Women are under-represented in engineering in the UK where they make up only 7% of the workforce.
A recent UK government campaign from the Department of Work and Pensions sets out to encourage more young women to study or work in science, technology, engineering, and maths sectors, by highlighting the success of female apprentices in the oil and gas sector and using the social media hashtag #NotJustforBoys.
For many young women looking to pursue a career in engineering when they leave school, going straight to university might seem like the best option, but Opito, the skills body for the oil and gas industry, want to inspire more girls to apply for apprenticeship programmes in the oil and gas industry.
One young woman who decided to choose an apprenticeship over a university lecture hall was Ellie Mair. The 18-year-old turned down unconditional offers to study law at university and instead accepted an electrical engineering apprenticeship through the UK Upstream Oil and Gas Industry Technician Training (UOGITT) Scheme.
Ellie said: “I have always wanted to work offshore in the oil and gas industry and I knew that an apprenticeship would give me the best start for that.
“I know that more boys apply for this sort of thing than girls, but that didn’t hold me back from doing what I wanted. In my class of 22 apprentices I’m the only girl but I don’t get treated any differently by my teachers, or by the guys in my class. When you’re an apprentice, everyone is on an equal playing field.”
Since its launch in 1999, the UOGITT national apprenticeship programme has seen more than 1,500 young people enter jobs in the oil and gas industry, but despite that success it is still predominantly young men who apply. Ellie is one of only four girls in a group of 95 apprentices in the first year of the scheme.
“I didn’t want to go to university straight away because I knew I could be distracted by a lot of social time, especially as it is my first time living away from home. I wanted to focus on my career and learn in a practical environment,” said Ellie.
“A lot of my friends at school were shocked when I turned down offers from universities to study law and chose my apprenticeship instead, especially since I would be spending so much time studying and being assessed even in my first year.”
Ellie spends five days a week studying in either a classroom setting or at an electrical engineering workshop, with each day running from 8.30am to 4.30pm.
The apprenticeship scheme takes place over four years, with trainees expected to attain four professional qualifications in the first two years of their course, including a higher national certificate.
“The course has been very demanding and challenging, especially as I hadn’t studied physics before this,” said Ellie.
“But a lot of the apprentices live in the same student accommodation in town so we revise together at evenings and weekends. The same teamwork mentality we have in the classroom carries on outside of it, so it’s not really about whether you’re a boy or a girl; we’re all in it together and just want to do the best that we can.”
The future of women in the oil and gas industry was a major focus of last year’s UK and Scottish government-backed National Oil and Gas Skills week, led by Opito. Various events were held across the UK to raise awareness of the challenges faced by women working in the oil and gas industry
Morven Spalding, skills director of Opito UK said: “Not Just for Boys is a fantastic initiative and one that complements the vision that we have as a company to celebrate the fantastic work that women do in the oil and gas industry.
“When it comes to increasing the number of women who work in this sector, whether it be onshore or offshore, we know that women themselves are best placed to let us know what support they need. By backing this campaign we are embracing another fantastic platform to showcase women in science, engineering and maths careers and allow their brilliance to speak for itself.”