Graduate Apprenticeships close the gender gap - Jen Henderson

Many of us will remember a favourite science experiment from school. Whether it was splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen in chemistry or dissecting a frog in biology, those early days in the classroom lit the spark of curiosity for generations of successful scientists and engineers.

Jen Henderson is head of talent partnerships at Heriot-Watt University
Jen Henderson is head of talent partnerships at Heriot-Watt University

However, the window of opportunity to get girls excited about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects is relatively small, according to studies. Data suggests girls gain interest in STEM around age 11, but then quickly lose it by the time they’re age 15.

So how can we encourage girls who have been inspired to study science and maths at school to build on that spark and turn their passions into a career? One of the exciting new ways is through a Graduate Apprenticeship (GA).

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GAs allow apprentices to study for a degree-level qualification while working for a company. They combine the best of both worlds – apprentices can gain academic knowledge as well as real-world experience, giving them the skills that they need to help grow Scotland’s economy.

In the midst of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, GAs are firmly in the spotlight, and they’ve already proved popular. Over the four cohorts since their inception, the proportion of female Graduate Apprentices studying STEM subjects has grown from 18.1% to 21.2 %. During that same period, the proportion of women registering for a GA has almost doubled, with women now accounting for more than one third of new recruits.

Apprentices benefit because they can earn a wage while studying. There are many positives for companies too.

For employers, GAs help to plug critical skills gaps and are an ideal way to get young people into the workplace – meeting the promises made as part of the Scottish Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee and helping increase diversity within companies and the national workforce.

Graduate Apprenticeships are also a great way for employers to show their commitment to their employees, helping them to recruit and retain talented members of staff. They’re fully funded, which makes them a very cost-effective way to upskill or reskill new and existing employees.

As part of our wider collaboration with industry, Heriot-Watt University has worked with employers to create work based degree courses that give our apprentices the skills they need to thrive during their careers.

Graduate Apprentice Megan MacDonald found her role as a trainee construction technician whilst studying towards a degree in Construction Management. She was able to gain valuable first-hand site and office-based experience working for leading UK construction firm Morgan Sindall Construction alongside her studies. With aspirations to become a site planner, she believes that the skills developed during her Graduate Apprenticeship will lay the foundations for a long and fulfilling career in construction.

Examples like this point towards why GAs are an important component in making sure that women have equal opportunities to begin and develop their careers in STEM. Yet we’re still committed to going further.

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Yesterday, to mark International Women’s Day, we launched a survey with all our partner employers as part of our STEM workforce diversity initiative, which aims to promote inclusion, break down more barriers, and advance access to learning for all. It’s the next step in making sure women can pursue their passions through GAs and beyond.

Jen Henderson is head of talent partnerships at Heriot-Watt University

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