Women engineers call for better careers advice

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Better careers advice is needed to attract more women into engineering, according to a new survey published just as current provision came under fire from Ofsted.

Over 70 per cent of female engineers questioned for the report from engineering consultancy Atkins said better careers information in schools would help the profession’s gender imbalance.

But education watchdog Ofsted has said the government’s new arrangements, under which schools are responsible for providing careers advice but don’t have dedicated funding to do so, are not working well enough and that there was a lack of employer engagement in the process.

The report, Britain’s got female engineering talent, found that 39 per cent of the 300 women engineers surveyed were inspired by a family member to join the profession and 91 per cent had an inspirational teacher, while only 15 per cent were influenced by a careers adviser.

But Martin Grant, CEO of Atkins’ energy business, said this showed how important good careers advice was for those students who didn’t have a parent or teacher to inspire them to consider engineering.

‘For the women who didn’t have that sort of privilege you have to think what else can we do other than good careers advice [from family members or teachers],’ he told The Engineer.

‘When you’ve got a career like engineering that is generally not well understood, that lack of high-quality careers advice really starts to have a big influence.’

However, he added that industry shouldn’t just rely on government to spend more money on the careers service. ‘I think the profession has to own this problem. We have to get out into the schools and do that communication.’

The survey was published yesterday at the same time as Ofsted released its report on careers advice, which found three quarters of schools were not fulfilling their duty to provide an effective and impartial careers service.

But the watchdog also said there was a lack of employer engagement in schools and that the government guidance on careers advice was not explicit.

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Atkins’ survey, carried out in partnership with BP, Rolls-Royce and the Royal Academy of Engineering, also found that 98 per cent respondents thought the profession was a rewarding one for women.

Only 13 per cent thought being a woman was a hindrance in applying for engineering jobs – 17 per cent said it actually helped – but 75 per cent thought engineering was still viewed as a male career.

Alongside support for better careers advice, around 88 per cent of respondents thought a greater awareness of what engineers do was needed, while 64 per cent believed work experience placements alongside women engineers would help encourage more girls to take up engineering.

Almost all the women surveyed said they had a good work-life balance and 79 per cent thought a supporting working environment and co-workers had helped achieve this.

The engineer and TV presenter Dr Shini Somara, who helped launch the report, said, ‘The results of this survey give us perfect material to use in the drive to encourage more girls, young women and even boys to choose STEM subjects, because they can see how satisfied it makes people.

‘Not only does engineering offer a huge variety of career choices, but these jobs are rewarding and fulfilling – and they offer flexibility and a work/life balance – which can’t be said of many well-paid careers.

‘The task now is for industry and education to work together to sell these messages to the next generation of young engineers.’