Blog Type, IPT Blog, Industry Sector, Manufacturing, IPT | July 2016

Skills for the Future: Closing the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering

Following an IPT event, Engineering Skills for the Future: Promoting Diversity, we hear from Rebecca Weston and Charlotte Page who share with us some of their experiences as two women who have studied STEM subjects at A-Level or College, before going onto an a career in engineering.

In Cumbria in 2015, 1,169 females took a STEM related subject A-Level exam compared to 879 males. The number of females taking further maths, biological science, chemistry, physics and computing were all above the national average. Unfortunately, this is rare.

At Sellafield Ltd, we are proud to take the lead on driving high quality apprenticeships in the energy sector, to address the skills gaps in the industry and equip young people with the experience and expertise that will open up opportunities in the national/international market.

The challenges at the Sellafield site are unprecedented and the decommissioning work will take over 100 years. It is a huge environmental restoration task, meaning it has presented me with a unique learning environment and will provide a broad range of career opportunities for decades to come. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Of the 193 Sellafield apprentices in their first year of study, there are 76 females (40 percent), and over 30 percent of these are in STEM based disciplines i.e. E&I, mechanical fitters, health physics monitors and project management.

The accountability does just lie with us, we have a vast supply chain and are encouraging them too to expand their direct commitment to training schemes to help grow and diversify the local skills base.

We are constantly reviewing our skills requirements and have an increasing growth of quality programmes. We now offer 21 diverse apprentice training programmes delivering qualifications from Level 2 through to Level 6 Degree Apprenticeships.

In 2015 we recruited 17 apprentices on a new Trailblazer degree programme (nuclear scientist and engineer degree apprenticeship), our 2016 recruitment programme will see this figure grow with the introduction of additional pathways to diverse business focused degrees.

I am honoured to have increased my involvement with the Nuclear Institute, which has been an invaluable asset to me throughout my career. My membership continues to be a great support to the nuclear specific aspects of my work. The Board of Trustees is very aware of our responsibility to promote the world class professionals within the industry to the public and to encourage new entrants into what is a fast growing sector

In my current role I am responsible for the technical strategies for Sellafield Ltd and the science, technical and engineering solutions and standards across the business; ensuring the business makes and creates optimum technology choices and develops the science, technical and engineering skills and capabilities needed now and for the future.

It is in my interest to help develop a diverse, skilled generation of globally recognised nuclear decommissioning and project experts.

Rebecca Weston is the Technical Director for Sellafield Ltd. She is a Chartered Physicist and Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a board director of the Nuclear Institute.

I chose STEM subjects as both of my parents have jobs that involve science, my dad is a university lecturer, and I always thought I’d end up in a career that was someway related to that. My A Levels were predominantly STEM subjects, Maths, Chemistry, Biology and History.

I considered many options, including university, before deciding on the apprenticeship. I ended up withdrawing my application for university after my interviews as I realised that the career I would want to get into was actually lab work and therefore it was a good idea to get paid whist earning qualifications for this career and gaining experience. The experience was particularly appealing to me as I knew the job market required graduates to have relevant experience, which can often be hard to come by.

I chose Sellafield Ltd as I knew I wanted to apply for an apprenticeship and I knew the company has an excellent reputation for training apprentices and developing young professional’s careers. The Scientific Apprenticeship appealed to me due to the option to move onto further study after I had completed my qualifications. I saw it advertised on the Gen II website, and was shocked at how much choice was available in regards to apprenticeships.

I think sometimes girls are put off by STEM subjects because there aren’t enough visible role models that have excelled within these subjects, and subsequently the careers that follow. I think by using events such as career fairs and STEM ambassador workshops young girls could use the visibility of these role models to help them see what they could be capable of.

In the short term, the use of STEM Events directed mostly at young girls that show them the range of STEM Careers that are out there with honest speakers talking to them about the job role. I think using promotional weeks such as Women in Engineering Week are also important to encourage young girls to consider STEM subjects and therefore STEM careers.

For me now, being able to see what women like Rebecca can do within predominantly male environments, is inspiring to any young women who is just starting a career within the industry.

Charlotte Page, aged 21, is doing a Scientific Apprenticeship with Sellafield Ltd