What does your role involve?
I work with the other joiners, and independently, to make all sorts of bespoke furniture and kitchens. I have just graduated from my apprenticeship at the end of February.
How did you get started working in STEM?
I wanted to get an apprenticeship straight after my GCSEs, but I wanted to get into horticulture. I had top grades, mainly 8s and 9s (equivalent to an A*) so careers advice at 16 consisted of asking which sixth form and university we were going to. When I suggested looking for an apprenticeship, the careers advisor laughed.
I got a scholarship to an international boarding school where I studied the International Baccalaureate, doing six subjects. Although much better than a traditional sixth form, it still wasn’t what I was looking for and so I left after my first year and started to look for an apprenticeship.
I volunteered on farms and in a local woodland and then joined a Building Blocks course, aimed at giving basic labouring training and studying for a CSCS card, to enable me to work on building sites. I then got a reply from a company I had emailed almost a year before, asking me to come for an interview.
What qualifications did you take or gain along the way?
I’ve just finished my Level 2 Bench Joinery qualification, I have a CSCS card, I have done facilitation, leadership and language qualifications including a HSK2 in Mandarin Chinese and B2 in Italian. I’m also currently in my second year of an Open Degree with the Open University and I’m focusing this on Economics and Design.
Why do you love working in STEM?
So far, this job is by far the best I’ve ever had. In terms of the work, it uses my brain, so I’m never bored as there is always creativity, problem solving and a lot of maths! As well as the intellectual stimulation, a day full of moving and lifting is much healthier.
What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky because my joinery career, while short, has been overwhelmingly positive. It was hard to get into and I think if I was to leave, I would have a harder time to find another company because of my gender. Many job adverts specify they’re looking for a ‘man with a van’ or ‘a strong young lad’. I was helped by other joiners, who I had met at my previous company, to find my current position, so I didn’t have to face this too directly.
What advice would you offer to someone joining STEM sectors?
I would advise them to consider apprenticeships and more physical, creative careers, follow their hearts and most of all, be determined. I wasn’t the strongest person or the most experienced, but I have more than made up for that with determination and a real and sustained interest in what I am doing.
What do you think we need to do as an industry to attract and keep more women in STEM?
I think we need more role models, more open discussion of the realities of all sorts of working life, and a change in the stereotypes of women being weaker and less skilled at physical work.
For the full article please visit our blog at: equalityinstem.org.uk/blog