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phototwoWe are delighted to introduce a guest blog by Heidi Catlin, IAC Member and Policy Advisor Infrastructure Skills at the Department for Transport.

We're all aware of the skills gap in the engineering industry, and know that women play a key role in solving it.

But here's the thing: We cannot tackle the gender gap in engineering if we don't build a more inclusive and diverse apprenticeship system. While the proportion of engineering degrees taken up by women is low at 16%, it's still comfortably higher than the 3% of engineering apprenticeships which are started by women.

 The new Industry Apprentice Council report breaks down the findings from our survey of 1,200 apprentices by gender, and in doing so exposes some worrying divisions. For example, 30% of female respondents to the survey said they were discouraged from taking up an apprenticeship place, compared with just 17% of males who responded.

I experienced this lack of careers advice when I left sixth form just over two years ago. I was discouraged from an apprenticeship by my school and told that it was for "low skilled people". However, I was a strong-willed teenager, so I applied for it anyway.

I now work for the Department for Transport as a policy advisor for skills including apprenticeships. I'm also a Level 4 Business Administration apprentice, in my second apprenticeship in the transport industry.

I sit on the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce (STAT), which was established in April 2016 to deliver on the ambition of the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy – to create more apprenticeships, improve diversity and promote transport as a career.

The STAT recently published their "one year on report", which outlines the work they've undertaken in the last year and the next steps they will be taking. Diversity is a key area of focus; 85% total apprenticeship starts are in technical and engineering apprenticeships. Of these, only 12% are women. There is clearly more to do, which is why STAT will be promoting mentoring and coaching, and working to tackle unconscious bias.

Being a member of STAT has been a great experience for me and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it. I've been able to learn from senior leaders in the industry, build my confidence presenting ideas in the boardroom and gain a better understanding of the wider transport sector. It's also great to be part of a cross-modal group so dedicated to working together to making positive change across the sector.

There's a great amount of cross-industry work, for example; WISE, ICE and Enginuity collaborated to develop the STEM apprenticeship diversity toolkit. The Year of Engineering 2018 is a DfT-led campaign that aims to alter the perception of what it is to be an engineer. This is a great opportunity to get everyone excited about engineering.

This is so important to young women also, as so many of them have the potential to have successful and fulfilling careers in the engineering sector but we need to be promoting the profession and sparking interest. The 18 year-old me never would have thought I'd have a career in the sector, but here I am. I've found that the transport and engineering sector is full of opportunities for young women, and I want more women to be able to access these opportunities that lead to a rewarding and exciting career.

So let's continue to drive change, and encourage everyone with an interest in engineering to pursue great careers in the sector.

To find out more about the Industry Apprentice Council contact: [email protected] or call 0845 643 9001.