Every year, on 23 June, female engineers up and down the UK unite to mark National Women in Engineering Day (NWED). For the most part, the day is a celebration of the achievements of women working in the industry, but it also highlights just how few of them there actually are.
According to the Women’s Engineering Society, only 9% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. However, this is expected to change quite dramatically in the next decade as, of the estimated 2.56 million jobs that will open up before 2022, it is thought that half of these will be filled by women. Of course, big changes don’t happen on their own and, for this progress to be made, women need more encouragement to give a career in engineering some consideration.
According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, there currently aren’t enough UK engineers, in general, to fulfil demand. Interest in the industry needs to be drummed up among women, and offering them apprenticeships is a fantastic way to do this.
Bradbury Group Ltd, the largest UK manufacturer of steel security products, has recently taken on two female apprentices. Paul Sweeting, the company’s Technical Director, tells us:
“Businesses need to fight the idea that engineering is a male profession. Bradbury already does this by recruiting women and tackling the potential hurdles that make it more difficult to do so, because we want them to feel accepted and comfortable.”
Yet many women still find it difficult to imagine working in engineering, and it’s not difficult to see why. Isabel Mead, Bradbury’s Apprentice Design Engineer, says:
“Typically, engineering is still seen as a masculine career choice. When I was at school there was an assembly held to inform students about jobs available within the industry, but only boys were invited.”
Separating the genders in this way — especially at such a young age — teaches girls that they’re not welcome in the industry, which often deters them from ever considering a career in engineering. This severely decreases the chance of companies building an equal, or even adequately sized, staff, which will ultimately harm the industry if left unresolved.
Obviously, if girls and young women are being told that engineering is not for them, then businesses will struggle to find females who are interested in joining them. But this can be tackled. Holding school or college assemblies that highlight the equal opportunities available and promoting apprenticeships in places where women are likely to be are just a couple of ways to show them they can succeed in the field.
Paula Tinkler works as the Commercial Director at UK-based manufacturer Chemoxy. She says:
“I grew up with a father who was an engineer so I knew that, as long as I could be a team player and worked hard when deadlines were approaching, I could succeed.”
However, she understands that most women don’t have a role model within the industry, so the responsibility to educate them falls to schools, parents, and engineering organisations. She adds:
“Companies need to create supportive working environments with suitable facilities and family-friendly policies. It’s also important that outreach work is done with local primary and secondary schools.”
Thanks to traditional attitudes that have not yet been eradicated, recruiting more female apprentices is no easy task. However, engineering companies will find that it’s worth promoting equality within their workforces. With the number of engineers needed in the country rising, taking on women engineers will soon no longer be a choice, but a necessity. Recruiting female apprentices is a very smart way to ensure you’re prepared.