Leicester City Council is encouraging women in the region to become apprentices and learn skilled trades such as plumbing, painting and decorating, and electrics.

This year, the Council has enrolled 15 trainees on its five-year Maintenance & Operations Level 2 Apprenticeship - a third of which are female. In total, Leicester City Council has taken on 128 female apprentices during the past 25 years.

The apprenticeship enables the learners to become qualified and skilled in a variety of areas so that, at the end of the course, they are ready to take on a job with Leicester City Council, carrying out maintenance on its 22,000-odd tenanted properties.

Among this year's apprentices is Milana Julie Dodangoda, who said: "I think people were quite shocked at what I was choosing to do because I am quite a girly girl. Everybody said it was going to be hard and I expected that. But I like to surprise people."

Leicester City Council's apprentice co-ordinator, Barry Sullivan, said: "More than 50% of the population is female, but that still isn’t reflected in our workforce. We feel it's important to reflect both the local community and our customers. But it's not just a matter of equality, it makes business sense too. Some of our customers prefer to have a woman come to their house."

At 16, Dodangoda is the youngest apprentice on the course this year. She explains: "At home it's just me and my mum. She has always taken care of everything that needs doing in the house and I've helped her along the way. Between us we've decorated, laid floorboards and re-tiled walls, so home maintenance was something I already had an interest in.

"To get the chance to learn five different trades on one course is a big opportunity for me. I didn't feel university was for me as I wanted to gain more practical experience. I know five years is a big commitment, but I'm working towards qualifications with the college and will hopefully have a career with the council when it comes to an end."

Sullivan added: "Both the Council and Leicester College are leading the way in creating positive action for encouraging women to study trades that are traditionally targeted at men. Other organisations offer apprenticeships but we really believe our course is more in depth and better quality than some others out there."