Paula Ruiz: Women can bridge the engineering skills gap
Saturday marked International Women in Engineering Day, which aims to celebrate women in engineering and encourage more girls and young women to consider engineering as a career.
As a proposals engineer with Alpheus Environmental, a water and wastewater company and part of the Anglian Water Group, I find it encouraging to see such events taking place to tackle the stigma surrounding women and engineering.
This year’s theme of #RaisingTheBar sought to tackle prejudices, as engineering is often still thought of as a job for a man. Not enough female role models and gender stereotyping are well-documented reasons as to why girls don’t choose engineering. Misconceptions linger about the job itself, which isn’t always about getting your hands dirty.
Yet there are considerable opportunities for engineers, in what is an incredibly interesting and diverse profession. These range from aerospace to water, which offer a number of diverse roles from designing an affordable solution for clean drinking water, to the design of new buildings and the use of renewable energy technology to lessen environmental impacts.
There has been a well-recognised skills gap in engineering for some time now. The Engineering UK’s State of Engineering report for 2018, for example, anticipates a predicted annual shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 in meeting an annual demand for 124,000 core engineering roles.
The UK, which once led the world in engineering, is now facing a considerable skills shortage when it comes to delivering the schools, hospitals and green energy projects of the future. In part, this is due to the fact that young women do not enter engineering roles at anything like the same rate as young men. Indeed, research undertaken in 2017 pointed to that fact that only 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female.
Such a situation is simply not sustainable as companies will look to source their workforce from those countries who have no problem in providing a skilled engineering workforce, severely hampering the UK’s economic growth.
The solution is fundamental – we need more women to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, both at school and university. Yet only around 30 per cent of physics Highers entrants are girls.
We must also ensure that young women are made aware of the full range of employment opportunities on offer through qualifications in engineering, ensuring that these sectors are seen as attractive to enter. That is why there is considerable merit in supporting employers’ initiatives with schools, helping girls to get a perspective on engineering careers. The participation of girls in activities like the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s (SCDI) national schools challenge Don’t Waste A Drop!, which our sister company Wave proudly supported, needs to be encouraged.
There is an incredibly positive story to tell about engineering, not just benefiting the young person concerned, but the economy as a whole. And the role of all those women in the profession should be celebrated and encouraged.
Paula Ruiz is a proposals engineer at Alpheus Environmental (part of Anglian Water Group)