Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 12

Submission from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC) and supported by the WISE Campaign[14]


  1.1  The UK Resource Centre for Women in SET works to significantly improve the participation and position of women in science, engineering and technology occupations in industry, research, academia, and public service to benefit the future productivity of the UK and the lifetime earnings and career aspirations of women. It is the UK's leading centre providing information and advisory services to employers and organisations in the SET sectors and supporting women entering, returning and progressing in these fields.

  1.2  The UKRC and its partner organisations have considerable experience over a number of years of working on the under representation of women in Science, Engineering, and Technology and Construction/Built Environment atypical careers and occupations at all levels, including apprenticeships. This submission is based on this experience and additional analysis. From this point in the submission "SET" is meant to include the built environment and construction and includes Mathematics.

  1.3  The UKRC has developed an integrated framework which addresses the whole of the potential education employment pathway (from school into and throughout working life), and encompasses all levels of learning and employment in SET, including vocational access routes and pre-16 supply interventions. The UKRC's integrated framework identifies influencers and intermediaries (which are relevant to specific areas of education or work like apprenticeships, eg the Sector Skills Councils) whose policies or service delivery impact on women's participation in SET learning and employment. These organisations can play an important role in promoting equality through better systems, structures, representations and processes and helping to breakdown gender based assumptions and stereotypes. An integrated framework recognises that coordinated interventions at all levels of learning and employment combined with awareness raising for those that educate and influence career decisions, are necessary to increase the participation and position of women in SET. Relevant policies should include gender equality in SET as a priority focus to support an integrated strategy.

  1.4  The Gender Equality Duty, designed to mainstream equality considerations into policy development and implementation, applies to the development of Apprenticeships. Full application of its provisions and expectations would improve likely outcomes for women and girls.


  Action is needed on two fronts: in relation to supply and demand issues. Individual girls and women have to be enabled and attracted into SECT apprenticeships. But, in addition, employers and learning or training providers have to transform curricula, the learning environment, work place culture and HR practices.

  An awareness of the needs of atypical apprentices is implicit in the Bill's spirit, but is also somewhat formulaic. What is lacking in the Review and hence the Bill are the specifics about the issues and practical measures which can address discrimination, gender stereotyping and male dominated cultures. UKRC draws the department and the Select Committee's attention to the references to resources and good practice made throughout this submission and to our work with schools on Widening Horizons and the "How to" good practice guides published by UKRC and produced by the JIVE project.[15]

  Section 2 provides an outline of evidence demonstrating the severe under representation of women in vocational training and occupations. It shows the extent of attrition and points out that there are considerable resources available, which describe the situation and provide solutions.

  Section 3 looks in detail at the limitations of the bill and makes a number of recommendations and suggestions which the committee is invited to consider in detail in that part of the submission.

  Our further specific suggestions which form Section 4 are presented here and not repeated below:

    1. Positive action targets to increase the numbers of women in occupations and crafts where women are currently under represented.

    2. Well developed provisions, support and resources for NAS, employers and learning providers to address discrimination and gender stereotyping through better policy and HR practices and to develop inclusive cultures which welcome, retain and progress women from all backgrounds. Some of these are outlined in the body of this submission. The EOC evidence and recommendations referred to above should be taken account of.

    3. The collection and dissemination of disaggregated data by gender and ethnicity so we can all see how many women and men are working in atypical areas.

    4. The development and expansion of flexible, properly resourced and well implemented adult apprenticeship schemes, because adult women are more likely than young women to enter traditionally masculine fields of employment. To include active promotion of opportunities for late entry to apprenticeships. To include exemptions for under represented groups like women from the higher level qualifications exclusion.

    5. Provisions for flexible childcare support.

    6. The provision and encouragement of mentoring and networking support for women apprentices with links to national networks.

    7. An increase in the number of school level activities that involve girls in acquiring STEM skills. These should include schools arranging or expecting key mixed gender SET enrichment and enhancement activities to be taken up equitably (50:50 girl and boys). Positive action with activities targeted at girls will also have a place, for example, science club activities for girls modelled on the CC4G computer clubs programme.

    8. Co-ordinated action by government and business to boost supply by increasing recruitment into learning/qualification pathways but also address attrition by addressing structural and cultural barriers in the workplace. Comprehensive implementation of the gender duty.

    9. Life time/career long support and change services and programmes will be required to sustain an increase in the numbers of women entering vocational and technical occupations through apprenticeships. UKRC's main service area is directed at increasing the representation, progression, retention and return of women in SET at level 4 +, but offer a model of good practice in creating change for women in SET across the skill level range.


  2.1  The TUC recently produced figures on the participation of girls and young women in Apprenticeship schemes[16]. Table 1, taken from their report, shows how small a proportion of apprentices in construction, engineering and vehicle maintenance are women, compared to traditional female areas such as hairdressing and health and social care. What is even more worrying is that the percentage of women has reduced in engineering and vehicle maintenance, and only remained the same in construction. We would have hoped to see an increase in the participation of girls if there had been sufficient resources and motivation for well conceived and properly implemented gender initiatives including those supporting the transition from school to work.[17]

Table 1


% women apprentices

(level 2 and level 3)
Apprenticeship Framework2002-03 2006-07% change

1.3 1.30
Hairdressing92.691.7 -0.9
Business Administration78.6 790.4
Customer Service68.2 67-1.2
Hospitality and Catering50.6 50.60
Children's Care Learning and Development 97.397.1-0.2
Engineering4.62.6 -2
Health and Social Care88.9 89.70.8
Retail65.866.4 0.6
Vehicle Maintenance and Repair2.9 1.4-1.5

  2.2  The report also noted that this situation was worse in schemes run by larger employers who are part of the Learning and Skills Council National Employers Service (NES):

    "Of the 10 most popular Apprenticeship frameworks with NES employers, six had less than 11% women apprentices. Even more strikingly, four of the five most popular Apprenticeships taken up via the NES have less than 4% women. These are construction (1.2%), vehicle maintenance (1.3%), engineering (3.5%) and electrotechnical (1.5%)." (TUC, 2008, page 5).

  2.3  The UKRC draws together and analyses data about women with SET qualifications and their employment destinations. A paper recently submitted to the call for evidence: Analysis on Demand for STEM skills by the UKRC on women and men's participation across the educational and skills levels showed that at every level of education and training, fewer women than men are choosing to gain STEM qualifications and skills and to move into STEM employment. But this situation is most severe in STEM vocational training. And women with STEM qualifications are more likely to work in non-STEM occupations, not in STEM.[18]

  2.4  The EOC undertook a formal investigation into occupational segregation in 2004-05[19] and this has also informed our analysis. The committee should take account of this along with other EOC research undertaken in this area of sex stereotyping and work and education. In particular note that EOC research showed that girls say they would have been influenced in their choice of career had they know of the detrimental pay differentials between different apprenticeships, before and after training. Occupational segregation reflected in apprenticeships contributes to the gender pay gap.


  The Review: World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All incorporated some attention to equality and positive action in a way not hitherto offered in policy documents concerning post 16 education. This included references to the need for advice and guidance to aid access and overcome barriers and thus address past discrimination by employers and workplace cultures.[20]

  However the Review fell short in significant ways and the Bill reflects these shortcomings.

  We list the key problems here. Provisions or changes in the Bill to take account of them would strengthen the likelihood of increasing women's representation in atypical work areas and reduce the pay gap as well as improving productivity:

3.1  More explicit measures to address under—representation

  Measures to address under representation are mentioned but late in the Review document, almost as an after thought. UKRC believes there were numerous opportunities to address gender equality throughout the Review, which would have resulted in the integration of a more solid approach to under representation and inequality. For instance, as we said above, the Review could have called upon the considerable material and advice contained within reports and policy recommendations made by the EOC.

  The Bill needs to be more explicit about addressing gender equality given the huge disparities between the numbers of women and men. For instance, women often get put off by being left too long on long waiting lists and then get "cold feet" and take up safer offers, which can be in traditionally female sectors. This loss of potential talent needs addressing.[21]

  The Bill could require gender disaggregated targets perhaps protected by ring fenced places especially in popular occupations, to be drawn up by the National Apprenticeship Service in conjunction with the Learning and Skills Council. The UKRC can be consulted as to reasonable targets.

3.2  Economic benefits: the business case

  The economic benefits to the country of an apprenticeship programme not occupationally segregated along gender lines should have been in the introduction to the Review and appropriately reflected in the Bill. This would emphasise the importance of tackling inequalities. The UKRC has research briefings on the business case for women in SECT.[22]

3.3  Strengthening apprenticeships—addressing equality and diversity

  It is not enough to acknowledge, as the review does, unsuitable facilities, hostile environments, loneliness and misunderstandings: having recognised these issues it is time to put in place solutions. Good practice guidelines would help employers and learning providers and the UKRC has examples of these produced during the European funded JIVE project. During the JIVE project also input gender proofing support in relation to Further Education to the DfES.[23]

  The training and development of apprentices could be strengthened by new curriculum content in the shape of well developed and resourced module on equality and diversity, designed by gender and equality experts, and going beyond the content of the module about rights at work. Delivered in the induction phase, learning and training providers etc. should be supported by teaching aids, lesson plans, case studies, promotional materials etc.

  Such a module should be coupled with the integration of a gender perspective throughout the knowledge based and technical learning aspects of apprenticeship training as a whole. Tutors/trainers/assessors need to be equipped to ensure inclusive teaching practices are incorporated within competency based elements of the programme.

3.4  Supervision and mentoring

  The need to adequately supervise apprentices is recognised in the Bill. However, the Bill neither recognises nor makes provision to resource appropriate mentoring, which has proven success in supporting individuals who may be isolated. It is widely recognised that there are considerable benefits of mentoring if mentors themselves have first hand understanding of the problems faced by a trainee from under represented groups. Such mentors provide role models which inspire and motivate trainees. There are good practice examples of mentoring arrangements and the UKRC can support organisations wanting to implement mentoring schemes.

3.5  Access and pathways to HE from atypical apprenticeship training

  The Bill does not demonstrate an adequate understanding of the problems faced by under represented groups in accessing routes into apprenticeships or from apprenticeships into HE. This element needs an in depth gender analysis. Broadly speaking, many of the same barriers which face women generally when taking up HE qualifications in SET exist in this pathway and need to be addressed to widen access and participation. Evidence of the difficulties has been identified in data from the Engineering Training Board and UCAS.

  Methods to overcome the barriers and help to attract women into further qualifications in atypical area, include well run open days and other forms of proactive encouragement from HE providers to over come gender stereotyping. A holistic package would include support systems, providing role models, adjustments to a curriculum which tends to be based on previous male dominated learner profiles, challenging gender stereotyping.

3.6  Inclusive learning environments—additional needs

  It is imperative that inclusive learning environments are built into the heart of all training programmes. This will ensure that the different needs of atypical trainees are accommodated and met, leading to increased retention and progression, Tutors will need support in understanding how to achieve this through awareness raising and action plans.

  The Bill does not address these additional needs adequately. Therefore, the clause 22 1b, about "assisting the effective participation of persons" should be expanded to take into account atypical learners and include wording to ensure a duty for providers to actively support the recruitment and retention of atypical learners.

3.7  National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

  The remit of the NAS is not robust enough to address the stark lack of participation of women in atypical apprenticeships through positive action and awareness raising amongst potential trainees, learning and training providers and employers.

3.8  Additional risks to employers

  The Bill acknowledges the perceived risks to employers of taking on the training of apprentices. The Bill should also explicitly address the additional perceived risks faced by employers including SMEs, concerning employing and training women in atypical occupations and industries.

  NAS should be resourced so they are equipped to improve the confidence of employers to take on women apprentices where for instance they are uncertain of how to provide suitable facilities, provide appropriate well fitting personal protective clothing or deal with the reaction of the existing workforce.

3.9  Helping employers to recruit, progress and retain women

  The Bill should incorporate support to employers to help them address barriers they may raise, so that they can genuinely encourage and progress women in their companies. Employers will need to make changes to their HR practices and address entrenched cultural attitudes. The UKRC website has a series of case studies which show how this is starting to happen.

  Research is also needed into the attrition rate amongst apprentice trained/qualified trades women—many have qualified over the years but have given up.

  Clause 22 2a on "services provided" should thus incorporate measures to put in place support for learning providers and employers to develop good practice: positive action to ensure a supply of atypical learners and to influence good practice on the demand side—information, advice and guidance to learners and to employers and learning providers must be expanded and properly resourced to explicitly address gender issues and women as atypical learners/apprentices.

3.10  Adult Apprenticeships and removing the age cap

  The EOC evidence shows that women enter construction and engineering at an older age. Women are likely to benefit from opportunities for post 19/adult entry because in general they become less susceptible to the influence or impact of gender stereotyping. Removing the age cap can benefit women who have been out of training and employment due to caring responsibilities and for these reasons UKRC supports the removal.

  The Bill does not adequately address the advantages of removing the age cap for apprenticeships. The Bill mainly addresses the provision for young people to access apprenticeships. There is some provision in the proposed Skills Accounts, but a more prominent and proactive approach would improve the participation of women. Adult apprenticeships pilots have been run but it is not clear that they were properly understood by the appropriate stakeholders or advertised widely enough and the Select Committee may like to satisfy itself about this.

  Therefore Clause 21 3f1b should be strengthened with respect to the promotion of and arrangements for post 19 opportunities.

  In addition, a number of adult apprentices especially women will need additional funding support and assistance with childcare to enable them to move into an apprenticeship and therefore resources for this will be needed.

  The clause on the suitability and availability of apprenticeship places (21 3h) should be expanded to include the need to provide due consideration when placing apprentices who have caring responsibilities.

  UKRC also argues that opportunities to undertake and complete apprenticeship training could be enhanced and made more accessible by offering part time and flexible arrangements in the delivery of the courses and in the completion of the work based components. Time expiry issues also need addressing, allowing more flexibility with respect to age and completion.

3.11  Avoiding inadvertent discrimination

  Clause 21 3h 7 (Published Criterion) may involve a potential loophole, which could result in sex discrimination if a managing agent inadvertently condoned the exclusion of women because of the existing workplace conditions—for example, having no single sex facilities. We suggest this should be clarified.

3.12  Existing qualifications

  Clause 31 1 states that in order to satisfy the apprenticeship scheme requirements at level 2 a person must (c) not hold an apprenticeship certificate at level 2 or above. This condition may exclude women returners as they may hold a higher qualification (above level 2) in another sector. In the past this sort of requirement has been a barrier to entry for women who wish to enter non-traditional occupations. This should be reviewed flexibly in light of the under representation of women and also skill shortages.

3.13  Specifications of apprenticeship standards

  Apprentices should take a module in equality and diversity, as outlined above, particularly where there is gross under representation. As members of the future workforce they themselves need to develop the skills and knowledge to champion equalities and address the problems that arise from the cultures in these segregated sectors.

  The Bill should outline the duty to provide a well resourced equality and diversity module designed by gender and equality experts including lesson plans, training materials etc. A gender perspective should also be integrated throughout the knowledge based and technical training aspects. Tutors and trainers and assessors should be provided with additional training on inclusive teaching practices. These should be incorporated into the competency elements of the programme. UKRC and the JIVE project can provide models of good practice here.


  These can be found in the executive summary.

October 2008

14   The WISE campaign collaborates with industry and education to encourage UK girls of school age (19 and under) to value and purse STEM or construction related courses in school or college and move on into related careers.

15 Back

16   TUC, (2008) "Still more (better paid) jobs for the boys." Back

17   For instance WISE has partnered with the LSC and with QIA to run special demonstration projects with the Navy in Gosport and with ECAT (Aerospace Training) in Macclesfield, introducing girls to the SET workplace and technical apprenticeships. Their learning and good practice can be mainstreamed. Back

18   Attrition data available from UKRC-previously submitted and available on our site; Submission to the call for evidence: Analysis on Demand for STEM skills: Back

19   Plugging Britain's Skills Gaps: challenging gender segregation in training and work 

20   DIUS, World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, p47 Back

21   Andrews, A. (2005) Young women in a modern apprenticeship scheme in engineering construction: research report for Jive Partners Back

22 Back

23   UKRC publications including JIVE project products: Back

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