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Women in STEM Jobs

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2023

We have made great progress in increasing the number of girls studying STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. Our challenge now is to do more to get them into STEM jobs. To support that, we launched a scheme called STEM returners, as one of our programmes to grow the skills of people who have taken a career break. We have so far had 42 women in our first cohort and 54 have signed up for our second cohort, getting women with experience and skills back into STEM jobs.

While the UK-wide responsibility in areas such as energy and defence among others is reserved to this Parliament, education, skills, universities, colleges and apprenticeships among others are devolved. What discussions has my hon. Friend the Minister had with other UK Government Ministers and devolved Administrations to ensure that the opportunity for women to get their STEM education and skills, and to maintain their careers, is maximised across the United Kingdom?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work, particularly around promoting the energy sector across the United Kingdom. We are making progress on trying to get women and girls into that vital sector. One of our Build Back Better campaigns is seeking to inspire women from all walks of life to work in the green energy economy and raise awareness of green education, training and careers. My colleague the Minister with responsibility for employment and I regularly meet devolved colleagues to discuss how we can have a United Kingdom approach to this issue.

Last week I met a group of life science apprentices, young women and young men, who have taken up some great opportunities with STEM employers. One issue they raised with me was the lack of information about non-trade apprenticeships when they were considering their career options. What more can my hon. Friend do to promote STEM apprenticeships for the 16 to 18-year-olds who may not want to pursue the university route?

My hon. Friend is a shining example of how women can lead in the STEM sector, with her own experience in clinical care before she came to this place. We are trying to drive forward apprenticeships, particularly in STEM subjects. Since May 2010, over 5 million apprenticeship starts have happened and our apprenticeship diversity champions are helping those aged 16 and over to get into apprenticeships, particularly in STEM subjects. Organisations such as UCAS and Young Women’s Trust are also doing that specific work.

The Scottish Government have a number of ambitions to address the lack of women in STEM occupations and settings such as schools. Those ambitions start early. The gender pay gap action plan examines how schools have a key role in helping young women make transitions into broader occupations, as well as setting out measures that address occupation segregation, leading to more women accessing STEM careers. What are the Government doing to provide that kind of support?

One key route is through apprenticeships. For many young women, being able to earn while you learn and getting that work experience is vital for them to progress through the STEM sector. We have 22,000 degree apprenticeships and seven masters degree apprenticeships. That is an increase of 14%. In STEM subjects in particular, we have 360 employer design apprenticeships, including level 3 cyber-security, level 4 software development and level 6 civil engineering. We believe apprenticeships are the way forward to drive more women into STEM areas.

I thank the Minister for that answer. In Northern Ireland, women are under-represented in STEM industries. Only 15% of women in Northern Ireland study core STEM subjects, compared to 36% of men. That is a clear anomaly that needs to be addressed. May I encourage the Minister to use her office to engage with the Department for the Economy to encourage more uptake in university STEM subjects? Women can do the job every bit as well as a man given that opportunity.

I thank the hon. Member for that question. That goes to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid). We need a UK approach. Across the Government, whether in the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Education, we focus on trying to improve all avenues for those, particularly women, who want to go into STEM areas.