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Gender should be no barrier to talent

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?


We need to tackle  head on the outdated, sometimes sexist, misrepresentations sadly still associated with engineering (the EU’s ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ video being the most recent case in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

Readers' comments (4)

  • In the media discrimination seems predominantly to be against men. Your chances of being featured in a magazine article are vastly reduced by being male. We need to be careful that in trying to open up the profession to women that we do not close it to men.

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  • As a 'Design & Technology' teacher and then lecturer for 20 years in D&T teacher training, which included regular visits to many schools, the absolutely dire state of DT education in a high proportion of schools is a national disgrace. In the majority of schools, all vestiges of engineering has disappeared: all that is left is third-rate 'woodwork' and a bit of outdated electronics. No wonder we struggle to attract bright talent into the profession, especially girls.

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  • I left Engineering because I was considered too old at 50+,also too pigeonholed (too old/inflexible to be worth re-training). This was after being made redundant from a collapsed Engineering firm. There are many other older experienced engineers which are not being used,both male and female. Younger people are cheaper to employ? Whilst in the Engineering sector, I experienced bullying,elitism,"not one of us". Attitudes need to change before many women enter this type of work.

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  • As a young automation design engineer with a degree in engineering I too had to deal with terrible bullying from management (who were not engineers, regarded engineers as unskilled/semi-skilled and had no idea of what designing involved). I had to work stupid hours, seven day weeks regularly and take work home, and for this I had to put up with low salaries, living right on the breadline. I was regarded as unskilled as an engineer by mortgage companies, (luckily my girlfriend was a primary school teacher so we were able to get a mortgage based on her job). I am older and and wiser now, I work freelance and contract so I don't have to deal with nasty bosses and have moved to Cambridge where engineering is generally highly regarded and well paid. But every roll I am contacted about and I see advertised requires me to "hit the ground running", I see very little/nothing advertised job wise which offers training and support, CAD training , workshop training for young engineers and graduates, I have no idea how young graduates can get a foot on the ladder any more.
    Maybe because women are more mature and responsible, maybe because women are hard-wired to consider the responsibilities of bringing up children more than than men, they rightfully consider entering a career in engineering is a far too a risky proposition as there is a very real chance it could ruin your life and leave you financially crippled.
    If we want to attract women, or men for that matter into engineering we have to make engineering a secure high status, well paid, career worth pursuing, with the training and support people in other jobs take for granted.

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