'Positive action' needed over apprentice gender imbalance


Infrastructure firm AECOM has called for ‘positive action – but not positive discrimination’ to address a significant and growing gender imbalance at apprenticeship level in the engineering industry.

The firm said the gender imbalance risks undermining efforts to build a more diverse workforce and will persist for at least another generation unless urgent action is taken.

Kate Morris, AECOM’s director – strategic planning & advisory

The warning comes ahead of National Women in Engineering Day on Thursday. AECOM said that although industry and government-led initiatives are seeing a rising proportion of female candidates at graduate level, the gender gap among engineering apprentices is not just ‘huge’ but worsening.

It quoted Government statistics showing that women make up less than 8% of apprentices in engineering and manufacturing technologies and less than 2% of apprentices in construction, planning and the built environment.

In each case the proportion of women has declined since 2012.

Kate Morris, AECOM’s director – strategic planning & advisory, said ‘urgent, positive action’ was required to correct years of unintended gender bias in the industry and the gender imbalance at apprenticeship level must be addressed now ‘in order to avoid sleepwalking into future diversity problems’.

She said: ‘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‘Disentangling the reality of today’s apprenticeships from outdated perceptions of blue collar manual labour will be part of the solution, along with efforts targeted at those who are harder to reach.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.’

AECOM said one route it is exploring is targeting female talent from less socially mobile categories who may not want to – or be able to afford to – go to university, with the aim of encouraging them to consider an engineering apprenticeship.

The firm called for ‘a more inclusive approach that fosters positive action – but not positive discrimination – to establish a more level playing field that enables people to be measured on their merits, regardless of gender, race, sexuality and culture’.

Hertfordshire CC has also pledged its support for National Women in Engineering Day, citing the achievements of women in its workforce.

Vicky Saunders, who started as an admin assistant, is now principal engineer, leading the council’s local roads maintenance team, while Rachael Stephens from the same team was a recent ‘Best Apprentice’ finalist in the Women in Construction Awards 2016.

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