Britain’s engineering industry has been struggling against a growing skills gap over the past decade.
Britain’s engineering industry has been struggling against a growing skills gap over the past decade. To help remedy this present issue, new colleges have been set up, dedicated to training students to work on major infrastructural projects such as Crossrail. Meanwhile, billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson is looking to launch a new university to teach more relevant engineering skills. Alongside the skills gap, there is also a lack of gender diversity throughout the entire industry, with males dominating it considerably.
Currently, women make up less than 10% of practising UK engineers, a figure lower than any other European country. Fortunately, the issue of gender diversity is being widely discussed at the highest levels throughout the industry in the hopes of encouraging more females to become engineers.
One theory as to why females are in such short supply in the industry is that many still view the industry with the ‘men in overalls’ stereotype. This is deepened by the belief that engineering is not a creative industry. These presumptions could be leading to a lack of awareness among women who could enjoy potentially successful and creative careers throughout the sector.
Out-of-date stereotypes such as these don’t take into account the sheer amount of talent and creativity that is required for a career in engineering. From phones to The Shard, engineers have contributed to the creation of life-changing developments.
A career in engineering doesn’t mean working on a worksite every day. In fact, engineers are likely to spend more time designing their creations on a computer than working onsite.
Increasing the number of women within the engineering sector is a goal for the majority of engineering companies, who are looking to hire more women through both graduate schemes and apprenticeships. This will not only increase gender diversity throughout the industry but also aid in closing the skills gap as they prepare the next generation of engineers for work.
British multinational aerospace company BAE Systems, have been working hard to ensure more women are encouraged to seek a career in engineering. Of their latest apprentice intake, 26% were women, whilst a quarter of the graduate and industrial placements were also given to women. When it comes to gender diversity, BAE systems are significantly outperforming the sector average, as they look to create a diverse, talented workforce through millennials.
Alongside this, Bechtel, the company leading the 42km Crossrail project also has an above industry average, with 16% of the company’s engineers being female. With growing industry figures, the number of women working on projects of impressive size can serve as role models and inspiration to women studying STEM subjects. More relatable mentoring opportunities could also help to ease the skills gap.
While the industry has worked hard to try and balance the workforce in terms of gender, engineering SMEs may be concerned about hiring young women due to the prospect of maternity leave. Female engineers may not return after their leave or find that a balance between working and their familial responsibilities become unmanageable. While this gender bias is evident throughout various industries, it is misguided as it’s just as likely that new fathers will not return from paternity leave either.
The key to engaging more women in engineering careers and STEM subjects is to ensure they can look up to successful women in these sectors doing what has traditionally been seen as male jobs. The engineering industry certainly has a lot to overcome, with new and exciting projects requiring a bigger talent pool. However, with more employer-led apprenticeships and mentoring programs, the coming generations could be perfectly equipped to close the skills gap and promote gender diversity.