Teenage girls are being encouraged to apply for IT apprenticeships, to help bridge the gender gap in the industry.

Only 17 percent of the IT workforce is female, according to the latest figures from sector skills council e-skills UK.

However, IT apprenticeship training provider QA Apprenticeships is concerned that the situation is not going to improve, despite its best efforts on the apprentice side.

Out of 450 apprentices it took in for its year-long IT apprenticeship programmes last year, just 14 percent or 63 apprentices, were female.

"It is quite disappointing. We try to do lots about it. We put female case studies forward. We try to demystify it to show it is not all about taking computers apart. We try to get into girls schools," said Ben Pike, director of QA Apprenticeships.

He added: "A lot of our recruiters are female, which helps."

To coincide with National Apprenticeships Week starting on Monday 6 February, QA Apprenticeships has announced it currently has 160 vacancies on its IT apprenticeship programmes, available nationally.

It works with employers, big and small, including companies such as British Gas, Atos, Capgemini, Cisco, Oracle, BSI and Fidelity.

Apprentices on the 12-month programmes receive about 12 to 15 weeks of training from QA, which is fully funded by the government if they are aged between 16 and 18. Training for those older than 19 is only half-funded by government, and employers may be asked to make a contribution towards some of the training costs.

Employers are required to pay apprentices a minimum salary of £98 a week, with QA recommending employers it works with to offer pay between £120 and £200 a week.

After one year, apprentices will gain a level three qualification (the equivalent of two A-levels) in IT technical support, software development or web design, as well as hands-on experience of working in IT. The qualification also includes vendor-accredited certification, for example, from Microsoft and CompTIA.

"Once people are in an IT role, most organisations continue to employ them. [But also,] they get their foot in the door of the IT industry, and that makes a big difference," said Pike.

Candidates need to have a minimum of four GCSEs with A to C grades to apply for the QA apprenticeships.

The application process begins with an application form and includes a telephone interview and a recruitment day at one of QA's centres. Candidates are then given advice on their CVs and interview skills before they are sent for interview with employers.

Picture: Dominique Fleming, QA Apprentice at Siemens