STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) industries have traditionally been seen as male-dominated but women are increasingly breaking down stereotypes and pursuing highly successful careers thanks to excellent training opportunities, much hard work and some inspirational employers.
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Companies such as Rolls-Royce are keen to dispel the misconception that such industries are the preserve of men and have been encouraging women to build a career through their apprenticeship schemes and graduate schemes. If you’re considering your future career options, then applying for an apprenticeship in a STEM area could be a great choice for you.
Melissa Looman, 21, is a manufacturing engineer at Rolls Royce in Derby and was recently awarded the Higher/Degree Apprentice of the Year at the Midlands Regional Apprenticeship Awards in October. She has since been selected as a national finalist for the National Apprenticeships Awards taking place in London this month.
According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK needs 100,000 new graduates in STEM subjects every year until 2020 just to maintain current employment numbers. The academy believes women will play a vital role in filling that gap and more need to be encouraged into STEM industries when making their future career choices.
Female school leavers have plenty to bring to careers in STEM areas, whether that’s via apprenticeships or going on to study technical or scientific subjects at university.
It was during her second year of sixth form at college that Melissa first considered the apprenticeship route. After leaving college with A-levels in Physics, Chemistry and Maths as well as an AS in Biology, she decided to apply for an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce, an employer local to her area. She started a few years later and hasn’t looked back since.
She says: “As part of my apprenticeship, I completed a foundation degree in mechanical engineering and now I am studying for a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) in mechanical engineering which I aim to complete next year.”
Melissa spends one day a week at university and while studying - as well as working - can be a challenge, Melissa has found support from Rolls-Royce invaluable – and in particular advice she received from her training adviser.
She adds: “As they’re investing me, they want me to progress educationally and ensure I have the appropriate support, especially when I have deadlines and exams.”
Women should have a real influence in tomorrow’s world of technology so they need to be informed about STEM careers and possibilities because these careers have lots of opportunities for exciting career progression, job satisfaction and great salaries.
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Alongside building her technical skills, Melissa’s apprenticeship has given her a significant insight into the mechanics of the business. She says: “As part of my apprenticeship I rotated around different departments for six months at a time. I also had the chance to take part in an international German exchange where I joined German apprentices to work on German-based products, which was a highlight.”
Getting industry experience has given her an important boost and a new-found sense of confidence.
“When I first began my apprenticeship, I lacked confidence and would never dive straight in to a task. I would always want someone to review my answers – but doing an apprenticeship gave me the confidence to believe in myself and my abilities,” she reveals.
Increasing the number of women in STEM industries is not only vital for economic growth but also a way to eliminate the pay gap. There is now a lot of support to help girls or women to choose STEM subjects.
Melissa believes if she hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship route she would have gone to university like many of her friends and studied engineering.
She says: “Some of my friends are now in debt and struggling to get a job and are instead applying for engineering internships.
“In comparison, I have managed to save up for a deposit to buy a house, which I plan to do up after I graduate from by BEeng in the summer. I then plan to start an engineering masters in September 2017.”
For those thinking about an apprenticeship, Melissa has this advice: “There will be an apprenticeship out there whatever it is you want to do and it is definitely worth applying, so you at least have the option alongside university. It is 100 per cent worth considering.”
For more information about apprenticeships visit https://www.gov.uk/topic/further-education-skills/apprenticeships.