Creating the women in engineering of tomorrow

The OEM Engineering Apprenticeship scheme is forging new paths for women

From left, AnnaMarie Woods, apprenticeship programme manager, OEM; Grace Hickey, Irish Rail; Alana Kernan, Combilift; Karolina Tomczak, Tanco; Isabella Antonio, Moffett Automated Storage; Caoimhe Dennehy, Dennehy’s Garden & Construction Machinery; and Damian Walshe, National Apprenticeship Office

It has long been known that engineering can be a very fulfilling career with countless opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. And in a ground-breaking shift, women are making significant strides in the traditionally male-dominated field of engineering apprenticeships.

As industries strive for diversity, an increasing number of women are embracing apprenticeship opportunities, challenging stereotypes, and forging new paths in the world of engineering – and this is no different for the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship programme, which recently celebrated its first two female graduates, Alana Kernan from Combilift and Caoimhe Dennehy from Dennehy’s Garden and Construction Machinery.

At the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship graduation event on November 9, Alana Kernan received an Academic Excellence award for consistently achieving outstanding results in all of her assignments and projects, achieving the highest overall grade in her class.

Career guidance counsellors are key in promoting engineering to young girls and it is important that they are more aware of the range of engineering paths available

She believes that her future as a female engineer is bright.

“Working in the engineering industry for the last five years has truly been an eye-opener for me,” said the Combilift apprentice. “The stigma that is wrapped around women working in engineering needs to become a thing of the past. There are many brilliant female engineers - and in a way, I am thankful for the myth that women can’t work in engineering, as it has made us even more determined to prove that we belong here. It has inspired our creativity and made us bold in putting ourselves into situations that show off our knowledge and dedication.

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, whether you are a man or a woman, so we need to separate this issue with genders within this role and start looking at engineers as individuals. Having female engineers helps companies to think outside the box; they are risk-takers who are eager to take on new projects as they believe they have so much to prove - especially because of the fact that women are excellent at problem-solving. Now that I am a graduate of the OEM apprenticeship, I am even more confident in my capabilities as a female engineer - and my future is limitless.”

Alana Kernan, Combilift, and Caoimhe Dennehy, Dennehy’s Garden and Construction Machinery

Caoimh Dennehy, who works for her family business in Co Clare, also thrived during her time on the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship, as Michael Dennehy, her father and employer, can attest to.

“Caoimhe possesses a natural curiosity, enthusiasm, and a willingness to challenge traditional methods,” he said. “As a graduate of the OEM Apprenticeship, she is now equipped with the latest knowledge and practical skills gained through her three years of training and is bringing fresh perspectives and insights to the business.”

The event was also attended by three current female OEM Engineering Apprentices, from Irish Rail, Moffett Automated Storage and Johnson & Johnson, along with a female workplace mentor from Tanco.

AnnaMarie Woods, programme manager, says that the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship is “committed to increasing female intake on the programme”.

“Despite much progress, female engineers represent only 12 per cent of the profession in Ireland, so we must use positive role models such as Alana and Caoimhe to help young women in Ireland recognise engineering as a possible and very worthwhile career,” she said.”

However, although significant progress is being made, challenges persist, highlighting the importance of fostering inclusivity and supporting women pursuing careers in engineering. The shortage of females working in engineering roles is a global challenge with Ireland being no exception, so the sector needs more women like Alana and Caoimhe, with fresh ideas, new perspectives, varied experiences, and different approaches to innovation.

Career guidance counsellors are key in promoting engineering to young girls and it is important that they are more aware of the range of engineering paths available, such as the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship. Indeed, female engineers need to be celebrated and could be brought into schools to inform students of the many routes and opportunities available in engineering, and to also show that engineering is an attractive and fulfilling choice of career for both male and female candidates.

The OEM Engineering Apprenticeship is a three-year QQI Level 6 programme consisting of both on-the-job and off-the-job blocks and is suitable for those currently employed in OEM companies (manufacturing, servicing, commissioning and installation), school leavers, career switchers and mature applicants wishing to pursue a career as a qualified OEM Engineering Technician. On-the-job learning takes place within the company and the learner also attends off-the-job education and training on a block release basis at either Cavan Monaghan ETB’s Monaghan Institute Campus or Limerick Clare ETB’s Raheen Training Centre in Limerick.

For more information on the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship, please visit - oemapprenticeship.ie