Who Says Girls Can’t Be Engineers?

Employers have been banging on about engineering — the shortage of engineers and lack of young people, particularly girls, studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related subjects for a while now. So what is the current picture and do we need to be doing more to get young people excited about STEM subjects?

What the research tells us…

The number of school leavers choosing engineering courses and apprenticeships has not increased enough since last year, according to Engineering UK. This is worrying given engineering in this country needs 87,000 new graduates every year.

60% of all new jobs created need science, technology, engineering and math skills, and research shows that by 2020 the UK will need 1.86 million extra people with engineering skills. To do this we need to double the number of young people taking engineering-related apprenticeships and degrees.

There is a clear problem attracting girls and women into STEM-related jobs and careers; the bare facts are pretty eloquent as only 17% of the UK technology workforce is female.

There’s a huge opportunity to do more to engage with groups to secure our future talent pipeline of engineers.

What needs to be done?

We’ve got to dramatically change girls’ perception of what engineering actually is in order to meet this target.

Research from National Grid shows there’s a huge misconception among parents, that engineering is physical work and it’s poorly paid, neither of which are true.

Another survey of 2,000 young professionals by the City of Guilds states that 23% of women were advised about apprenticeships, compared to 32% of men, which suggests programs in engineering and IT are not as open to women.

The key to success is to make sure young people are made aware of the opportunities so they see these as a real possibility, particularly women in traditionally male-dominated trade environments. It’s about providing role models.

Leaders within engineering need to collaborate to engage and inspire young women/girls (Remove girls?) now so that we succeed in producing enough young talent here in the UK.

Steve Holliday, CEO at National Grid, says, “Engineering is about creating the future, it’s about solving problems that are global problems. There’s nothing more exciting than thinking ‘I’m actually part of something that’s creating a better world.

If you speak to any of the female engineers we have working at National Grid they will tell you what a fantastically interesting, varied and well paid job engineering can be. These are the jobs that will shape the future.”

Change takes time and the skills gap will not close overnight. There has been a real drive to encourage young people to go on to study STEM-related subjects and the message seems to be getting through to many schools.

But the real impact remains to be seen. We need to measure the outcome, monitoring how many young people – men and women – go on to study STEM-related subjects but also how many go into an engineering-related role.

photo credit: Idaho National Laboratory via photopin