Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeship

Putting a spotlight on how apprenticeships can empower women

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Putting a spotlight on how apprenticeships can empower women

Inspired by International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2020, the Ibec Manufacturing Apprenticeship Team decided to highlight some female apprentices who are pursuing a career in engineering. Horizontal segregation in certain sectors and vertical segregation at certain levels remain a significant challenge for women, with research from Ibec revealing that the number of women at Head of Function level for manufacturing dropping from 15% in 2001 to 3% in 2018 compared to HR/personnel (72%), customer services (53%) and finance/accounting (39%).

The new Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeships can help business reverse this trend by identifying top talent and empowering apprentices by combining excellent educational qualifications with special on the job training.

Graduate success for recent apprentice

One such apprentice is Louise Byrne who works for Vitalograph, a Clare based medical device company who manufacture cardio-respiratory diagnostic devices. Louise started the Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeship in 2017 and has recently graduated as a Manufacturing Engineering Technician.

As part of her two-year apprenticeship Louise spent 37 weeks/year with her company Vitalograph and the remaining 15 weeks/year in Limerick Institute of Technology where she obtained a Level 6 National Certificate in Manufacturing Engineering.

We took this opportunity to sit down with Louise to ask her why she took part in the Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeship and what challenges she faced being a female apprentice in a predominantly male dominated workforce.

Determined to make a difference

Speaking about her experience, Louise said: “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I finished school. I just knew I wanted to work with my hands and do something that would make a difference and live on long after me. I suggested engineering to my career guidance advisors when I was finishing school and they were dismissive. They tried to steer me towards traditional options such as Nursing – that  didn’t appeal to me as I don’t like the sight of blood. They also suggested training as a Chef, but this wasn’t something I was passionate about.”

“This just made me more determined, so I went off and did engineering and I have never looked back. I’ve gone down other career paths but engineering is something I have always come back to.” She added that her Grandad was an engineer and her role model, “He was exceptionally good at what he did. He believed in me and inspired me to believe I could be an engineer too. He told it like it is, I trusted his judgement.”

Take a chance on your dreams

To date, only 8% of the apprentices taking part in the manufacturing engineering apprenticeship are female and this is higher than the national average across engineering and trade apprenticeships.

With this in mind we asked Louise what would her advise be to any aspiring female engineering apprentices, “Do it! There is a lot of scaremongering out there about careers in engineering for women and about discrimination in the workplace. I have never experienced this in my career. I’m glad I ignored my career advisors who never took my ambition to become an engineer seriously. You’ll never know if you don’t take a chance, I did, and it was the best decision of my career.”

Grow your business with an apprentice

Of course, behind every successful apprentice, there must be a supportive company. We asked Bernard Mulcahy, VP Manufacturing Operations Vitalograph, why they got involved in the apprenticeship programme and how has it helped Vitalograph grow their talent pipeline.

Bernard explained, “We have a full range of new products coming on stream which need a different level of expertise to our current products. We saw the apprenticeship as a way to upskill staff in a structured academic environment, complemented by on the job learning.”

Finding the best fit for your company

When asked if they used the apprenticeship programme to introduce more female technicians into their workforce, Bernard was clear the it was Louise’s skillset that secured her a place on the programme, not her gender. “Honest answer is that we did not proactively look to choose a female engineer. We choose the person who interviewed best on the day, and in this instance, that person was Louise. Gender isn’t an issue here; we always look to hire the best person for the job.”

Combining coursework with experience

Louise is the first person to acknowledge the role Vitalograph and her industry mentor has played in her success. “Coursework is relevant for self-learning, it pushes you to think. There is a lot of information on the course which you have to absorb in a fairly short space of time. Any time I was struggling to fully understand, there was always someone in the company that I could ask for direction. My work colleagues in Vitalograph were all very helpful and wanted to see me do well.”

Get ahead with the manufacturing apprenticeship

The manufacturing industry are working to reverse the trend of low female uptake in manufacturing and engineering. According to research conducted by the Ibec Research Unit, in association with the 30% club, and DCU, two out of five (42%) manufacturing organisations felt that opportunities for women in their organisation had improved over the past five years.

Many businesses are looking to implement new initiatives with 31% looking at recruitment and promotion initiatives, 24% considering mentoring programmes, and 14% exploring programmes for career returners. The Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeships can provide business with a structured approach to identifying top talent and creating a new generation of female roles models.

To date there are 172 registered Manufacturing Engineering Apprentices, with the apprenticeship being delivered in four Institutes of Technology nationwide (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Cork Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology, Sligo).

If you are interested in taking part in the apprenticeship, or a company looking to enrol and apprentice you can find more detail on or connect with us on LinkedIn