National Women in Engineering Day (#nwed2016), held today, aims to challenge and change the way you think about engineering. If you picture someone wearing oil-covered overalls and holding a spanner; this image couldn’t be further from the truth.
Engineering has always been a critical part of building the modern world. Britain’s engineering talent is driving the country's productivity, but, according to EngineeringUK's 2016 The State of Engineering, its long-term future is in jeopardy because of a massive skills shortage.
When you consider that only 9% of the engineering workforce are women, one solution stares us in the face – bringing more women into engineering: "These shortages are compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls, choosing a career in engineering,” states Nick Boles, minister of state for skills, in EngineeringUK’s report.
The international awareness campaign seeks to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the career opportunities available to females in this exciting industry.
“The opportunities in engineering are vast,” explains Elizabeth Neidhardt, Associate Business Manager, Engineering, at SThree brand Progressive Recruitment. “They range in sector - Automotive, Aerospace, Rail, Construction, Water, Chemical and so on, as well as job title - Mechanical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Project/Programme Manager, Manufacturing Engineer, and Quality Engineer, and that’s only naming a few.
“There is so much scope for the type of work that you do. You could start your career in a number of ways. Be it via an apprenticeship, starting out on the shop floor and learning valuable practical skills or doing a graduate scheme which may give you a taste of Design, Development, Project Management and so on. You could end up going down a commercial route or practical route, we’ve seen people flip between both avenues. Many engineering companies are global, so there is opportunity for travel as well.”
Why aren’t there more women in engineering?
Partly, there is a lack of role models. It’s not hard to conjure up a handful of names of past or current engineering greats, but they are all male. As a way of addressing this, The Telegraph has printed its Top 50 Women in Engineering to coincide with Women in Engineering Day, with women telling their stories about what sparked their interest in engineering and their career successes to date.
But talking about engineering needs to start in school, says Elizabeth. “Girls are given dolls, boys are given construction toys. Even if a girl plays with Meccano ®, it will doubtless be pink,” she says. “Boys are given the message that they are brave, girls that they are pretty. When you think about GCSEs, how many women are encouraged to go down a vocational route? When they look around them, how many female engineers do they see?”
Indeed, an investigation by EngineeringUK in 2011 found that girls are effectively ruling themselves out of a degree in engineering by the age of 14, and careers information, advice and guidance is still reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Engineering in the blood
“Whether you are male or female, for most people in the industry, engineering is in their blood,” says Elizabeth. “They are practical, they like to take things apart and see how things work. If you’ve got that type of mentality then getting to do that in the workplace is a dream job. A lot of people like to see their ideas come to life. It’s why I love working in this field; I get to go round companies and see things from concept to production, there’s something very satisfying about that.
“Bringing women into the workforce isn’t just about plugging the skills gap; it’s about bringing about a more diverse workforce where people can be confident about expressing their ideas; it’s about how a more diverse workforce equals a more productive one,” adds Elizabeth.
The future is bright
The issue of the engineering skills shortage is not new, and many companies are already working hard to increase their gender balance. Companies have been sending their female engineers into schools and the local community to spread the message of what a rewarding and challenging career engineering can be, and crucially, to show that females can succeed just as well as their male counterparts. They’ve been beefing up their apprenticeship programmes and making them more attractive to a diverse pool of talent. They have also been working on their diversity agendas. Cummins, for instance, has committed to a 50:50 gender balance in order to “make us a better company.”
“Whenever we speak to our clients they are keen to hear from female candidates,” says Elizabeth. “We have also helped our clients alter their offering to be more inclusive, so for example changing their job adverts. Women tend to think that they can’t apply unless they tick all the boxes, whereas a man is more likely to take a chance. So it’s about making it clear which skills are essential and which are preferable, but not essential.
“It’s also about helping women promote themselves. Women tend to want to let their work speak for themselves, and expect to be promoted on merit, but actually, sometimes you have to get your achievements out there. Our own diversity programme at SThree, which I have benefitted from greatly, allows us to engage with our clients on diversity because we’re doing it ourselves.
“The people we deal with by their nature like to get a job done, they’re very practical. I enjoy seeing first-hand what they are doing; seeing that this particular part is going to be used in a satellite; that one is going to be used to bring water to people. It’s stuff that can change people’s lives.”
Last year NWED had an enormous reach and was a huge success in celebrating the great achievements of women engineers and in encouraging more girls and women to consider engineering as a career. We’re proud to support their message.
If you want to find out more about what's been happening in the engineering industry and at SThree's specialist brand Progressive Recruitment, visit their LinkedIn page, or alternatively browse our most recent Engineering job openings.