Women in Engineering: Is enough being done to attract them?

by Heat Recruitment

by Steve Auburn

In the engineering industry, there is a problem – only 9% of the workforce is female. Traditionally engineering isn’t perceived as a feminine role, but why not? In Bulgaria, Latvia and Cyprus women make up 30% of all engineers, which is significantly higher than the UK’s – the lowest in Europe.

So in this article we will look to answer three of the most pertinent questions when it comes to female representation within the engineering sector: Why should we care, why is the problem there, and how can this be fixed?

Why should we care?

The engineering sector is huge, it makes up 26% of the UK’s GDP and currently we rely highly on engineering talent from outside of the UK to plug the skills gap that currently exists.

But, once the Brexit negotiations are complete, there are concerns over the UK’s ability to secure the talent it needs, and will need in the future. According to latest estimates, the UK will need an additional 1.8 million engineers by 2025.

That means we will need to look closer to home for the skilled engineers we need and tap into that one source of available talent that so far has been relatively ignored – women. Failure to do so will result in an unbridgeable gap between demand and supply.

Why is there a problem?

Research has shown that from an early age women are saying no to a career in engineering, yet the path to becoming an engineer itself begins at a young age. Most industry analysts agree that more needs to be done to promote careers in engineering and all of STEM at an earlier age.

Indeed, in 2014, the Institute of Public Policy and Research published a report highlighting that “at the age of 16, a significant number of girls stop taking the science subjects necessary for an engineering career.” This, argues Ann Watson, chief executive of Semta, is why we need to start the promotional process much earlier.

She recently told The Telegraph: “We need children of primary-school age to be given the opportunity to see what a modern cutting-edge engineering workplace looks like. So many young people who have an engineering skill and aptitude are lost to the sector because they’re not given that encouragement earlier.” And she is absolutely right.

According to a study conducted by Kiwana et al, the gender imbalance in engineering is associated with the high proportion of girls stopping taking science subjects at ‘A’ level despite outperforming boys in Physics and Maths at GCSE level and – you’ve guessed – Engineering. In fact, just 21% of students studying Physics at ‘A’ level in 2015 were female.

But it isn’t just the education system that has a role to play – business does too. Take the toy industry as a case in point.

Toys and games like Lego and the increasingly popular sandbox games such as Minecraft, are products predominantly marketed at boys despite playing a key role in inspiring children to pursue a career in the industry.

How can this be fixed?

Exposing boys and girls to the possibility of engineering as highlighted above will obviously go some way to addressing the issue, but so too will the way in which we communicate the various routes of entry.

One of the strengths of engineering is that many people within the industry have learnt their craft through more vocational routes, such as an apprenticeship or BTEC. So just because a student chooses not to continue their education at ‘A’ level or beyond does not mean they should be cut off from certain careers. This leads us on to public perception.

For some, the notion of an apprenticeship is often undervalued and under appreciated by the parents of those young people who would make great future engineers. Yet recent figures show that 98% of current apprentices are happy they took this route to start their careers, with engineering employers equally enthusiastic.

Employers have a responsibility too. While work experience is encouraged within many schools, engineering companies are often reluctant to take on pupils due to health and safety concerns. But this is a missed opportunity.

 

The evidence clearly suggests that females seem to be rejecting a career in engineering at a young age, which by default is contributing the shortfall in suitably skilled engineers today. So we should encourage girls from an early age that engineering is not a subject to disregard, the key is to change current perceptions of the industry and show people that women can not only be a part of the engineering industry, they can (and do) thrive in it.

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Engineering here.

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