Engineering is one of the most exciting professional disciplines, offering diverse, challenging careers in every corner of the world. It is a misconception that a typical engineering professional has to be male: engineering roles demand the most skilled and capable individuals and employers who want to remain at the cutting edge of their industry must seek employees, male or female, with the talent to deliver the results they need.
A growing crisis
Crossrail recently introduced an online competition, asking girls aged 16-19 to come up with creative ways to inspire the next generation of female engineers. Winners will be invited to a training and networking day on the 23rd of June - National Women in Engineering Day. The competition comes in the wake of figures revealing a growing demand for engineers across the UK - as organisations increasingly report difficulties recruiting in the field. Patrick Phelan, managing director of Aquaterra Energy, sees the problems this trend could cause in a future where "there just simply aren't enough graduates to go around":
"The knowledge that demand for graduate engineers in the UK far exceeds the current supply is a major concern," said Phelan. "Unless we address this as a priority, the issue will continue into the long-term, with real and lasting negative impacts on our industry."
Research from the Engineering Diversity Concordat revealed that, in 2013, females made up only 8% of the professional engineering workforce, despite comprising 51% of the UK's population. Traditionally, women outshine male peers in maths and science-related subjects, skills crucial to engineering roles - such a pool of untapped talent could provide the solution to the approaching employment crisis. Vice president of global operations at Air Products, Richard Boocock, underlined the industry's need to inspire women to enter the engineering professions:
"Women's voices are essential to the problem solving and innovation at the heart of engineering," said Boocock. "We need to do more, as both as a society and an industry, to encourage girls to engage in maths and science in school, to support women pursuing engineering degrees in university and to provide women with opportunities to thrive in our workplaces."
Finding a solution
Fortunately, the engineering industry is taking steps to address its gender diversity problem. More companies than ever are running apprenticeship schemes targeted specifically at women and support networks are being introduced to bring female engineers together to share experiences and opportunities. Additionally, the Unlocking Britain's Potential campaign is pushing for greater collaboration, at a secondary education level, between schools, parents and employers, to combat the shortages in science and technology-skilled workers across Britain.
Some observers suggest that female engineers simply do not find job satisfaction in professional roles. Research by Atkins, a UK engineering firm, found those preconceptions to be misplaced. The study revealed:
- 98% of female engineering professionals found their job rewarding
- 91% cited an inspirational teacher as the reason they entered the field
- 75% had an interest in problem-solving from an early age
Atkins' researchers also asked female engineers how they thought more women could be encouraged to take professional roles - seven out of eight replied that a greater understanding of their work was required to inspire others to enter the industry. The solution to the crisis may seem clear, but in practice, it means changing ideas at a societal level - about what women can get out of engineering and what a 'typical' engineer looks like.
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