News story

Reunited - Sellafield’s first ever female apprentices

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A guest article from nuclear firm Sellafield Ltd - to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 2015.

Since 2010 there have been more than 2 million people have started an apprenticeship and more women than men now take up the ‘earn while you learn’ route. But 40 years ago, it was a very different situation, so when Sellafield nuclear plant recruited its first 4 female apprentices it was a trailblazing move.

Sellafield apprentices 1977
Karen Stewart, Pat Spain, Liz Duffy and Anne Chakley - Sellafield's first female apprentices in 1977.

In 1977, a landmark moment happened at Europe’s most complex nuclear site, Sellafield – the company shattered gender inequality and took on its first ever female apprentices. Fast forward 38 years and one quarter of the company’s apprentices are female - a figure that is likely to rise again this year as they recruit over 200 additional trainees.

Karen Stewart, Pat Spain, Liz Duffy and Anne Chakley were the first 4 females to be given a place on Sellafield’s apprentice training scheme, and 2 of the group have reunited during National Apprenticeship Week 2015 to reflect on their landmark achievements.

Apprentices reunited
Karen Stewart and Liz Duffy - reunited for National Apprenticeship Week 2015.

I knew I wanted to become an apprentice

Karen began her career as an instrumental apprentice at the nuclear site and is now a safety case advisor, she said:

I was never a girly-girl when I was younger. I wasn’t interested in studying the ‘soft’ subjects at school; I wanted to learn about science and maths because I knew they would give me the opportunity of a good future life and career.

Around the time I was leaving school, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act had come into force in the UK. All of a sudden there were new, exciting career options available to me and I instantly knew I wanted to become an apprentice.

Careers in engineering and the sciences weren’t typically popular with girls; they were always seen as a better route for boys to follow. I remember when I applied for the apprenticeship one female teacher told me it was the wrong thing to do but I saw myself as equal and able as any of the boys applying for the scheme.

Looking back, it was such an achievement to be selected as one of Sellafield’s first ever female apprentices and I’m very proud of what I have accomplished in my career so far.

I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to young people, no matter their gender. It’s a good opportunity to have and stands you in good stead to follow whatever career path or industry you’re interested in. I supported both my daughters as they considered their options after school both are now trainee specialist technicians at Sellafield Ltd.

When I started my apprenticeship I didn’t think of it as a big deal

Liz Duffy is now an electrical and instrumental craftsperson for Sellafield Ltd.

She said:

When I started my apprenticeship I didn’t think of it as a big deal really, I was just happy to get a job at the first time of trying. I was a tomboy and used to spend my spare time rebuilding old British motorcycle engines with my boyfriend, so I knew I wanted more of a hands-on job. I personally didn’t meet much discrimination, there were the odd couple of comments from males but we just had to show we deserved to be there by making a good job of everything we did, both physically and academically.

Looking back at my career I’m glad I started it the way I did, I couldn’t imaging doing anything else and have spent 37 happy years at the Sellafield site.

National Apprenticeship Week 2015 has been more successful than ever - and you can find out more about apprenticeships by visiting our ‘Get In. Go Far.’ website.