Cars, conveyor belts and robots are usual boys stuff...or are they?

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Cars, conveyor belts and robots are usual boys stuff, or are they? These were the opening lines of a feature on yesterday's BBC Newsnight on the number of young females going into engineering. For those of you who missed it here is an overview of the issues covered and a few observations of our own.

GENDER IMBALANCES IN THE INDUSTRY

EEF's report Flexibility in the modem manufacturing workplace revealed that on average respondents said that almost 80% of their workforce was male. This echoed the figures cited during the Newsnight feature:

9 out of 10 engineers are men20% of the advanced manufacturing and engineering workforce is female compared to 49% for all other sectors6% of professional engineers are womenSince 2008, the number of women in industry has gone up just 1%

COMPARISONS TO OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES

There is a huge disparity in the percentage of female engineering professionals in the UK compared to other European countries. UKRC research commissioned by Engineering UK revealed figures for the percentage of engineering professionals in European countries:

  • 18% in Spain
  • 20% in Italy
  • 26% in Sweden

THE PERCEPTION CHALLENGE

To attract young females into our industry we must address the misconceptions about the industry. Newsnight e spoke to two young females asking them their impressions, their responses were as follows:

“Typical man in their overalls coming to fix the washing machine, asking for a cup of tea”“Very physical, very dirty, overalls – very male-dominated”

Those working in the industry know this is far from the case, Dame Sue Ion from Royal Academy of Engineering pointed out all the exciting projects you could be working on in engineering – designing bridges, making new heart pace-makers, fixing energy problems by developing wind turbines or running new power stations. Concluding that engineering is ‘every aspect of life in the 21st century”.

There is good work being done through projects such as. See Inside Manufacturing and Primary Engineer. The latter delivers exciting and innovative STEM courses in schools to inspire the next generation of workers. When asking Susan Scurlock, the Chief Executive of Primary Engineer what the gender divide is of those young people who get involved in the programme she says it is a 50-50 split.

GIRLS NEED TO CHOOSE STEM SUBJECTS

85% of engineering graduates go into paid work or further education six months after finishing courseYet 50% of females that study engineering don't go into industry compared to 30% of their male counterparts

We need then to get more girls taking up STEM subjects. Whilst young females are more likely to take up biology than their male counterparts, this is far from the case for physics and chemistry. As Dame Sue Ion said, once you get to A-level and you haven't chosen to study physics, the majority of engineering degrees at university , including civil engineering and mechanical engineering, are simply not an option, as you have to have studies physics to proceed.

We continue to call for measures to encourage the take up of STEM:

Increasing the number of STEM industry experts coming into teach in schools on a part-time basis to bring the subjects to life.

Making it part of a teachers' CPD to spend two to five days in local industry to understand how the knowledge they teach is applied in the real world, so they can demonstrate the practical application of the subjects back in the classroom.

Continuing to encourage top-class STEM graduates into teaching, and reviewing the case for capping the repayment of fees for those trainee teachers that study these key subjects and go into teach them.

GOOD NEWS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Over the past four years a third more females are applying to study engineering at university

  • There has been an 84% increase in the number of women taking an engineering apprenticeship between 2002 and 2010
  • University Technical Colleges are being rolled-out with 34 now approved, the majority specialising in engineering.
  • 14 year olds can now study high quality vocational qualifications such as Engineering in colleges.
  • The Engineering Diploma has been redesigned into a suite of four separate qualifications.

We know from our own research that manufacturers are struggling to find the skills they need with four in four currently experiencing recruitment problems. This will only be exacerbated further as manufacturers expect demand for skills in all areas of the business to increase. SEMTA has predicted that in the next five years the sector needs to recruit around 170,000 – half of which need to be qualified engineers, technologists or scientists.

This is a long-term issue, there is no quick-fix and it requires efforts from a variety of parties. There is a potential pool of female talent out there and at a time when manufacturers continue to suffer skills shortages, the need to tap into it is more important than ever.

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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