Enter more female apprentices for skills competitions – it’s worth it!

Women have a raw deal when it comes to apprenticeships, but here are some steps we can all take to improve the situation, says Neil Bentley

I was struck by a recent report from the Young Women’s Trust highlighting just how grave the situation is for women looking to take up an apprenticeship.

The report found that female apprentices were, on average, £2,000 a year worse off than male apprentices. It also confirmed that in the engineering sector, women make up a lower proportion of apprentices than a decade ago. For every female engineering apprentice there are 25 male apprentices. It’s a similar story in other industries.

Shocking statistics, yes, but unfortunately not surprising.

Throughout my career I have devoted considerable time seeking to improve workplace diversity and I have learned that one of the key challenges in making a difference is “being the change you want to see” – the need to use your own leadership position to help drive change. So, when I took up the role of CEO at WorldSkills UK 18 months ago one of the first things I did was ask our partners who organise skills competitions to come up with plans for addressing diversity.

It was clear to me that the composition of the UK teams going in to international competitions did not reflect the diversity of young people I could see training in our colleges and workplaces. This is why we have begun to make changes to the way WorldSkills UK operates.

At the national finals of the skills competitions at the 2016 Skills Show, we saw just what can be achieved through a concentrated approach. Semta, one of our competition partners which has been campaigning tirelessly to increase the number of female engineers, saw a hundred per cent increase in the number of female competitors. Most importantly, the majority of female entrants won medals, showing that this drive is not some sort of token gesture.

Together we can challenge stereotypes

The leadership from Semta on this is a brilliant start – but we need to do more. That is why ahead of the launch of the 2017 national cycle of competitions, which will ultimately lead to WorldSkills Kazan in 2019, every one of our organising partners has been required to submit a diversity action plan, as a key part of their planning for this year’s competition, to show how they are making the activity as inclusive as possible.

We are also profiling our outstanding role models to show young people, their parents and teachers just what they can achieve. Rebecca Wilson, Bronze medallist in Car Painting at WorldSkills 2015, is now a Skills Champion sharing her experiences of being world-class female car painter. She often recalls how when they called out her name it was brilliant not only for her but because there was another female who won a medal in car painting. In such a male dominated profession, this sent out a global message that women can be successful in any industry.

That is also why we have recently become a formal supporter, along with over 40 other WorldSkills International Members, of the HeForShe Campaign. Launched by UN Women, the HeForShe global campaign aims to engage men and boys as advocates to help achieve gender equality.

The campaign has done incredible work to date in making men realise that they can be important allies in the drive for change. That is why this International Woman’s Day, I am asking you all – and particularly male leaders – to make a stand and enter more female apprentices and students into the WorldSkills UK Competitions, especially where they are in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

We certainly have a lot more to do on tackling gender segregation in skills competitions and making them as inclusive as possible for all young people. But we can’t do it alone, which is why I am asking for your support. Together we can challenge stereotypes and help more and more young people achieve their career dreams in whichever profession they choose.

Enter your apprentices and students into the WorldSkills UK Competitions at www.worldskillsuk.org by 7 April.


Dr Neil Bentley is the chief executive of WorldSkills

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