The low number of women taking an apprenticeship in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) “has got to change”, according to apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon.
Mr Halfon, speaking today in Westminster Hall during a session on financial support for apprentices, said that schools "need to do a huge amount" to provide adequate careers advice to students in order to offset a "cultural problem" of stereotyping professions based on gender.
"We have 53 per cent female apprentices…53 per cent but very few doing Stem subjects," he said. "So if I go to a college or place, go to a room, [and visit] healthcare [for example], it will all be females, [with] one or two men in there. Of course it’s fantastic that they’re doing it. [But] I go into a room of engineering or electrical it’s all men. That has got to change."
He added: "A lot of that comes from careers in the schools. So I was told by one student yesterday that when they were given careers advice they had pictures so there was all the kind of engineering jobs were men and then they had a nurse as a woman, as a picture…things like that. This is why we face a problem, there’s a cultural problem in our country and schools need to do a huge amount more to promote apprenticeships and skills."
Pay disparity 'playing havoc' with Stem goals
Earlier in the debate, Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, said that, on average, male apprentices were paid £1 an hour more than women, and that this divide would "play havoc" with the government's aspirations of recruiting more women into Stem careers.
He said: "I want to touch also on – and it’s appropriate to do so, if I might add, on International Women’s Day – on the issues around gender. Because again the Association of Colleges has said that women continue to struggle financially on apprenticeships, and we have recently a report by the Young Women’s Trust which shows that women receive an average of £4.82 an hour compared to the male average of £5.85…[and] 16 per cent of women [are] out of work after their apprenticeship compared to 6 per cent of men. And the differences in this occupational segregation by gender has…hardly changed in over a decade. The proportion of construction apprentices that are female, for example, has risen from only 1 to 2 per cent."
Mr Marsden added: "If this perception of a pay gap continues with associated career blockages into the 2020s, then that’s going to play havoc with our aspirations to get far more women into those careers in the first place."