Gender should be no barrier to talent

Paul Jackson

Chief Executive – Engineering UK

Britain’s economy needs a strong foundation for growth. An estimated 2.2 million additional engineers will be needed over the next decade if our successful manufacturing and engineering activities are to thrive. That will only happen if we draw on all  of Britain’s talent.

This is a sector that generates £1.15 trillion turnover and employs 5.6 million people —  19 per cent of the work force. However, only 10 per cent of applications to university engineering courses are from women and the numbers for apprenticeships and the wider further education system are in the low single digits. I delivered a speech at a Fabian Women’s Network conference about boosting women’s presence in science and innovation, and it was heartening to  see their recognition of the importance of boosting women’s presence in science and engineering for economic growth. When four of the top-10 degrees  by salary on graduation are in engineering, why should we be excluding 50 per  cent of the population?

gender

We need to tackle  head on the outdated, sometimes sexist, misrepresentations sadly still associated with engineering (the EU’s ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ video being the most recent case in point). Media representation of women  in science and engineering can be positive and powerful, and we’re working hard to tip the balance. I did a piece for BBC Breakfast at Siemen’s Turbomachinery site in Lincoln recently to promote the variety of engineering careers out there for young people. Both the women who were involved, BBC business reporter, Steph McGovern, and Lottie, an apprentice at Siemens, have science and engineering backgrounds — what better way to illustrate  the variety of opportunities that an education  in engineering can open up for women?

This year, girls made up 54 per cent of the young people attending The Big Bang Fair

Meeting women involved in amazing science and engineering careers is a step better yet, and our own experience with The Big Bang Fair is that young women taking part see the biggest impact. This year, girls made up 54 per cent of the young people who attended the fair, and girls and women make up  62 per cent of our Facebook community.

Early intervention is key to embedding the right careers information and a positive image of engineering. Young people and teachers need access to proper careers education, information, advice and guidance before the opportunities have been squandered through confused subject choices. Girls and boys love practical subjects, so let’s build in project work for science and maths, involve local employers and really unlock the potential of our young people.

Science and engineering careers are everywhere and for all walks of life. By working with professional bodies and big employers we can show our future talent pipeline — boys and girls — the breadth of engineering possibilities available to them.

Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK and Big Bang Education CIC

For more on the issues raised in this article visit our Women in Engineering Supplement by clicking here