Hayley Liddle could have used her A levels to get a place at university.

Instead, the former Greenhead College student opted to join an engineering apprenticeship scheme and today works for Huddersfield engineering company Fred Shaw.

Hayley, now 20, was the only girl in the 100-strong intake two years ago at Kirkdale Industrial Services Ltd (KITS), a not-for-profit training organisation which provides apprenticeship programmes for engineering.

But she is not alone at the sheet metal fabrication company Fred Shaw’s – one of her colleagues, 17-year-old Emma Coverley, is also blazing a trail for women in engineering.

Emma, who left Newsome High School after taking her GCSEs, was the only female student on a manufacturing engineering course at Kirklees College and is still a lone female there during her day release studies.

Each says she is happy to have found secure employment with good future prospects and their boss, director David Sutton, says he’s more than happy to have enrolled two promising new engineers.

In the past 30 years or so women have found their way into many professions and trades that were once male-dominated, but they are still giving engineering the cold shoulder.

David believes this is because there are too many misconceptions about engineering.

“Engineering has changed so much and it is now a very clean industry,” he said. “You used to go home with your hands dirty but a lot of what we do now is on the computer and automated.”

He blames schools for failing to promote engineering to both boys and girls, particularly as the industry is suffering a skills shortage.

“There’s a real problem in engineering – you can’t get skilled labour so we take on apprentices and train them ourselves,” he said.

“Over the last five years we have been able to take on two apprentices each year and we are talking about taking more. We’re quite happy to take on girls if they pass the aptitude tests.”

Hayley, who lives in Waterloo, says she didn’t consider engineering as a career until completing her A levels.

“I’d spent my work experience week at the engineering company where my dad works and found it interesting but didn’t really think about it as a job,” she said.

However, a careers advisor at Connexions suggested she visited KITS and afterwards she decided to apply for a place.

“Engineering is not something that girls usually think about and they didn’t mention it to me at school,” said Hayley, who has A levels in maths, economics, modern history and politics. “I’d applied to university but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study and I didn’t want to spend all that money if I wasn’t sure.”

So while her friends are at university or mostly studying the more traditional female options of childcare and hairdressing, she’s been earning while she trains as a CAD (computer automated drawing) engineer. At the age of 21 as a qualified mechanical engineer she can expect a salary of between �21,000 and �24,000 and will still have the option to take a degree while continuing to work or move on to become a project engineer.

KITS says that up to 20% of its annual intake of apprentices could have gone to university but are choosing the work/training route to a career instead. Although Hayley was the only female in her year the organisation has signed up five girls for the 2013/14 intake which is encouraging but still means they represent less than 5% of the apprentices.

Hayley is asked to speak at the organisation’s diversity events to encourage girls to see engineering as rewarding career. The next will be in early November.

What does she tell them?

Female apprentices at Fred Shaw, Albert Street, Lockwood - Hayley Liddell
Female apprentices at Fred Shaw, Albert Street, Lockwood - Hayley Liddell
 

“They asked me what it was like being the only girl in training and I said it was absolutely fine,” she said. “Everyone has been really friendly.

“There might be some people who think that girls can’t be engineers but I think girls have the upper hand because you can go out of your way to prove them wrong.”

And what do her family and friends think of her unusual career choice?

“My dad was supportive but sceptical at first,” she said. “I think he wondered if I’d like the male-dominated environment but now he’s really happy and proud. My friends think it’s bizarre!”

Emma, who lives in Ashbrow, was also influenced by engineers in the family to consider a career in the industry.

She explained: “I saw a lady from Connexions who kept mentioning child care, beauty courses and hairdressing but I said I wanted to do engineering. I think people think it’s only for boys but I knew I was interested in it. My cousin does up stock racing cars and my sister’s boyfriend is a welder and fabricator.”

She says becoming the only female engineering student on her course at Kirklees College made her feel both “nervous and excited at the same time.”

She added: “All my friends are doing child care and things like that but they are supportive of me, although they do think I’m a bit weird.”

Emma was taken on as a factory floor apprentice at Fred Shaw’s after approaching the company directly.

“She wrote to us at the right time when we taking people on,” said David. “We take apprentices from KITS and Kirklees College and we were quite open to the idea of another girl.”

Isobel Pollock, former president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers who lives in Kirkburton, says the industry has been working hard to attract more women but in some sectors there has been little change.

“They have put so much effort into it and yet it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference, so we must find something different and look at the problem again,” she said.

“During my year in office I was shown examples where they got a good response to initiatives and where they had good links with schools but then there are clearly areas where campaigns weren’t working.

“When you get young women into engineering they do very well but it’s just getting them in that’s the problem. Manufacturing is picking up so it’s still a good career path.”

The Institute for Employment Research says that by 2017 there will be a demand for more than 500,000 science and technology professionals so anyone choosing a university course at the moment should bear this in mind.

It is also estimated that by 2017 as many as 217,000 engineering graduates will be needed by industry.

According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers women are under-represented at all levels in engineering.

Only 8.7% of those working in engineering in the UK are female, compared to 30% in Latvia (the EU country with the highest percentage).

At the moment only 2% of students on Mechanical Engineering courses at Huddersfield University are female.