The Institute talks

The Institute talks…about women in apprenticeships

March 8, 2021

In this episode of The Insitute talks, we talk about women in apprenticeships.

In the podcast, we are joined by Anna West, Deputy Director for apprenticeship approvals and funding, Helen Douglas, Director of apprenticeships at Cisco and digital route panel member, and Stacey Dunne, Telecoms apprentice at Virgin Media and an apprentice panel member.

We ask the questions ‘what has your experience been like as women in apprenticeships’ and ‘what are the barriers for women’.

The overall proportion of women on apprenticeships remains at around 50%. At the Institute, we want to see far more women taking STEM apprenticeships and know that employers feel the same.

However, there are lots of great opportunities out there for women in STEM apprenticeships right up to degree level. At Cisco, Helen talks about all the new initiatives she’s set up to encourage more women into the digital sector, resulting in 49% of their apprentices being women!

At the Institute, we are continuing to look at diversity and inclusion within our organisation and in our provision of technical education and apprenticeships. In the podcast, we discuss ways we can have more diverse representation on our panels, and how diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do.

You can subscribe to The Institute talks podcast on Amazon MusicApple podcastSpotify and all other major podcast platforms.

Transcript

Sarah

Hello, I’m Sarah a former apprentice and a social media manager at the Institute and your host for this podcast today. For this special podcast about women in apprenticeships, I’m joined by Anna West, Helen Douglas and Stacy Dunne. So, welcome all would you like to introduce yourselves. 

Anna

Hi everyone, I’m Anna West. I’m the deputy director for apprenticeship approvals and funding at the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

Helen

Hi, my name is Helen Douglas, I lead apprenticeships for Cisco in the UK, and also have the honour of sitting on the digital route panel.

Stacey

Hello my name's Stacey I’m based in Hertfordshire and I’m currently a network apprentice for Virgin Media and I’m also on the apprentice panel for the Institute of Apprentices as well.

Sarah

Wonderful, thank you. So I’m really glad you can all join me today. So well, let's get started into the podcast then. So, this will be a discussion, so let's start off with the first kind of topic and question we've got for you. So as women working in apprenticeships or as an apprentice Stacey, what has your experience been like?

Stacey

It's been really, really positive.  Obviously, I’m an engineer and that is mostly kind of male-based. So there is quite a high number of males compared to females doing this role. But I have met many females on this during my apprenticeship, but also within the job as well. I actually joined Virgin Media with a specific all-women wanted kind of recruitment drive. So, there was a bunch of women and that I knew from my local area, and we all kind of joined together, and it was really nice to have that support from other women there. But to be fair, the all the guys that work here are beyond supportive, and you're treated like everybody else. They will absolutely rip you if you do something stupid. So, I’ve just found it a really positive experience. But having that female support as well, which was unexpected, I didn't expect to have other women with me to be honest. I thought it was a kind of individual recruitment basis. But having that kind of women's support as well was really nice. Not required, but it was a definite cherry on the cake. So it's been so, so positive for me, I’ve really enjoyed myself so far.

Sarah

That sounds really good. It sounds really interesting that you had like it was a specific drive for women but you're just like a normal person there, and everyone treats you exactly the same.

Stacey

You're expected to you know, do everything that everybody else does, and I find that the gender really doesn't matter here. You know if there's any ever any issues I don't see them as you know a woman issue or a girl issue. I just see them as people issues, and I think that's what they really try to promote here. That everyone's kind of equal, and on the same you know you've got the same possibilities as anybody else. I know they are trying to get more women involved into engineering. I think maybe women maybe think, oh I couldn't do that, or you know, all that's not for me, or you know, I come from an arts background. So, I come from dance and photography, so never say never. The women that I joined with, one worked in child care for years, and another was a beauty therapist for years and years while she raised her kids. So it's a definite nice background of people that have all come over now. Even with the guys that are here, there's a there's an apprentice on service, and he's an ex-jockey. So, it's not gender specific really for the for the history that you've got here. I think that's what makes it so nice and everybody's welcome so it's lovely.

Sarah

That sounds amazing. That's a really nice place to work as well, it's really positive. Helen, you have got your hand up, do you want to come in on something.

Helen

 So, as somebody who hires apprentices, one of the things that I discovered when I first took over the team, was that we just weren't getting girls applying. You know, you've heard from Stacy. It's not that they're not capable, or they have an interest. I think it's the way that sometimes we talk about or promote or advertise for certain apprenticeships, especially in the digital and technical area. So we made a really big effort to change the way that we talked about the roles. Because I think what interests girls into roles is different from what boys are interested in. So, when they get into their job absolutely, it's just we're all people, we're all employees, we're all apprentices, but it's what attracts them. So we talked more about what an apprenticeship, a technical apprenticeship at Cisco would give you for your life. It gives you balance, it gives you flexibility, it enables you to work with people like you. and who are different from you. It lets you be passionate about your, you know, something that you care about, a particular cause. So we find that when we're attracting girls and young women we just have to change the language. I'm proud, but still have to push the dial. We have 49% females on our apprenticeship, I so want to get it to 51. I’ve gotta get it to 51% this year. I think it's been a great journey, and totally agree with Stacey. Apprenticeships are great places to bring different diverse groups, whether it's gender diversity, whether it's ethnic diversity, in all kinds of diversity. When everyone gets together they can learn from each other. It's just that attraction how do we get girls excited. I think they can have a technical career.

Sarah

Definitely. It sounds really positive, with the fact that there is different perceptions that women want and young girls want compared to men, and I think that's a really important difference. It's not a negative difference, everyone's individual in themselves. Having that grasp on it is completely unique and I really like that. You're definitely encouraging that kind of wave thing of like you're individual and you can do anything, which is really positive. So Anna, have you got any experiences that you've had?

Anna

My experience has been really positive as well. Obviously working at the Institute we have over half our staff are female, and over half of our management are female as well which is fantastic. We've got a female CEO, so you know fantastic role models all around. My experience of working with apprentices both male and female, but you know particularly the female apprentices on our apprentice panel, it's been fantastic. They're such good advocates for the opportunities apprentices give to women looking for apprenticeships, particularly in the sectors where they're not so well represented at the moment, which unfortunately does still include engineering. Even though it's fantastic to hear about Stacey's good experience. I think things are changing and they can only change for the better now. So yeah it's been really positive.

Sarah

I think it's definitely a good thing that our management are so like, there's lots of women, that we've got quite a high percentage, and we've got a woman's CEO, which is great. It's good to like, have that  role model, especially, like even for me being here at the Institute, having senior managers that are women is so good to see. You can see the opportunities for women, which is really great. So turning that a little bit on its head. What are the challenges you think that women have in apprenticeships.

Helen

This is an interesting one. We are trying very hard to kind of overcome this at the moment. One of the biggest challenges is parents, actually. So parents of girls go no, an apprenticeship isn't for my daughter. Part of it I think is the history of apprenticeships, they tend to be more technically or you know skills based. So if you think about engineering mechanic or mechanics, all those kind of things. I think it's partly that, and I think that also because there is so much push around gender equality. Again parents want to push their daughters into university because they believe that's what will give them that gender equality. So, for this round of we're just going into recruitment at the moment, and we've got some parents actually talking about their daughters on the programme. What it's meant for them, how it's changed their lives. How it is a real opportunity for young women, how it's equal, if not in some ways better, than going down the university routes. So, yeah, an unexpected challenge. It wasn't what we thought, but yeah, the whole the whole perception of parents, and parents specifically of daughters.

Sarah

 That's really interesting. I think that's kind of goes across all apprenticeships to be honest. I know that it's not just specific to like maybe STEM subjects or anything. I think it's across a big thing, and I we’re slowly getting there. I know, like for me, my parents, they never went to uni, they were very much like, you've got to go, you've got to go, and when I turn around and gone, that's not happening, and it was sort of like well, what are you going to do? It's like well I'm going to try an apprenticeship and now they're like, yes, this is great. Even my brother's now got an apprenticeship. So their perceptions have changed. They wanted the first one, and I think that's a big thing, it's like when your parents don't go to uni, they want you to go to get that experience, but you don't need to. Stacey, what were you like, was that kind of similar for you?

Stacey

See. I have been to university, but that was to do my dance degree, and then i was a teacher after that. I didn't do dance full-time. I've always worked full-time since I was 16 so it's always been kind of an addition to whatever I’ve done in my work life. I've always found ways to kind of work around that. But more I kind of just wanted to speak about what Helen mentioned with the parents. So do you find that the kids were kind of disagreeing with their parents and their parents were really guiding them to what they wanted them to do? I remember a dad when I was on service looked at me once, and he went, oh I wouldn't let you, I wouldn't let my daughter do what you do. I was just like, but why. I didn't have a full-on debate or discussion. I didn't have the time, I was very busy, but it was just quite interesting the way he's, I don't know, he clearly saw a woman doing the job, so it was quite interesting, oh no, i wouldn't let, oh no, no, no. What are your thoughts on that Helen i found that quite interesting.

Helen

So, we have exactly that. We spend a lot of time doing outreach, and we have specific work experience for girls. We get them in the door, and then usually, because they've got to tick a box at school right that's it. I'll be honest a lot of them come in, and then they get in, and go wow! You know if you're working for a big company it's the same with you, you know Cisco,  it's a big company, and so there's lots of jobs. There's all those jobs in between that nobody tells you about, so they're getting through the door and they go wow, this is really interesting, I want to do an apprenticeship now. Then they come back and go well mum and dad don't want me to do it. So I've i i actually developed something a couple years ago. Which was a program for daughters and dads, because if a dad can see it through his daughter's eyes, that's when you get the needle moving, right. Because men have a vision they sit in the office, and it's not just about the potential of their daughters going to apprenticeships, it's just that general gender view. I often have male colleagues say to me, oh I didn't even know there was an issue with gender, or what do you mean women get treated differently, I'm like yes we do. So, if you can do anything through dads and daughters, do it through a dad's eyes. So, we have had brought parents in. There are specific ethnic groups as well where fathers particularly don't want their daughters to come into industry, because either they think that  it isn't a safe environment for them, or they may potentially have to go away from home. So that's a particular group that we do work very, very, closely with, just to assure them that they are looked after. We obviously have very strict rules in place on how we treat people, and you know, women are treated with respect, and that they will have a very good career. So, it did, we have actually had to have direct conversations with parents.

Stacey

 I like that you get them in though, because that's probably where, if the daughter's eyes are changed then their eyes certainly will be, especially if they can see their daughters are passionate about it. It's put a little light bulb in their head going, I can do this, I would love this.

Helen

They really like the idea that they're kids aren't going to have £60,000  worth of debt as well that's usually the massive, massive, pro.

Sarah

Yes, now that that's really interesting, especially the dads and daughters thing that's really interesting. I would have loved that, that would be really good, like especially like, it's like oh daddy's little girl, kind of thing, it's like protecting them and actually going like, oh my god like they're really enjoying it. They're more accepting and now that is a really good initiative like wow, well done.

Helen

Why thank you very much.

Stacey

I think it very much where you come from as well. Because my dad was an engineer, he worked at Vauxhalls in IBC. So for him that might, he would have been ,oh he would you know, he would loved that, that, I applied. So, it might just be, well it's like opening up your eyes and your peripherals and really getting having a look and seeing what you can you can do I guess.

Helen

Well I'll tell you what's interesting about that, about where you're from. So we all know that there's been a shift in in perception of apprenticeships you know. So years ago, as I said, it was that kind of you know, if you're working in a garage around the corner, and we still work in garages and there's nothing wrong with that, but it was kind of a very tunnelled view on what apprenticeships gave you. What I'm finding now is that the parents who support apprenticeships are those whose children go to like grammar schools, so the middle class parents are going because they get it, right. They go, okay let me think about this, they're going to get a degree, a really good company. They're going to get a degree, they're going to get experience at a company, and they're going to go into a job. Where more working class parents ,who still it's a status symbol, they really want their kids to go to university, because they didn't. It's trying to shift their perception that apprenticeship isn't a second, it isn't an option b,  it's another option. There are times when is absolutely the right path, if you want to go into medicine, law or accounts. There's certain professions, I would never, you know, discourage someone from not following their dream, but it is an equal option, now an apprenticeship is an equal option. It is not a second class option, it's equal option.

Sarah

I think that's a really interesting thing there. Because I think most people, like especially in the Institute think maybe the middle class, upper class people who think, no we all went to university, you've got to go to the same university we went to and carry on the legacy. Maybe like people did think or maybe working classes trade things but it's interesting that you're seeing it more middle-class people going, well no, it's like you're stupid if you don't, it's a free, not having that debt and having that bar, is it still has that status symbol as a degree. You need to work that social mobility thing of to get up the ladder you need a degree. If you're going from working class upwards that's a really interesting thing that you've noticed, that is really interesting definitely. Stacy do you want to come in on that

Stacy

I just think with a degree, obviously like you said, it comes with a certain amount of prestige, and you work very hard for a certain amount of time to get a certain grade. With  apprenticeships, I think apprenticeship offers something that a degree definitely cannot, and that's experience and knowledge from of your role from the ground up. There is nothing that you will not learn and know by the time you have reached the end of your apprenticeship, and don't get me wrong, even with this within this role, it takes years to become really, really, competent at this role. With the way technology evolves and you know, it just runs a million miles an hour. So it will I think, for some certain roles, it will always take you a little while to really get to grips, and really gain that experience. University can't give you hands-on experience, you learn that when you're actually doing the role, so I think that's one of the most wonderful things about apprenticeships. Is it gives you something that you cannot buy, you can buy information from a book, you know you can read it, but  the hands-on experience is I believe the most valuable thing to do in the world.

Helen

I agree, and when i when I first came into the program I interviewed the second and third years to ask them what was working what they loved about the programme,  where, you know, if they could change something what would it be. The number one thing that excites our apprentices is the rotations, so they get to rotate in different parts of the business, and they talked at length about that. I actually kind of said to them, you haven't mentioned the degree, and it was really interesting. So for me again, which I kind of have a you know, a fundamental emotional reaction to, is because you know learning for me is such a big thing, you know, we can always learn we can always up skill. But none of them, the degree wasn't number one anymore, it's the thing that brings people in, the free degree, the idea of you know getting a degree paid for, but it's not the number one experience, they talk about the experiences in the business.

Sarah

Now that that's really that's a good point, that you've found that people who've gone on to the apprenticeship route, that when they come back to, they go oh I did this did that, and they don't mention the actual well, you actually wanted the degree. You're not saying it, it's not the bit that pulls, like was actually worthwhile afterwards. Anna what is your perception on this, on like the challenges that we can have within apprenticeships and for women.

Anna

 I mean I've totally recognized everything that Stacey and Helen have said. I think the other thing that we hear a lot is schools aren't very well equipped to support people to go into apprenticeships. You know there's such an obvious route for students who are sort of leaving school to go on to further, you know to go into higher education, and it's easy for them they go through UCAS. They sort of, as a process everyone knows, what it is and the careers counsellors at schools are well supported to help people through that. But they're less well supported to help people identify different apprenticeship opportunities because you know, there's quite a range of them, they're across different sectors. So you know, I think that, that's a barrier that comes up a lot, whenever we talk to people who are thinking about apprenticeships. We talk to employers, for both women and men, but you know potentially, even more so women because it's a time when they're having to make some difficult decisions, and you know, you don't want to have to spend a lot of time, you know it shouldn't be as hard as it is to find a good apprenticeship basically. So yeah, I think in addition to the other challenges which totally, I totally agree with, which Stacey and Helen have recognised, it's just that sort of taking that first step out of the ladder and making it as easy as possible.

Helen

Do you know what, I just never thought, then I’m kind of like, I’m always thinking ahead of how we solve it. I think one of the, I’ve never thought about this until you spoke then. I think one of the issues maybe with schools is they use the university entrances as their selling point we got x in Oxbridge. What if we had, what if you had a kind of award system a badging system. If this school got x amounts into the top apprenticeships in the country working with the top companies. I think maybe that we don't promote it enough, that you know this school is feeding into apprenticeships and is you know, is then creating a pathway for these young people to have fantastic future careers. I think maybe the Institute could think about something around that. How they celebrate the schools that feed into apprenticeships.

Stacey

I think it needs to be seen as valuable doesn't it. It needs its value and it's definitely there without a shadow of a doubt.

Helen

Great got an idea to take away there.

Sarah

Thank you. That kind of brings me into the second question. Is that what more can we do or what are we doing or that we need to improve on at the Institute to maybe overcome these challenges. I know we've touched on getting schools, but is there anything else that we can do, that we're doing well at but maybe we need to do more of. Or anything in particular that we're not doing at the Institute, it's a bit of a careful question but any ideas.

Helen

I think going back to, it's going back to the influences isn't it, who influences a young person on their career journey. Parents are one and schools are others. One of the things that we've done, and maybe this could be more broadly done. Is we have a mentor program, so we take our apprentices that we want more of. So we know that working-class boys are an area that you know, we struggle with, young black women, we don't have enough of those, and so we take those who are represented on our apprenticeship and we have an outreach program that they that they lead. So whether it's a youth group or whether it's a discord group online or whatever it is we get them to go out and do that outreach, rather than us, and kind of start that influence, and help them to kind of be mentored on. What it's like to come in and work at a company and do an apprenticeship. I think parents is another big one so you know we do social media on LinkedIn but that's aimed at parents not aimed at young people. We know young people don't go on LinkedIn, so maybe that's something that we can do. I do think that the Institute misses a trick. that we've got all these different route panels, and I still think we need to have more of a holistic view, especially in this new world where industries are going to drop and rise and drop and rise, depending on what's going on. COVID is you know, obliterated certain industries and how do we have those transferable skills. So if we can talk about you know, today you're doing an apprenticeship here, but then you could go into this industry. Or how we just work together. So I think, looking at the influences schools careers, but I think careers officers are so overwhelmed. How do we get them up to speed on everything. So parents and outreach programs for our from our current apprentices. I really like, sorry I know it's my idea, okay, I have that idea of badging. So you know if you think about schools, they have like you know, the healthy eating, they're an eco-school, they're a science school, they're an apprenticeship school. So, I think there's something in that.

Sarah

That's really interesting. I definitely agree with the careers guidance thing. I think I feel like it like, for apprenticeships, it's definitely more the employer's got to go into the school and they've got to do the proactive stuff. With universities, they have their UCAS fairs and they just go, it's quite a passive thing for universities, where it's more active for apprenticeships and employers and stuff, and I think that's, not necessarily the issue, but definitely needs to be looked at, in the sense of, it's definitely starting careers guidance young and having it as a an option equal to everything else. Like maybe year nine so when they're 14 thinking about it. Because I didn't think about apprenticeships until I was 18, and by which time it was like, I wasted two years at sixth form. I put my hands up for that wasted two years. I didn't gain anything from it because I should have been out there doing what I wanted to do. So, I definitely think starting that young is definitely a thing. Stacey was that similar for you when you.

Stacey

Well I don't like to hear you say that six form was a waste, because it wasn't. Because sometimes you simply don't know that you're gonna like or dislike something until you do it. I think we have to be a little bit more acceptable and if I don't it's very easy to put your hands up and say, do you know what, this isn't for me, but then you're able to go into something else with a bit of a clear head and you know, really you know, really welcome that and start that as something new. But for me I learned about this apprenticeship because I was already doing the service, I was a service tech within Virgin Media. For me maybe one of my limitations I’m quite happy to talk about, is that sometimes a lot of information or learning a massive amount of information that I have to retain, especially numbers. Things like signal levels that we have to remember as part of our day-to-day role, sometimes it can take me a little bit, a while to retain that information. That's just I’ve learned,  that's just me. So, I knew that when I wanted to become a network engineer, because I saw what the guys were doing in my local area, and it was something that I really wanted to progress to. When I saw that they were offering it as an apprenticeship, I knew that that was something that would really suit me as a person. You get that specific learning time, and you get that training, and it gives you the time to really learn and retain you know, things from the role that's really going to help and benefit you. So, for me, when I saw the apprenticeship way, I knew that that was the way that I wanted to progress within Virgin Media. I knew that, that would suit me down to a t, and it has, it really has.

Sarah

That's really interesting. Anna we're thinking about all of these issues and stuff, and obviously the stuff we've talked about, maybe overcoming it, do you think that's something we can look at, or what's your opinion on everything.

Anna

I certainly think we need to look at more ways to encourage people to you know, take up apprenticeship opportunities, particularly in women in the STEM sector you know, where it's where they're quite underrepresented at the moment. I  think Helen's right, you know we need to we need to be talking about opportunities across sectors, need to look at options for people to sort of continue their career journeys after their apprenticeships. Maybe that's another apprenticeship, maybe it's you know, different role in different sector. That's certainly something that we've been thinking about in the Institute. Also, you know, just go back to sort of the challenges of women in particular in apprenticeships, there's some more work we can do to make sure that the apprenticeships that we design are as inclusive as possible. They actually do attract people a range of different people and you know they're going to work for everyone. So we've already got some way down that line. We've done some work on making all our language gender neutral, which Helen was very much involved in. You know there's more that we can do there, and we're very conscious that we want to make sure that we keep thinking about sort of, how we're building that inclusivity into the way that we design the product right from the start.

Sarah

That's good. So interesting you pointed on the gender-neutral thing. Coming to you Helen, obviously the digital route panel has been part of quite a lot of initiatives, especially coming out of like the route review. How do you think them initiatives of work, especially around like maybe the gender neutral language stuff. Do you think they're actually working?

Stacy

 Yeah I do. I think the biggest advantage of the having the route panels is that you've got industry in there, and so you know you've got the, it's a you know, bringing together that academic view, the government structure, but then the reality of industry. On our route panel, there are women there's not many, you know again it's the digital route panel so it's STEM subjects, so there are lots of men on there. But the women who are on there,  we all we have a voice, there's not many of us, but we make ourselves known. It's just giving that other perspective, you know we all do it right I'm a white privileged female, I went to university, I'm a director at Cisco, and so I look at the world through my lens. The more lenses we can bring to the table, the more opportunity we have to see all these different perspectives, which makes things richer and you know, and more interesting and innovative. It also enables us then to develop, and offer apprentices apprenticeships that are attractive and appealing to all groups in our society. So, yes, the extra projects that we do on the route panel absolutely work, and if we could do everything I think we'd all have to give up our day jobs. But you know what, it's that, it's the future of the country, it's the future generation who will you know, will drive the economy, and drive their personal growth. So, we have to do it, it's the right thing to do.

Sarah

That's really good. Anna, what about you, with the stuff that's come out of the digital route panel. How do you feel about it, and what they're working on, and it's really impacting the institute isn't it.

Anna

Yeah I think it's fantastic. It's really good to see the route panel having such sort of innovative approach. I mean the gender neutral language is now you know, a standard across all of our different products, and that's having a real impact. Another thing that they did was develop a framework to make sure that digital skills, which are of course relevant across all sectors, can be built into all of the different apprenticeships, you know at the right sort of level. Which is really helpful. I  think it's prompted a bit more sort of innovative approach across some of the other panels, and you know, some new ideas in. For example, we recently launched a green apprenticeship panel, which is looking at opportunities for, just to plug it you know, opportunities for making apprenticeships a bit more green, and supporting the green recovery from COVID, which I think will be really important, and you know, a good way of attracting more women into apprenticeships and STEM subjects hopefully. Because, you know, we know that this generation is particularly driven by sustainability, and they want to work on sort of things that have social impact. So yeah, I think the digital panel has really prompted a great sort of innovative approach, which we're now seeing more and more across the other panels. It's having a really good impact and for apprentices generally.

Sarah

Yeah, there's so much going on that the Institute it’s mind-blowing. Especially like, we've got this, well I say new, it's not that new anymore, we've got our own diversity and inclusion network haven't we. So how do you think this network, and this is going back to you Anna, influences these opportunities, not just at the Institute but also externally as well?

Anna

Yeah, I mean, I think our diversity and inclusion network has been excellent. It's quite new, but it's already having such an impact. They have arranged talks, they arranged training, and they've got a new mentor scheme coming. So that's sort of the internal focus, but it's also made everyone think more generally about, you know, how we can expand that across everything that we do. So we're shortly going to be doing some more work to look at a number of things. The makeup of our trailblazer employer groups, to make sure they're diverse and you know, right from the start of the development process of a range of different inputs have been brought into the development of the products. Our route panels, and as I mentioned some of them you know, the number of women on the panels is a bit lower than we want it to be, or you know, some of the representation isn't quite where we want it to be. So you know, doing a bit more thinking about that, and then also sort of, how we can influence our partners more generally, to think about inclusion, and you know, how we can make our products more inclusive as I said. So, I think you know, the creation of the diversity and inclusion network has really prompted a lot more thinking on our part, about how we can really use you know, how we can really apply that across everything we do, which has been fantastic.

Sarah

It’s definitely like starting within it, we can make waves like externally as well. Like let's start within and we can influence everyone and set an example that we're putting diversity inclusion at the heart of everything that we're doing, which is really positive thing that we should always be shouting about, and think it's the most important thing. So yeah. Talking about, like representation on membership, on panels, so even board members, route panels even the apprentice panel. How do you think we can make them even more diverse and inclusive for everyone? Let's go to Helen first.

Helen

That's a good question. I would like to reiterate what you just said. It should be at the heart of everything that we do. We make a really, really, big effort around that. So i said we've got 49% gender diversity, so about 45% women, I'm going to get over the line. We have about 46% BAME. We have about 33% social mobility. The one that I'm also quite proud of is our neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is a really, really, big area and especially for for females. Females are known to mask and mirror, and so they don't often realise that they're neuro-diverse, and don't often get diagnosed until they're in their 20s, and really has often affected their route into jobs. Because they often feel like, they're difficult, or they're not able, because of this neurodiversity that they weren't aware of. So, I think there's a lot we can do about that representation. If you look at all the diverse groups that you want to go out to, which there are you know, there are many, many, many, different ways you can cut it. The more that you have that representation on your route panel, the more that that route panel can have that that open and true diverse perspective. So, you know, recommend a friend, you know, everybody on the route panel will have a diverse friend, and get them to bring them in. Because I do think, I'm absolutely with you. If we're going to create a fair society, and jobs and apprenticeships that reflect the society in which we live, we have to have more representation on that influencer level, and the root panels are definitely at that influencer level.

Sarah

Definitely. I think it's a really positive thing, seeing how we can make change, and that's definitely. Especially the neurodiversity, and that's definitely a really unknown kind of thing that people don't think about it and like for us. Like I work on the website. It's a big thing, it's like people do have like dyslexia stuff, and it is a high proportion of people. It's not just people you think oh yeah they are, but it's, and people hide it. Like we've had directors who are dyslexic, you're my god that is a real good role model for people with neurodivergence, and that should be highlighted. So I definitely agree with that. Stacy did you want to come in.

Stacey

I  think that that can happen. I think it's also, you know, going through our daily lives and really enforce, enforcing and encouraging and empowering the people that we see. Especially women, as when I was, you know, when I'm out at work and I'm out in the field talking with customers. I see a lot of women saying that's his job, the internet's his job, don't talk to me about it. I don't understand, talk to him, talk to the other half, he'll know what you're talking about. I feel that, admittedly yes, I did not know a lot about wi-fi levels, you know, any of that before I worked here. I come from a completely different background of the arts and customer services. So this was completely new to me when i started in Virgin Media. But now that I have that knowledge, I feel like I’m almost responsible, to empower the people that are around me, and say,  it's not a man thing it's not, it's not a dude thing, you can do this as well. I can break it down so you can understand it in a way that you're going to know what I’m talking about, and then you've got that power in your hands to do whatever you want with it. So, I feel like we can really empower people and give them the courage and the, I don't know, just the self-belief, so they can go and feel like they can apply for things like this. It's getting your friends that you know, come on you can do this, and then they, and like Helen said they bring their friends, then their friends are empowered and then it's like an awesome kind of a safety net of support that you can, that you can apply. You can do it, and you can achieve. So, I feel like we we're kind of responsible you know, in a way, we're like at the forefront.

Sarah

Helen, did you want to come in.

Helen

You said something Stacy, which is a really important to me, and that, that message of when you talk to, when you go and talk to somebody about that, and they go, oh this is the man's job. One thing COVID has shown us, is that we will now be absolutely catapulted into that into that virtual world. There are so many women, girls, who do not have digital skills, because they never had to, or feel like they needed to. It's meant that that has opened up that gap even further. That digital skills gap has opened up even further. So there are you know, mothers who don't know how to do things online and they have to now, and so are behind on certain things. Boys are often given priority online over their siblings, over sisters, daughters. So again, they're not getting that access to education that they needed. So there is something in that, you know, how do we ensure that girls and boys, which you would expect have equal access, because there's not that equal access to technology. Which has been, you know, as i say out of COVID, it's become even more apparent.

Sarah

That a good point actually. Because like even like going back to me, my brother. He was always a digital person, I was like, kind of like Stacey, same backgrounds. I was always in a dance studio, where my brother was there building computers and stuff. So, there is that gap, and obviously now I am a digital comms person. So I have to have skills and stuff, but I know, I definitely think digital skills is a definite need. There is going to be a gap as we're moving into a digital age, and I think COVID, as you said, is highlighting that. Even to the point of work from home. People need to learn how to know how to use Outlook, Excel, Word. It's just general things now, it's not like a requirement, it's like you've just got to know it. I think that's a really important thing that people need to get across is digital, is the way you need to get your digital skills, and there is that gap for women sometimes.

Helen

I'd actually go as far as state it’s a human right, it's a human right to have digital access and digital skills. The digital access is definitely a human right.

Sarah

Definitely. Anna, if you've got any points you want to add?

Anna

I really agree with what Stacey had said about, sort of using networks and using, you know the advocacy of sort of personal experience to extend the reach and make sure we're actually getting to the right people. Because, you know, it's so easy to put an advert on LinkedIn or wherever, you put it and just you know you get the same kind of applicants. So, you, we need to think about ways to reach different types of people, to really get that representation across route panels, boards, everyone who's involved in the development process. I mean, we've made some progress. We got a recent female board appointee, who's coming from the STEM background. So we're really pleased about that. But , know much, more progress to be made, and I think you know, as Helen and Stacey said, that we've got to think of new ways to do that. To really reach the right people.

Sarah

Definitely. I think that's even one for me to take away is obviously, sometimes we do recruitment on social media, and it's like, maybe that for me I might need to speak to all the route panels, like okay, different route panels, where do you see adverts for stuff, and then we work with that route panel. Let's see how we can get that representation. So I'm going to write that one down for future reference. I definitely agree. I think there's definitely something around networking and going like, well what do you know like,  who do you speak to, who do you think is good, and tapping into that pool of people to get them representations on our panels, it is invaluable, and we need to do that, definitely. Okay then so kind of staying on the same subject of like making it more appealing for people. So how do you think we can make apprenticeships more appealing and attractive for women in particular, but obviously for everyone else. I know we have talked about it a little, bit but what specifically do we need to do. Should we go to Stacey, you're the most recent apprentice. What kind of made you choose to do an apprenticeship?

Stacey

Well like i said earlier, I like the time that it gave you to really, you could incorporate your study with your practical learning, so I really appreciate that time. So, i don't have a family of my own yet, so iI don't have kids. There is there was another apprentice on my team when I joined, and we were network apprentices from all over the UK. She was a mum, and I think she kind of really enjoyed being able to kind of get out into the field. Because we've always been out during COVID, so we are classed as key workers, so we have always been out at that time. We have obviously been as safe as possible doing that, because we've had to be able to keep people connected during this time of COVID. Obviously people have used it and required it more than ever. So, we've had to be able to maintain the network while this has all been going on, and improving it. Kind of doing all that stuff as well. There's a couple of kind of different factors as to as to kind of why she applied. She came from a background of like robotics and things like that. So, I think she always quite a, I think you don't need to be a particularly practical techie person. I think you just have to have that in our curiosity, asking questions and wanting to know how things work, and why, and things like that. but yeah, I'm sorry, I'm kind of trailed that.

Sarah

That’s really interesting, that appetite to learn. You don't necessarily have to go into sectors that you, like if that robotic thing is, like really, it's not a typical sector. If you've got that appetite to learn you can go into anything you really want. If you just want that drive to like, well I'm just a bit curious, like let me just find out, that's really interesting, I definitely was like that.

Stacey

So, there are transferable skills, that you're, you know that you are learning. So that's I guess the important thing. I don't know, I even thought, as Helen was kind of talking earlier, about how do we appeal. Maybe even, you know going into a toddler and baby class. Just making it, or you know maybe it'd be interesting to look at the the numbers of who go on to Instagram for example. Is it more women maybe we need to find where they go, and where they choose to spend their time online. Obviously you know, that's not to say that it's just women on there. I think maybe we really need to pick apart those niches, you know the clothes shops, nasty girl. Can we, you know advertise on their sites. I don't know, it would be good, because you never know whose curiosity you might spike. So, it's I think, it's very interesting to see how we can really get them. We want to get you come with us.

Sarah

We will find you, we will get to you. Definitely. So Anna have you got any thoughts?

Anna

 Yeah, I mean personally, from my experience, the best way to make people excited about apprenticeships is to bring out really enthusiastic apprentices, or recent apprentices, to talk about their experiences. Because, I mean, people like Stacey you know, if I had heard from Stacey when I was at school, I'd immediately be like, right this is an option, this is something I want to think about. It's quite hard to bring things to life that people don't know anything about. So if you have someone who's there he's doing it, he knows exactly what's going on, and can sell it. I think that's really important. I think we should, you know, we should make the most, the absolute most of our fantastic apprenticeship panel, and other networks of apprentices, to really help other people understand why they're so great.

Sarah

Stacy want to come back on that?

Stacey

 It's almost like if, you know when you were younger, if you did something just by yourself you're like, oh is this cool, and then it suddenly becomes cooler when you found out a student or a friend does it as well. You're like, oh well if they can do it, I can do that. So yeah, I completely agree Anna. It's if you see someone doing it, you think well she can do it and you know she's from Luton, and she went to my high school, and she went to my college. Okay and you can then try home, mom there was a girl at school, and she's done this, and now she's here and she drives a van and I can do that. So I just think it's like you said, it's, you want to see examples, and you want to see real life examples of people that are actually doing it, there then they're in the thick of it. So yeah, I think I completely agree. Someone that's obviously enthusiastic.Had my coffee this morning let me tell you. I just think it's, if you can see physically, see someone else doing it. It makes it okay because you know they're actually doing it. So yeah, that's, I like that kind of thought process. It's really nice.

Sarah

That is good. It's just showing that enthusiasm, that people need to see. I know so many apprentices I think pretty much every apprentice is so enthusiastic, and such an advocate for apprenticeships. So getting them in there, and be like amazing, this is great. Well Helen, you've got so many initiatives with getting people in there.

Helen

So yeah, so agree with what everyone says. If you can see it, you can be it. That's that old saying, so for sure. Enthusiastic apprentices do it every time. I do think, and see, that that girls are excited by different things, and so it's what an apprenticeship can give you. So I think it's that, and not all of our young girls are thinking about families, and we say that, we know, we're not you know,.probably not thinking about this right now. But the flexibility the learning on the job, they're not having you know the debt, the opportunity to try different things. Women tend to want to know the outputs. So boys will be like can I work with AI, you know they want to know if they're gonna get, they can they can do AI, or machine learning, or whatever it is. Whereas I think generally, not that girl's, not saying girls aren't excited about the technology as well. But I think they just have a broader view. So it's the technology, but it's all the other things the job can give you. I think you know, university, we can give an apprentice a degree apprenticeship, can give you everything that you get at university plus, plus, plus. Our apprentices are in a cohort. So it's just like being part of a university, we have societies, you know we have a freshers week, they can join societies, and they can even, lots of them live together. They choose to live together in a an apprentice house, as opposed to student house. But they're earning money and they can have a lifestyle. They know they're going to have a job, and they're in a really competitive position. So I think it's you know, it's that plus, plus, plus, that I think, it really attracts our female apprentices. If you've got female apprentices talking about what it brings for them, then that that's the icing on the cake, which is why we've got you know 49% hopefully 51% very soon, as I said again. I've said it enough times.

Sarah

You will get there, you will get there.

Stacey

Are you saying Helen that the apprentices are living off you know, M&S and the normal uni students are living off super noodles?

Helen

I'd actually go one step further. It may even be Waitrose.

Sarah

it's just great also, hearing you all speaking about this. So, we're coming to the end of our podcast now. So let's just kind of, no,, no we don't want it to end, it's such a good conversation. So just to kind of wrap it all up. So kind of like a one tip for each one of you. What would you say to women thinking about doing an apprenticeship? What's your one tip you want to say to them and let's go to Anna first.

Anna

I mean, I said do it. Absolutely do it. You know, talk to some former apprentices to find out which one is best for you. Because, you know, there's a huge choice out there, and they'll be the best place to advise you on which one is best for you. But there will definitely be one that's good for you.

Sarah

Definitely. Stacey.

Stacey

Don't ever doubt yourself. Don't ever think that you that you can't, even if it's a really technical role that's fine. You have the time to learn it, you know,  that's it, it's kind of what Anna said. Really just do it, go for it. Because I think for an apprenticeship, you have literally nothing to lose, and only to gain.

Sarah

That's really interesting. Just do it don't doubt yourself, you can't do it. Definitely a good thing, Helen.

Helen

I mean they've taken all the great ideas I’ve got nothing left to play now which is quite a feat i might add. I always say to, when I go and do work experience, or going to schools. I always say to young women is, be shameless, and talk to as many people as you can. So your parents, your parents friends. Anyone who's in that working environment. Because the more you know, the more of a picture you can build up of what it's like to work, in the work. Do work experience, because then you can learn what you, what you like, and you don't like. It is very, very difficult to be able to impart what an apprenticeship is like unless they can see it, hear it, talk to people who've done it. So yeah, build that network, talk to lots of people, go into offices that do apprenticeships. Most companies, like we do, will take people in for a day, or a work experience. So you can come and try before you buy, kind of thing. But as you know, as you've said, there is no loss. So a little bit of a slap around the chops for you Sarah. You didn't waste those two years, and even if someone came onto an apprenticeship, if they came on a Cisco apprenticeship, they did the three years, they got their degree. They didn't work as Cisco at the end, they have still got so much experience, they've learned so much about themselves. They've got you know, a step up and ahead of those who've just gone on to do a degree, and they've got a degree, and they've got no debt. So you know, why would you not do it, why would you not do it.

Sarah

These are all fantastic tips and we should just all be shouting about it. So, it was absolutely fantastic to hear all of you today. This conversation has been fantastic. It's been so empowering and enlightening. So just want to say a huge thank you for you all for joining me. It's been absolutely great to hear about all of your experiences, and most of all being open and honest with me. It's been absolutely great to hear. So, thanks for listening and look out for our next episode.

 

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