I'm a woman, get me into Engineering
UK plc needs equal female representation if it is to have a future.
With women making up only 11 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce, a key plank of the drive to tackle the acute shortage of skilled players there is getting them to match the number of males in the profession.
In fact, it is crucial. Unless an engineering and technical career can be made more attractive to girls, we will never plug the yawning gap.
The UK must double the number of its engineering graduates every year for the next 20 years. If not, our tech companies and manufacturers will be out competed by global rivals with an insatiable appetite for invention, improvement and change. The country’s exports will be non-existent and its wealth will drop like a lead balloon.
Opinion formers and decision makers are slowly waking up to the shrill calls of industrialists to act and there are drives now to promote the STEM subjects at school and engineering as a career to youngsters with an aptitude and interest. But the elephant in the room is that we simply can’t solve the problem if half the population still finds such a future unappealing. And it seems that this is the case in a culture in thrall of nano-celebrities and reality television.
According to the survey you read, anything between a third and half of teenage girls want to be either models or ‘famous’. More worrying than that is the recent research by the Girl Guides which revealed that nearly two thirds of 11-21-year-old girls believe STEM is ‘just for boys’.
But science and discovery remain hugely popular with a public that is avidly curious and hungry for information. Huge numbers of all ages visit museums, with the male/female split 50:50. Science and discovery programmes are perennially big draws, with David Attenborough, Brian Cox and Kate Humble regarded as national treasures; again enjoyed equally by men and women.
Progressive companies such as Dyson do much to tap into that half of the population traditionally distanced from a professional path in science and technology.
They demonstrate that engineering is exciting; that it is fulfilling and well paid; that it is less oil-smeared overalls and more crisp white lab coats; and that it is all about problem solving, creative thinking, ingenuity, curiosity and applying that interest in science that so many of us retain for life.
And it’s that simple, really. Attitudes can be changed, prejudices overcome, education imparted.
The message seems to be hitting home that school pupils must be communicated with and enthused, but a more nuanced approach is needed; girls in particular must feel that they are stakeholders in our national engineering enterprise and that they are as welcome – and worthwhile – as their male peers.