'I am proud to be a female Stem apprentice'

Strong role models are one way to encourage more women into Stem careers, Charlotte Hughes says. Her blog is part of the #InspiringApprentices campaign

Charlotte Hughes

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About four years ago, I was in my interview for my apprenticeship, presenting on "gender equality and women’s rights". Fast forward and last year, I was given the opportunity to speak at the National Gallery on International Women’s Day. I really couldn’t have imagined back then that I would be where I am now.

In September 2015, at the age of 18, I started my level 5 apprenticeship at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). I study one day a week at the University of Kent for a foundation degree (FdSc) in applied bioscience technology. On the other four days, I work in a research and development group. My work includes running experiments in the labs, looking at the binding of a drug molecule to its target.

More on apprenticeships: Apprenticeships: 'I have the money for whatever I want to do'

Background: Tes launches #InspiringApprentices campaign

Other news: Minister backs #InspiringApprentices campaign 

Women under-represented

I have had the opportunity to work with industry experts and equipment that I wouldn’t have if I had chosen to go to university. Being able to earn while learning and gain experience in a field that I’m so interested in was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I completed my level 5 apprenticeship in 2017 and have progressed on to the level 6 top-up to gain a BSc.

I am extremely proud to be a part of around 8 per cent of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) apprentices that are female. I think in terms of Stem careers, women overall are under-represented – only approximately 24 per cent of the workforce is female and that needs to change.

Strong role models

One way to encourage women to pursue a Stem career is to show them strong female role models – women who inspire others and whom other women can aspire to be like – and this relates to all industries. Any female scientist, engineer, technician or mathematician is a role model for young women, enabling them to think "I can do that too".

Great teachers can also inspire students to continue with Stem careers. If it wasn’t for my biology teachers, I wouldn’t have chosen the route I am now on.

Last year, I was named higher or degree apprentice of the year at the National Apprenticeship Awards. I think my award proves that apprenticeships work for women and those in Stem. I now have a full-time job at GSK and am able to continue my studies to a bachelor’s degree. At GSK, I have been encouraged to focus on not only my technical skills but also my soft skills. This has helped me think about where I would like my career to take me, whether that’s further education to a master's or PhD, people management or project management.

Considering all options

As the East of England chair of the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network (YAAN), I hope to continue sharing my story and ask other apprentices to join me, with the aim of inspiring students to consider all options when it comes to their career. I believe an apprenticeship is a great way to get your foot in the door of a company, and would definitely recommend the route to anyone looking to start their career while gaining a qualification.

I would encourage all apprentices to join their regional YAAN and start getting out there and telling their inspirational stories, becoming the role models to young people that they might not have had when in school.

Charlotte Hughes is a level 5 applied bioscience technology apprentice at GlaxoSmithKline. She tells her story as part of the #InspiringApprentices campaign

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Charlotte Hughes

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