Being a female apprentice in STEM

Laura Denton

September 5, 2018

Before I joined Virgin Media, I worked in the hospitality industry across various brewery brands for around 10 years. After a couple of university attempts, realising it just wasn’t for me, I decided to try out an apprenticeship. My Dad had always worked in the Telecoms industry in some form, so I decided I would give it a try. In July 2013, I started as an apprentice Field Engineer at Virgin Media, and upon completion, I moved onto the level 3 Planning Apprenticeship. I have now been a qualified Access Network Planner for over 2.5 years.

Doing an apprenticeship was never really something that crossed my mind as it was only really advertised to trade roles such as Plumbers and Builders. I thought studying at university would be right for me as originally, I wanted to train to become a PE teacher. However, after enrolling at three different universities, I realised it just wasn’t the right path for me.

I came across the Virgin Media careers website and saw they were advertising for apprenticeships and thought this may be a better way into the Telecoms industry. I was really surprised by the salary offered, as it was more than I expected and I was 24 at the time so money was a little more important to me as I had responsibilities.

What’s it like being a female in STEM?
In my experience, it has been great. I’ve been really fortunate that throughout my five years at Virgin Media, Telecoms and other STEM-based industries have really been pushing for more female talent. Being one of the very few female technicians, and apprentices, I have been given some fantastic opportunities to meet and speak to a wide range of people about STEM subjects and apprenticeships. I have presented in schools, to our CEO and senior leadership team as well as the Prime Minister. Because of this, I’ve had great networking opportunities, which have helped me advance in my current role and will no doubt assist me in the future. There are the odd negative points, but they tend to come from people out of the industry that don’t really have the faith that a woman could fix something technical like your TV or broadband, but it’s great to prove them wrong.

Best thing about working at Virgin Media
For me, the best thing about Virgin Media is the relaxed atmosphere. I’ve been in a lot of businesses in my current role and the majority of large offices are very corporate, very quiet and clinical. At Virgin Media, it’s nice to walk around the offices feeling relaxed, hearing people laughing and enjoying what they are doing.

My advice for prospective apprentices
My advice to candidates would be to be yourself and don’t try to pretend you have all the knowledge already. Choosing an apprenticeship and a company to work for is a two-way street, you have to be able to benefit them, but they also have to benefit you. I knew Virgin Media was for me when my apprenticeship manager said to me ‘We can teach you how to be a good engineer that’s the purpose of the apprenticeship, but we can’t teach you to be a good people person’. It’s all about finding the right fit for you to be able to progress and thrive in your new career.

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