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The business case for improving diversity on STEM apprenticeships

UK STEM Skills Shortage In the UK

We are facing an ever-growing skills shortage in the STEM industries. In a 2016 CBI survey of employers, 90% of engineering, science, and hi-tech companies anticipate an increased need for highly skilled people in the coming years. To help address this, the Government plans to achieve 3 million more apprenticeship starts by 2020.

The gender divide on STEM apprenticeships

Whilst the number of people starting STEM apprenticeships is on the rise, diversity remains an acute issue across all STEM frameworks.

  • Just 8.8% of achievers2 across STEM frameworks were female in 2014/15, despite the fact that women make up 55% of apprentices2 across all frameworks
  • Over the past ten years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of men taking traditionally female-dominated apprenticeships, such as Health and Social Care and Children’s care, but the same transition has not been seen with females moving into male dominated apprenticeships.
Benefits to your business

Increased numbers of female STEM apprenticeships can help to address the skill shortage.

  • Women are the largest untapped group when it comes to accessing talented recruits for STEM apprenticeship schemes.

Being an employer of choice for women can help arrest the leakage of talented female students to other professions.

  • Recent WISE statistics show that every year approximately 67% of qualified girls don’t take any Level 3 STEM qualifications and of those that do continue, only 0.4% gain their qualifications through apprenticeships as opposed to A levels or vocational qualifications.3

Girls are often better academically qualified than boys4, so they are the brightest and best candidates for some of the industries’ most challenging roles and can provide a distinct competitive advantage for businesses.

  • 71.3% of girls who take STEM subjects achieve A*- C grades, compared to 62.4% of boys.
  • Girls also outperform their male counterparts in STEM subjects at A level, with a higher percentage achieving A or A* grades in biology, computing, design & technology, further maths, ICT and other sciences.

Diversity within teams can boost overall performance in a number of areas:

  • Research by McKinsey shows that diverse teams help to drive innovation, insight, growth, team-working and a balanced approach to risk management5

Studies repeatedly find evidence that firms reap business benefits from equality and diversity5, although not all firms, in all contexts, at all times. This underlines that if gender diversity is to deliver benefits to the business, how it is managed is crucial. See the Support and Retain sections of this Toolkit for practical steps you can take to support female apprentices and help them thrive.

The WISE Apprenticeship Toolkit aims to assist employers to engage and recruit female talent onto their apprenticeship schemes. In addition, once within the business, this Toolkit will provide practical advice for how to make the most of diverse apprenticeship schemes for both your apprentices and your company.


  1. “The right combination.”CBI/Pearson Education And Skills Survey 2016
  2. Under-representation by gender and race in Apprenticeships. Unionlearn 2013.
  3. WISE Statistics, September 2016.
  4. WISE Statistics, August 2016
  5. “Diversity Matters” Mckinsey & Company 2015.
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