National Apprenticeship Week: why more young women should consider a STEM apprenticeship

The UK needs to close its growing skills gap and STEM apprenticeships are a great way to do that.   It is well-known that women are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors in the UK. Only 24 percent of women work in core STEM industries and there are concerns that the skills […]

The UK needs to close its growing skills gap and STEM apprenticeships are a great way to do that.


It is well-known that women are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors in the UK.

Only 24 percent of women work in core STEM industries and there are concerns that the skills gap is widening.

What can be done to fix these problems?

Recently, the UK government has been increasing its focus on apprenticeships. This is when a full-time job is combined with training in essential skills and recognizable qualifications. In 2017, 114,400 young people started apprenticeships in England, in sectors such as health, engineering, and business.

Today marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week 2018 (5 – 9 March); what better time to raise awareness about the opportunities for young women in STEM apprenticeships?

Getting young women into STEM apprenticeships

According to Anne Milton, the minister for skills and apprenticeships, barriers need to be broken down in order to encourage girls to pursue science-based subjects.

“All young kids love science and finding out how things work. But for some reasons, there has been a drop off in interest for young girls as they go through secondary school. They begin to feel that those sorts of subjects and those sorts of careers are not right for them,” explains Milton.

“But the thing about STEM is it’s not just about building bridges. It’s present in every single sector, whether that’s construction, farming, and agriculture, or the creative industries. These industries rely on STEM subjects.”

As a result, the government is trying to ensure that more young women are made aware of the opportunities available in STEM apprenticeships.

This is why Milton launched the careers strategy last year, an obligatory scheme for schools to invite different providers of education – such as further education (FE) colleges, universities and apprenticeship providers – into classes so young people can learn about the different career choices available to them.

“It’s really important that we have initiatives for young women to think of STEM careers,” says Milton.

What’s it actually like being an apprenticeship?

When it comes to looking for an apprenticeship, or any type of career, the start can be fairly overwhelming. One good place to begin is with Google.

This is how Becky King, from Bermondsey, found her apprenticeship with the National Physical Laboratory. She always had a passion for science from a young age but found learning from a textbook in a classroom stifling.


“I hadn’t considered an apprenticeship before and I certainly wasn’t aware of any in the STEM. I searched ‘careers in science without a degree’ online and the NPL apprenticeship came up,” King explains.

“It sounded like exactly what I was looking for so I applied. A few interviews and a presentation later I was accepted as a junior scientist apprentice.”

King says she loved the sense of community and teamwork at NPL, as well as the many areas of science the laboratory specializes in. She took on a Level 3 apprenticeship (which is equivalent to three A-Levels) as well as completing extra qualifications to prove her technical competence in lab work.

After graduating from her apprenticeship last March, she was offered a full-time role as an assistant research scientist in Quantum Detection.

But that is not all. King is now an undergraduate student at the University of Kent, studying an integrated Masters in physics which is sponsored by the NPL.

“My favorite thing about my apprenticeship was the endless opportunities”, she says. “I got to work with work leading scientists who trusted and encouraged you to work independently and improve your skills in labs and in analytical work.

“So many people at NPL invested their time into ensuring I succeed which is something I will never forget.”

Expanding skillsets with a career change

One of the benefits of an apprenticeship is that it makes it easier to change careers. Due to the fact it entails job training and qualifications and is paid, apprenticeships enable a seamless process for moving from one career to another.

That was the experience for Charmaine Whittingham from Lewisham. She initially worked as a nursery nurse for three years before deciding she wanted a career in the financial sector. She heard about an apprenticeship within Barclays branch network and decided to go for it.


After working in a high street branch of the bank, Whittingham set her sights on moving into a head office role.

“There are a wider amount of opportunities in head office roles and I thought that would be more suited for me. I wanted to go into something specific with a specific skill set and gain a qualification,” she explains.

Whittingham found an apprenticeship in the Data and Strategic Analysis (DSA) team in Barclays’ Canary Wharf office. Despite not having a background in technical data handling, she decided to pursue it.

“I thought, what do I have to lose in applying for it?” she says.

Now Whittingham is undergoing an 18-months-long apprenticeship scheme within the DSA team. At the end of the scheme, she will come out with a Level 4 apprenticeship in data and analytics.

“My favorite thing is that I’m not treated like an apprentice,” she says. “I still have the same opportunities and the same set up as everybody else, we’re all treated equally.”

Since working with the DSA team, Whittingham has won two awards. She is recognized as an ambassador for her team as well as winning a global innovation fintech challenge during Barclaycard’s global innovation week.

Once Whittingham finishes her apprenticeship, she’s hoping to go on to the next level and study for a degree in data and analytics. And one of the best things about her apprenticeship has been the ability to earn whilst studying.

“For me, that was very rewarding because if I went to university or college, I would have got a weekend or evening job but it wouldn’t be the same as a full-time job. An apprenticeship means I wasn’t limited in terms of what I could do and where I could go.”

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