Apprenticeship changing fortunes for girls in Stem

Apprenticeship changing fortunes for girls in Stem

What you need to know:

  • The three are among 44 beneficiaries of the East African Breweries Limited programme for young women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem).
  • The one-on-one, 12-month foundational internship is followed by a robust selection and vetting to identify high-potential candidates who are then picked for permanent employment. 

For Joy Chabi, a mechatronics engineer, her passion for Stem dates back to her days in secondary school, where mathematics and physics were her best subjects. Her father, noticing her curiosity of moving parts as a child, nurtured her interest. And when she heard about a mentorship programme that would give her hands-on experience after her university training, she immediately applied and got in. 

“It has been a great foundation for my career where I now work as a technical operator. I have had the chance to interact with several women in the field and seeing them excel motivates me that my dreams and ambitions are also achievable.”

Likewise, Merlin Florah has high hopes of making it big as a mechatronics engineer. Her dreams began when she was in Standard 5 and were cemented as she pursued her internship where she was excited by just how efficient machines made work. When she got her letter of acceptance to join the apprenticeship, she was overjoyed. But the experience was a roller-coaster, having to constantly battle against self-doubt. Despite it all, she says it was a positive experience working as an operator.

“I was able to learn how to relate and collaborate with people. It is a good time to embrace Stem as a woman because the opportunities are endless.” 

Male dominance

Norah Njeru studied food science and nutrition before the opportunity to become a brewing apprentice came knocking. And like her counterparts, she faced some challenges coming into a male-dominated field.

“I worked with 20 men where I was the only woman and I was younger than three quarters of the entire team. I felt misunderstood and unseen at the onset but fortunately I found some very reliable mentors to learn from, and with time it got easier. As an introvert my communication skills have also exponentially grown since I joined the company.” 

The three are among 44 beneficiaries of an East African Breweries Limited (EABL) programme changing fortunes for young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem). It entails a one-on-one, 12-month foundational internship followed by robust selection and vetting to identify high-potential candidates who are then picked for permanent employment based on the business need. 

The recruits are selected from universities, including Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), the Technical University of Kenya, the Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology, Mt Kenya University, and the University of Nairobi.

Last week, EABL and JKUAT hosted an engagement day at the varsity’s ground to shed light on the importance of Stem, and open students’ eyes to opportunities in the field. EABL Group Human Resources Director Tope Akinsanya said: “More than 50 per cent of current jobs will transform radically over the next five years and given the above reality, education stakeholders will need to tweak the curriculum to incorporate Stem within the syllabus.”

To ensure students are in touch with the industry, JKUAT Vice Chancellor Victoria Ngumi emphasised the need to have collaborations within the industry to produce quality graduates with hands-on and work experience.

Ms Chabi called on industry players to include women and girls and encourage healthy collaboration between men and women. And this includes giving women key decision-making roles as a critical part of a business strategy.

“I would like to see more women taking up space in Stem, but I do not like the word empower because does it mean being a woman makes me powerless?  As long as I am qualified, I equally deserve a space, and I have a voice to be heard.” 

Ms Njeru encouraged women to pursue their dreams despite obstacles, and where they will face opposition. She asked them to be bold and speak out because eventually, they will have figured it out.