With Rolls Royce, Centrica and PepsiCo as sponsors, the Talent 2030 National Engineering Competition for Girls is one way of encouraging more females to consider careers in engineering, manufacturing and technology, says Dr Joe Marshall, CEO, National Centre for Universities and Business
How can engineering make a difference to people and the planet? So asks the Talent 2030 National Engineering Competition for Girls. It is deliberately open-ended so as not to hem in entrants with one single definition of engineering. Instead, the competition encourages girls to think how they might use engineering skills to solve any problem affecting the world today, or that may affect the world in the future. This allows them to make connections between engineering, design, technology, creativity etc, as well as understanding how those skills can solve major issues and improve people’s lives.
The Talent 2030 competition was designed by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) to address the gender imbalance in science education and the professional engineering workforce in the UK. To ensure the international competitiveness of engineering in the UK, and to meet the government’s ambitions as set out in the Industrial Strategy, a greater diversity of thought is needed.
Over the six years of the competition, the open-ended approach has encouraged a myriad of entries from the importance of bees to the world, to designing vertical cities to tackle land shortage, to exploring how humans might live on Mars. The enthusiasm and inventiveness in the competition entries proves girls have a natural aptitude for designing solutions to problems – the basic tenet of engineering.
The prize packages offer winners and runners-up a fleet of opportunities depending on where their interest or skill-level might be. At one end, all entrants receive a certificate and shortlisted entrants are invited to the Big Bang Fair, have their CREST Award costs refunded, receive membership of the Women’s Engineering Society, and are invited to visit our competition sponsors. In addition to all this, winners receive cash prizes, and the first prize includes being matched with a mentor.
Rolls Royce, Centrica and PepsiCo, the competition sponsors, are organisations committed to encouraging more women into engineering. The diversity of these three businesses demonstrates some of the range of potential engineering careers. When we take finalists and winners to visit the sponsor facilities, they are amazed by the women they meet and the job roles those women hold: from designing turbine blades for aeroplane engineers to ensuring 370,000 tonnes of potatoes become Walkers crisps each year.
We would like to offer mentoring more widely, but it remains a struggle to match winners geographically and technically with female engineers who have the time to volunteer. Mentoring can cover anything from giving advice and guidance to work shadowing and internships. We know from previous studies that children are more likely to pursue careers in roles where they already know someone. So we understand the importance of role models in inspiring career choices. We have run an online campaign displaying ‘heroes’, containing profiles on women in the industry, what interests them and how they got to where they are.
Throughout our competition, all our prizes encourage involvement from the schools and parents, and our trips require accompanying adults. We encourage and facilitate for families, siblings and friends of competition finalists to visit the Big Bang Fair to experience the day and to support the finalist in their exhibition as we understand the difference a supportive environment can make. A 2014 IET study said just 1% of parents of girls would actively encourage engineering as a career and we believe schools and parents may lack the knowledge and understanding of what a career in engineering entails, so the Talent 2030 competition aims to both build awareness and open doors for the girls.
The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) has been tracking educational targets to encourage girls into careers into engineering for the past seven years. And there is some good news: the Talent 2030 dashboard showed the number of girls studying GCSE physics hit gender parity last year, and the number of female postgraduates in engineering and technology hit the 25% target.
We think the numbers show that once on an engineering pathway, women clearly see it as rewarding, with the proportion of female UK engineering professionals doubling since 2012 (from 5.5% in 2012 to 11.8% in 2018). However, the needle has barely moved in the number of girls studying Physics A-Level and at undergraduate level leaving the UK a long way off from reaching a large potential engineering talent pool.
There is more to be done in attracting girls into the possibilities of engineering at an earlier stage. Universities and business must work closer together to bring more girls and young women into engineering education. We hope the Talent 2030 National Engineering Competition for Girls, as part of the Year of Engineering, helps encourage more female students to consider careers in engineering, manufacturing and technology. It’s open for entries until 6pm on 14th December and you can find out more here.