Building better apprenticeships for young women
Building better apprenticeships for young women: Why my experience as a young female apprentice must be a wake-up call to employers
Apprenticeships are currently a hot topic, with lots of exciting things happening. There also seems to be growing recognition of the importance of creating equality, which thinking back to my own experience as a former apprentice is great to see and, very much needed.
In 2007 I undertook a construction apprenticeship with a local company in the hope of becoming a bricklayer. I had recently given birth and was filled with that intense motivation that comes with parenthood. However, the apprenticeship was disastrous. I was 17 years old and unaware of the gendered dynamics of the workplace. In school we are explicitly told we can be anything we want. However, this did not seem to translate as smoothly into my post-school experiences. The construction site I found myself on was bursting at the seams with sexist attitudes and a discontent towards my femininity within their traditionally masculine environment.
There was a view among the other apprentices that I did not belong there; being only one of two women, it quickly became difficult to persevere. I experienced constant sexist remarks like “get us a cuppa” or “be careful you don't want to break a nail”. I approached my course coordinator and the general response was “it's only banter” or my favorite “don't be so emotional” (which let's be honest, is never a good thing to say to anyone, and most certainly would never be said to a man).
I decided it would be better to end my apprenticeship and go straight into work. While this should be a shocking statement, in my experience, since the apprenticeship I have found it to be even more commonplace. The story of my David and Goliath battle is something I share with countless other women across the spectrum.
Although it’s encouraging that there are now more women in the workforce than ever before, it feels wrong that they are not offered the same opportunities. There is a huge untapped pool of talent waiting on the sidelines desperately trying to get in the game. With Britain facing a major skills gap, , employers will be under even more pressure to develop much-needed skills among young people. Young Women’s Trust have found 20% of children in schools will need to enter the engineering sector to fill the gap in this important sector
Young Women’s Trust has rightly highlighted how effective mentoring and women’s networks can be. Drawing on my own experience, if these types of services were available to me during my construction apprenticeship, I might not have felt so alone. Changing the culture of a workplace takes time. However, small changes like encouraging other women in organisations to take on mentoring roles and to develop women’s networks can make an enormous difference to women who face large scale difficulties in the workplace. It will take us working together to change the gendered system currently in place in I hope that those who read this blog will be inspired to just do that.