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Apprenticeships: An opportunity for gender diversity in the energy sector?

Just two weeks ago, we joined others across the world to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) and its ‘Shape the World’ campaign. The annual event, now in its seventh year, is an awareness campaign run by the Women’s Engineering Society which raises the profile of women in engineering across the globe.

As a sponsor of INWED, (view full press release here), OPITO is committed to promoting the exciting journey which an energy career can offer women. But there is much still to be done in order to get us to where we want to be: females are still vastly under-represented across the wider industry.

Energy continues to have a bigger gender employment gap than other sectors: around 25% of the current workforce in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), is female. A study commissioned by OPITO in partnership with RGU’s Oil and Gas Institute (UKCS Workforce Dynamics: The Skills Landscape 2019-2025) showed that female representation in the workforce is likely to shift from 25% in 2019 to approximately 30% by 2025. This was based on the assumption that there will be an equal intake of new recruits from both sexes between 2019 and 2025.

Alongside developing and delivering products, services and initiatives to ensure a safe and skilled workforce, OPITO is determined to ensure that the industry reaps the very real benefits of increased gender diversity.

The Oil and Gas Technical Apprentice Programme (OGTAP), managed by OPITO and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECTIB) is one route that provides a career route into the energy sector for women.

Rebecca Rieley, one of the female apprentices who enrolled on the scheme in 2019, said:

“The barrier females face when applying for an apprenticeship and pursuing a career offshore is typically a lack of confidence. That can be caused by common misconceptions around the role of women in society. When I share my career aspirations, I’ve had people say to me, “Is that not a man’s job?”, and my response is always, “No, anyone can do it.” It would be great if more females realised it’s not just for men, they can do it, and enjoy doing it.”

Sophie Ewen, a fellow apprentice who recently completed an apprenticeship, and secured a full time offer from Ithaca Energy to become a process engineer working offshore, agreed. She said:

“The problem is both a lack of knowledge and low confidence, which isn’t helped by the attitudes of some people who are unaware of the opportunities. People are surprised when I tell them about my apprenticeship. No-one expects you, as a female, to be working offshore, outside on the rig and to be very hands-on, which is a disappointing assumption to encounter today when gender equality is widely discussed.”

She continued:

“There are many assumptions about being a female working offshore. During my training, I met a woman employed by an oil major who was pregnant with her third child, and to my surprise, she was still planning to work offshore after her maternity leave finished. Until then, I had assumed working offshore when you are a mother to young children would be out of the question. Talking with her made me realise that a career in the energy industry is very flexible. For example, she was able to work in the office when pregnant, and once she returns to working offshore after her leave, a two week on and three weeks off rotation offers her plenty of quality time with her family. This was really motivating to hear.”

“I do think women worry if they take a job offshore then their career may be impacted when they decide to have a family. It is really encouraging to hear that an experienced industry professional who has had a successful career offshore was able to return after her leave.”, commented Emma Proctor, another OGTAP apprentice studying to become a process operator.

She continued:

“More female apprentices and technical engineers sharing their experiences should encourage others to follow, which will help to dispel the perception that it’s a male driven environment and instead make it more equal. I’d like to see us get to the stage where there is no stigma around being a woman engineer.”

To conclude, Rebecca said:

“There will always be a future in the energy sector, even if activities are not primarily made up of oil and gas like they were ten years ago, and there is more of a focus on renewables, then we can expect a balance. There will still be a requirement for qualified engineers, and our skills will be transferable across the energy landscape in the future. An apprenticeship and a career in the energy sector really is for everybody.”

Check out OPITO's ‘International Women in Engineering Day’ apprenticeship series on YouTube here.

Hear thoughts from some of our female OGTAP apprentices on why they chose the energy industry, common misconceptions about being a female in oil and gas, and what actions they think will help get more girls passionate about STEM.