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IT and engineering sectors facing 'unacceptable levels' of gender imbalance

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There is a large and increasing gap in the number of male and female apprentices on IT and engineering schemes.

According to an extensive and in-depth report from the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee, there were 10,400 men enrolled on an IT apprenticeship scheme in 2011/12, compared to 1,200 women.

The situation was even worse for the engineering sector as nearly 13,000 men were registered on an apprenticeship scheme in 2011/12 compared to just 400 women.

The report stated: "Such inequality is not acceptable and combating barriers to entry should be a key priority."

Ella Bennett, HR director at Fujitsu UK and Ireland, told HR magazine: "IT and engineering are seen as nerdy professions and I know from my own experience that most women in IT get there more by chance than design.

"What the industry needs to do is showcase more positive female role models. We need to make the roles models visible and accessible so that young women can identify with them."

Diane Johnson, skills ambassadors at the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), said there is a "lack of knowledge" about apprenticeships, especially among girls.

"For a woman, the word apprenticeship does not mean anything any more," Johnson said.

"At one time the word apprenticeship meant quality, it meant having a craft skill for life that you could then build on."

She added: "If you talk to young people now, they say, 'what does an apprenticeship mean?' If you are a young lady who wants to go into something that she can build on, our sector does not look that exciting because nobody is advising them on what they can do and how they can get there."

A recent evaluation of pilot projects to increase the diversity of apprenticeships by the Women Into Science and Engineering campaign found young women, parents and, often, teachers and advisers held "outdated views" of STEM occupations.

It said: "Employers tended to feel that there were few barriers on the supply side but rather there was limited demand among young women. However, pilots were not convinced that all employers had considered unconscious bias in recruitment practices and work environments."

The report also found inequality in certain sectors where women greatly, outnumber men. Between 2008 and 2012, 90% of nursing students were female, as were 70% of law students.

Yesterday, Adrian Bailey, MP and chair of the BIS committee, called on the Government to do more to tackle all areas of workplace inequality.

"Four decades since the Equal Pay Act, we still do not have full workplace equality. We cannot wait another 40 years," Bailey said.

"Comprising over half the population, significant public funds are invested in women. Ensuring they reach their full potential is therefore as much an economic argument as one about equality."

He added: "At the heart of the matter is the need for cultural change. Without this we address symptoms rather than causes."