The latest available official figures, for 2016-17, show that only 620 females started apprenticeships in construction and the built environment, compared with more than 20,000 males.
The BBC has reported last week on Emily Burridge, 22, who is ‘passionate about concrete’ and causing waves in a very male-dominated industry.
“It’s going to sound sad, but it’s my passion, my newly-developed passion, I do love it,” she says.
She has been in her post for less than a year as technical production manager for a string of 25 quarries, concrete and asphalt plants with aggregates giant Hanson.
Even the orange high-vis regulation kit doesn’t come in women’s sizes, but she says that the first time she put it on: “I actually thought I looked quite cool. I stood out.”
In sixth form, she had realised a conventional university course was not for her and, while her friends were busily applying through admissions service Ucas, she was working in a pub near her home in Somerset.
Her grandad suggested she try for a degree apprenticeship, where the employer pays your tuition fees and you earn a salary. Initially she was interested in a career in graphic design, but these apprenticeships are hard to find, so she decided to widen her search.
“This one grabbed my attention because it offered working outdoors, which I hadn’t considered before. But seeing as my family were all very hands on as well, my dad’s a mechanic, my grandparents were farmers, it appealed to me.”
Emily was the first girl ever hired on the scheme and, two weeks after starting, she and a fellow apprentice were thrown into the deep end.
They were asked to research and create a roller-compacted concrete for a customer – it is a drier mix than conventional concrete and something Hanson had never made before.
“I like a challenge… It’s a brilliant management technique.”
Emily started her management job last year on a salary of £30,000, shortly before graduating from University of Derby with a foundation degree in mineral extractives, and she is currently working towards honours.
It was a distance learning degree and so, apart from occasional short courses at the university, she spent four days a week in her job, with the fifth day studying on her own in an office.
The Young Women’s Trust, which campaigns for disadvantaged young women, says many feel “locked out” of better-paid apprenticeships and funnelled down a narrow range of career paths, with gender stereotyping and fears of workplace bullying major deterrents against jobs in male-dominated industries.
However, Emily says her experiences have been positive and that, despite being one of only four females out of about 40 apprentices since the scheme began seven years ago, she has felt incredibly well-supported.
Hanson’s head of recruitment, Helen Johnson, says hiring female apprentices is “a no brainer”.
“Historically females were not told about opportunities in the construction and building materials industry as it was assumed only males would go into it. We need to change this. There is no reason why females cannot enter our industry,” says Ms Johnson.