Senior science and engineering figures are this autumn ramping up efforts to close the skills gap and ensure more young women enter engineering.
Successful female scientists and engineers from contractor Babcock and consultants Aecom and Hulley & Kirkwood are preparing to promote engineering to girls as young as 12 at an event at University Technical College (UTC) Plymouth on 2 December.
The event is part of a growing drive to encourage women into the engineering industry. Women account for just over one in 10 of the ICE’s members.
The initiative aims to fill a gap in information about engineering careers. Research released to mark Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, which started on Monday, shows that many science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) teachers lack the confidence to advise girls to pursue engineering careers.
Emma O’Mara, who works for Babcock as a nuclear submarine facility health physicist, helped organise the Plymouth event.
“I chair a group called Women in Stem Plymouth, and I have a list of 100 people who have expressed an interest in giving support,” she said. “Women in the industry are very keen to counteract the lack of knowledge about what a Stem career involves, and are very proud to be in the industry. I was inspired by someone who was already in the industry and I want to pass that inspiration on.”
O’Mara said employers had been enthusiastic about her mission. “We get a very positive approach now from the industry,” she said. “Businesses have growth challenges and have become aware that if they exclude 50% of the population they are running their businesses with one arm behind their back.”
The UTC Plymouth event is being extensively marketed to girls aged between 12 and 19 across much of Devon and Cornwall. UTC Plymouth Stem co-ordinator Bruce Robinson said his academic institution had a broad duty to close skills gaps in industry.
This can be done by ensuring it remains an attractive prospect to both schoolchildren of both sexes. “We have a remit to grow people to fill these gaps,” he said. “Girls do better at GCSE level in all the Stem subjects, but too often drop the subjects at that stage.”
The ICE backed the UTC Plymouth event.
Director general Nick Baveystock said: “This is just the sort of approach we need to show young people how exciting and creative engineering can be. “Engineers shape our world, but we will only get the world we need if we attract a genuinely diverse, creative, and solutions-based workforce.”
The results of a poll of 3,000 people released this week by campaigning body Engineering UK shows that young people often lack support at school to encourage them to take up careers in Stem subjects.
Nearly half of secondary school children questioned said they would consider a career in engineering, but only a third knew what to do next to pursue the idea.
While 56% of GCSE Stem teachers had been asked for advice about engineering careers in the past year, only 36% felt confident about giving advice. Worryingly, more than one in six Stem teachers described a career in engineering as undesirable.
EngineeringUK chief executive Paul Jackson said: “We call on engineering employers of every size and sector across the UK not only to give schools access to highquality careers information and resources but to open their doors to show young people just how exciting a career as a 21st century engineer can be.”
The government is also backing Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. Business secretary Vince Cable announced funding for a South West Water training initiative to help the utility firm cope with retirement of skilled staff over the next decade.
South West Water will receive state support for the £250,000 project, which is the first to come through the government’s £30M engineering careers vehicle the Employee Ownership Fund. Four in 10 operations staff at South West Water could retire over the next 10 years, so the company wants to retain capacity.