The most successful strategies for attracting women and girls into STEM apprenticeships have been long term. Building strong relationships with schools, colleges, training providers and other groups can take a long time – plan for up to ten years or more. It takes a long time to get the interest of women and girls, to nurture that interest and develop that into them making a choice to pursue a STEM apprenticeship.
Build a sustainable strategy
- Set a clear target – how many STEM apprenticeships do you have and what proportion would you like to be taken up by women? It is important to establish a baseline – how many women do you have doing STEM apprenticeships at the moment, how many would you like and in what timescale?
- Which schools and/or colleges should you be targeting – local campaigns work better than national ones. Working with schools in your district, town or city means that women and girls you are targeting are more likely to become familiar with and build a relationship with your business or training organisation. Similarly, you may also have employees who are school governors or group leaders for community groups like the girl guides who can help make a personal introduction. In practical terms it’s easier for staff to coordinate with schools in their area and it’s easier for potential apprentices to get to your site for activities or work experience if it is local to them. Consider using the Tomorrow’s Engineers tracking tool so you can see what other employers are doing as well.
- What other groups can you target to attract women – women’s organisations, parent groups or women who you already employ who may want to retrain. Ask your existing workforce to spread the word about opportunities to women they know. Remember that apprentices don’t have to be school leavers and some businesses are offering STEM apprenticeships to women in their workforce who are looking to retrain.
- This has become an attractive proposition with Apprenticeship Levy funding available for existing employees and women aged over 19. For more information and advice on the apprenticeship levy contact Semta.
- Identify and allocate resources to the project including:
- a pool of role models to offer to schools in advance,
- time to deliver the strategy to schools – planning and delivering a campaign will take staff away from the business,
- financial support and budget allocation.
Build relationships with schools
Reaching out to local schools and colleges is important and school leavers are a key source of apprenticeship talent – national recruitment campaigns are less effective at recruiting women and girls. Schools and FE Colleges in England are required to provide impartial careers guidance to their students. The Technical and Further Education Act requires technical education and apprenticeships are given equal airtime with academic routes.
The initial work in finding the right contact at each school can be difficult but you are better to spend time building a deep relationship with one or two schools than sending information to ‘all’ schools with little impact.
Some top tips include:
- Identify the best person to speak to – the head teacher may be able to guide you to the right person or you can contact the chair of governors, the head of science or the head of careers. Searching the school website can often give you a guide to which staff you should speak to – but social media and local networks are also ways to find the names of the people who will be able to help.
- Once you’ve identified the best person to speak to and when, don’t be afraid to reach out directly by phone or letter. Email is easier to ignore. A personal contact is much better for a first chat that can then be followed up. Invite your key contacts to learn more about your business – see if you can set a time to show them round and discuss how you can work together to encourage women and girls into STEM apprenticeships.
What is the best time to contact schools?
- The beginning of the academic year is not a good time for schools - You can find school term times on local council websites and school websites. Exam periods should be avoided as well.
- Find out if schools are having a careers week or preparing students to choose options – these are times when you should be welcome. Ask the school for a list of careers events and open evenings that you may be able to support.
- Select a national event to tie in with your activity - National Women in Engineering Day; National Apprenticeship week; International Women’s Day.
- Forward plan for next year at the same time. Schools like to plan events well in advance and could programme you in for the following year.
Prepare materials for teachers and college lecturers to use – you should be clear about your objectives, make sure you dispel the myths about STEM apprenticeships that women and girls (and teachers) often have as “jobs for the boys” – and include language and images that engage and reflect women and girls.
Delivering a programme of activity that works
Offering a wide range of activities to schools is important and will increase the success of your strategy. One off events just aren’t enough and the critical age to catch young women is year 7 (11 yrs old). RB, a global R&D firm recruiting women and girls into apprenticeships, looked at what young women find interesting about STEM and how to use that most effectively in sparking and retaining their interest.
The best way to build meaningful activity is to design a “pathway” for each group you are targeting and shape your activity around that. Plan out how to take your audience from initial interest to final sign up. An example for a 15 year old could be:
- Visiting a stall at a science careers fair with a parent. Literature on careers in STEM with details about an apprenticeship open day at a local business or college.
- A talk at school or college by a woman in STEM.
- Visiting a STEM workplace and talking to current apprentices.
- Joining in a STEM activity day at school or college, with details available of work experience at a local business.
- Taking up a work experience offer on site.
- The employer staying in touch and inviting for further work experience.
- Attending careers options evening and meeting STEM role models, colleges and employers who they already know – there is now a relationship and they will feel familiar with them.
- Filling out and applying for an apprentice post.
By building this pathway – in this example eight steps - you are building a relationship between the business and a potential recruit, and creating an environment where girls’ interest in STEM is celebrated and encouraged. EDF energy have built three pathways to take women and girls on a journey from interest in STEM to apprenticeships.
WISE can deliver bespoke workshops on how to plan engagement with schools and developing your engagement strategy, including an optional extension to enable your organisation to become licensed in delivering the 'People Like Me' resource.
Plan your outreach
- Targeting evening activities in schools is sometimes easier and more effective – WISE members say that it is sometimes hard for schools to allocate enough time during the school day. Evening activities like parents evenings or careers events have the advantage of an already-present audience of girls to speak to about apprenticeship opportunities.
- Look to girls-only organisations and activities such as Brownies/Girl Guides and invite them to take part in events and tasks. A full list of local contacts is available for girl guiding that should help you get in touch with local groups.
- Taster and activity days for women and girls in colleges and businesses are a first step for getting a lot of women and girls into STEM. Women-only or girl-only taster days or career events that you host yourself encourage girls and women to have a go at activities they may not have tried before in a supportive environment.
- Make sure the day is pitched at the appropriate level for your audience and organise a variety of events and tasks, including a practical exercise (even if it only lasts two minutes) – make the day fun and memorable.
- Consider including parents (especially mums) in your taster day activities. Parents are a key influencer in girls’ career choices – in Bradford, InCommunities – a social housing provider with a property maintenance business - has done intensive work speaking directly with parents to engage girls from minority backgrounds on the benefits of an apprenticeship, overcoming cultural pressures and increasing their intake of girls from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.
- Record the details of the women and girls who visit your taster day so you can target them again in the future with other opportunities – make sure to get parental consent, using this form.
- Have material ready that outlines the benefits of STEM careers, including salary and career options.
Consider offering work experience as an extended outreach activity
Work experience programmes specifically for women and girls help to dispel myths about what STEM workplaces and jobs are. They give practical experience and deepen the relationship between employer and potential apprentice.
- Let schools and colleges know that you are actively encouraging young women and girls to apply for work experience – and you can post work experience adverts on the STEM experience website as well.
- Try and assign a female key contact point for women and girls on work experience. Plan for the key contact to engage directly with them before, during and after their work experience placement.
- Make sure all employees understand the aims and objectives of the work experience programme – explain why it is important to encourage more women into the sector, what your expectations are and how they can help. Make it clear that you expect an encouraging, supportive environment.
- Consider the health and safety guidelines for work experience – different age groups require different considerations. The Health and Safety Executive has a section on work experience that can help.
- Prepare a welcome pack for students before they arrive letting them know essential information (working hours and dress codes) and who their key point of contact will be. Include a section for parents, providing information about your company, the experience itself and your sector.
- Plan a range of different work experience placements that take into account age, area of interest and time commitment. For example, a five day plan could be enough for a 15 year old and a more intensive two week plan would suit a more mature apprentice looking for a career change. Different approaches are needed for different age groups.
- Plan work experience that can build over time – set an aim for students to come back and do higher level experience in the future and get their interest and commitment at the end of their first placement.
- Provide information about apprenticeship options at the end of the work experience placement and make sure women and girls know they can reach out with any questions or for support. Give them the name and contact details of someone specific to come back to.
Support your role models
Talks by STEM role models are one of the best ways for women and girls to see themselves working in a STEM role. A mix of women from different areas of the business is a good idea. When setting up a talk, some things to remember are:
- Make sure your role models are comfortable and confident in what they want to say and what the aims of the discussion are – putting together a simple session plan can really help.
- Encourage role models to talk in their own words rather than giving them prepared speeches. An informal, friendly and personal approach is much more effective, especially with a younger audience – top tips for role models and ambassadors.
- Consider training role models in the People Like Me approach and ensure they are using appropriate language to engage girls. WISE's new 'People Like Me: Pathways to Apprenticeships' is specifically designed to help you engage girls and young women aged 14-19 with STEM apprenticeships using language girls can relate to.
- Don’t overload your discussion sessions and consider targeting some of them at girls only – large groups can be intimidating and can put girls off asking questions.