The engineering sector is reaching out to girls and women – we have the social media-based Nine Percent Is Not Enough campaign, individual employers are doing what they can to build a more diverse and inclusive sector (e.g. Rolls-Royce’s 50:50 gender balance for work experience programmes), and today Semta, the ICE and the WISE campaign launch a diversity toolkit for STEM apprenticeships.
So we are doing what we can to change the way our sector looks – but there’s more still to do. The latest PISA figures show that 30% of girls in the UK expect to work in science-related occupations – but only 8.4% expect to work as a science or engineering professional. While there is clearly interest in engineering, there is less interest in engineering careers. Semta’s own research shows that we as a sector need to do much more to adapt our messaging to suit different audiences. How many girls are there in schools today who are creative and who love to build and test things but are utterly turned off engineering and other STEM disciplines by unimaginative, dry teaching? How many young women drop STEM subjects after completing their GCSEs not because they aren’t excited by science but because they aren’t excited about (or even knowledgeable about) the vast range of opportunities that are open to them in STEM disciplines?
And just getting the messaging right isn’t enough – we need to find the right messengers, too. Recent research carried out in the United States shows that women are more likely to stick with engineering degrees to completion if they have a female mentor to encourage them. Interestingly, this is true of women of all abilities. Although we often make an example of the highest-flying women in engineering, we need to make sure that women of all ability levels are able to feel they have a future in the sector – remember, most of our skills shortages are concentrated at technician level.
So we at Semta will always celebrate the talents and achievements of those women who do amazing things in our sector. Our Semta Skills Awards Best of British Engineering, a young female engineering apprentice, is a fine example, as is our brilliant STEM Energy Award winner, a female graduate. As an organising partner of WorldSkills UK skills competitions, we were pleased that there was a 100% increase in female entries last year and were delighted that six out of seven of those who made it to the finals won medals. And, of course, our new Chair is a female engineer!
But as well as promoting excellence where we find it, we will also strive to encourage every girl and every woman with an interest in engineering to get into the sector. Because everyone who works in our sector, whether they’re a Level 2 operative apprentice or whether they’re a PhD student working on a groundbreaking piece of research, has a role to play in making the UK engineering sector as strong, innovative and prosperous as it can be. Let’s get the message out there and tell girls and women that engineering is open to them.