Apprenticeships still failing to pull in women

The College of North West London is struggling to recruit women to its more practical subjects

For Belinda Madden, signing up to an apprenticeship in electrical installation changed her life.

She was a 21-year-old single mum when she joined the City&Guilds ‘Women’s Returners’ course in 1992, which was set up as part of a regeneration project to retrain women to go into the workplace.

Belinda spent three years training to become an electrician and went on to set up her own business. Throughout her training, her childcare costs were paid for – a benefit Belinda says she couldn’t have completed her training without.

“I was 19 when I had my daughter Kayleigh, so it was good to get back into speaking to adults and start working again”, explains Belinda.

“That they paid for my childminding was the most important thing. I didn’t go out looking for a certain course, I went out looking for course I could do with a child.

“That is what’s lacking now.”

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Belinda returned to further education as an assessor at the College of North West London (CNWL) in 1997 and now is based in a workshop next door to where her daughter, Kayleigh is following in her footsteps and also training to be an electrician.

Kayleigh spends a day a week at the college learning the theory, and the rest of the week working on jobs with her mum. It is the creativity and independence that Kayleigh most enjoys.

She said: “I really enjoy the course. It is good to do something with my hands while also having that aspect of being back at school and learning something.”

But Belinda and Kayleigh aren’t the norm.

The CNWL is struggling to recruit female apprentices, particularly in subjects traditionally regarded as male, such as bricklaying and plumbing. Kayleigh is one of just two women on her cause.

Pat Leavy, CNWL’s head of faculty for technology, said: “As a college we are acutely aware that vocational areas such as construction and engineering are very much under-represented in terms of female participation.”

The growth of green technologies provided would be apprentices with exciting new opportunities, he added.

But Kayleigh says that most girls aren’t told anything about apprenticeships at school and so just don’t consider it as an option. It is this lack of awareness rather than sexism in the classroom that is holding women back.

The Government earlier this year announced it was going to create 100,000 new apprenticeships and will increase funding for vocational training by �222million.

But Belinda and Kayleigh both believe that if women are going to benefit from this, more needs to be done to publicise the benefits of vocational education.