level – from apprentice and graduate entry right through to director-level. The reality is that engineering offers a wealth of career opportunities in roles that are dynamic, creative and well-paid and these opportunities are valid for girls as well as boys. Part of the problem is that so many people have outdated perceptions of engineering. The public are often unaware that industry now offers jobs that are highly advanced and cutting-edge. Clearly, we have to get better at demonstrating this, and I know many local manufacturers are busy engaging with schools so that they can try to open eyes. But at the same time, parents and teachers should also take the time to find out more about the types of jobs and careers available from all sectors so that they are able to give children genuinely helpful advice.”

Among those to have benefited from an apprenticeship is Lucy Martin, who joined the British Gas apprenticeship scheme in October 2013 after leaving the Royal Air Force.

She said: “I was an engineer in the RAF, so the British Gas apprenticeship in service and repair was the perfect career path. I really enjoy being hands on, so I knew that the scheme would be for me.

“One of the best aspects of my job is helping customers who need some extra support. I remember one time, I was able to help an elderly lady whose boiler was leaking. When I arrived at her home she was wrapped up in blankets, and she was over the moon when I had completed the job.”