Women in STEM - insights from the new generation of apprentices
Success stories Lia (19), IT Degree Apprentice and Morna (24), Apprentice Plumber, are doing very different apprenticeships; as the only women in their year on their programmes, they share their positive experiences.
Why did you pursue a career in IT/Engineering?
Lia: IT is a quickly developing industry which as humans we are constantly interacting with. After studying IT at GCSE’s and college, I knew I wanted to get involved in the industry.
I applied and got a place at Nottingham University for IT, but I was determined to get work experience alongside my degree – so I did it. I wanted to get my foot in the door.
Morna: I knew straight away university wasn’t for me, being in education for another 4 years! Working and earning money straight away appealed to me. I like fixing things and I like knowing how things are engineered, so I knew I wanted to go down that route.
Were you ever concerned going into an industry that’s often overly represented by men?
Lia: It’s driven me more to go into IT. I know it’s a male-dominated industry and I wanted to make a mark to say it’s not – if I can do it any female can. Just because its overrepresented by males doesn’t mean women can’t make a successful career for themselves.
Morna: The prospect is a lot scarier than the reality. I always knew men mainly populated it, but I didn’t realise how vastly until I started on site. But it hasn’t been a big problem working with men. A lot of my friends ask “is it scary working with all men?” But you just blend in. People have an idea that everyone on a building site are big burly old men, but 99% aren’t like that.
Every manager has made me feel really comfortable, I’ve worked in retail where the gender balance is toward females and I have not felt as comfortable as I have here. The people are really good.
Why do you think women are underrepresented in STEM?
Lia: I think it comes from the male dominant psyche, women think they can’t do it and have to do something more ‘female orientated’. So women feel threatened that they won’t be as well paid or have the same opportunities. It’s also how STEM occupations are being presented for younger generations as a man’s job.
Morna: There are 2 aspects – do women not want to work in STEM or is it that they aren’t wanted? I can totally understand most people don’t want to work in an all-male environment, but someone has to take the lead.
Also it may start younger where science and technology isn’t positioned as pursuable for girls.
What are the benefits of apprenticeships over other early career options?
Lia: Everything we learn at university is something that we do in the workplace, we see what we learn put into practise during our 6 month rotation periods, through different sectors of IT department. I know I will fly through some modules for that experience.
Morna: Number one: you are earning money. You’re working while you’re earning. Secondly, from day one you are working in the environment you are getting a job in – once education is over there is no scary leap.
What kind of responsibilities have you had whilst being an apprentice? What kind of projects have you worked on?
Lia: When I came to SSE they asked me what I wanted to get out of this rotation and project management appealed to me so my manager has given me project work using a system called ‘Harmony’ which manages all of our in-house finance, HR, the money side of things. Working alongside experienced team members has been really valuable.
Morna: A variety of different projects. Big jobs on massive building sites with widespread pipework and large crews, but also smaller scale projects like small primary schools. It’s a big spread from commercial large scales such as student accommodation to smaller domestic projects.
What advice would you give to girls looking to get into a STEM career?
Lia: It’s all fresh, a new planet for me – but stick with it. There will be times it is hard and you will go “why am I doing this?” Remember the reason you did this and don’t let anyone whose questioned you because you're female stop you. It’s worth it in the end.
Morna: I don’t know if this is the right thing to say… but it’s not as hard as people think. A lot of my female friends say “I don’t know how you do that, I’m not strong enough”. It is a hard job, I don’t want to put it down – but before I applied one of my biggest concerns was the physicality, not working with men!
Find out more: http://sse.com/careers/apprentices-and-trainees/