Act now to address gender imbalance at apprenticeship level, says AECOM

Urgent lateral thinking is required to avoid “sleepwalking” into future diversity problems

London – 21 June 2016: 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. Ahead of National Women in Engineering Day, AECOM warns 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 8% 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 2% 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. One route AECOM 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.

Kate Morris, Director – Strategic Planning & Advisory, Transportation, 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 Disentangling the reality of today’s apprenticeships from outdated perceptions of blue collar manual labour will be part of the solution, along with efforts targeted at those who are harder to reach.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.”

AECOM is calling 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.

As part of its broader diversity programme, the company has a number of strategies in place to facilitate the hiring of female talent, such as the inclusion of women at the key selection decision points during recruitment. From how job advertisements are pitched and where they are promoted, to ensuring that women play a greater role in the hiring decision-making process, AECOM argues that a more inclusive approach will help achieve a better outcome for all.

Apprenticeships offer an important route into engineering, with their vocational focus being particularly relevant to such a practical sector. Today’s engineering apprenticeships offer more than a craft-based education, providing an alternative path to achieving a Bachelor’s degree and Chartered status. However, these attractive opportunities for career development do not appear to be having sufficient impact among young women.

Among other benefits, apprentices are able to acquire the knowledge and experience needed to become qualified engineers without amassing large student debts.

*FE data library: equality and diversity: Participation and success rates of apprentices & adult learners by ethnicity, gender, disabilities and age, 14 December 2015

Muna Al-Azzawi
0207 798 5158 / 07917 574 766

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