Apr 7, 2022
Moira Shaftoe, EngineeringUK Business Partnership Manager for the North East, blogs about changing stereotypes with the Face of Engineering Festival
Without question, the UK has an ongoing shortage of engineers and with the government’s drive to ‘build, back, better’ through infrastructure, innovation and green technologies the demand for engineering skills is only likely to increase. Growing the proportion of underrepresented groups progressing into careers in engineering has great potential to address the engineering skills shortage and achieve the diverse and insightful workforce needed for the UK to thrive.
Closing the gender gap
The fact that women are underrepresented in the engineering workforce is also well reported, but there are some positive signs that the face of engineering is changing. New research from EngineeringUK has shown that, nationally, 16.5% of those working in engineering are women, compared to 10.5% as reported in 2010.
The women in engineering briefing also reflects a change in the gender composition of North East engineering, with women making up 13.9% of the current engineering workforce, compared to just 9.6% in 2018. Yet, despite the gender gap closing, when we compare this increase to the proportion of women working in other occupations in the region (56.3%), and the fact that females comprise 48.5% of its overall working population, we can see women are still in the minority.
Women’s perception of engineering
This gender disparity is largely a consequence of the rates of female participation in STEM education. Existing studies suggest low participation of girls in engineering, in part, reflects gender differences in understanding of and interest in the profession, as well as perceptions of and self-identity.
The engineering community must work alongside education and government to engage with young people – especially girls – to cultivate and sustain interest in engineering and demonstrate that it is a profession for everyone. Not only are there social justice reasons for encouraging greater gender parity in engineering there’s a compelling business case for a more representative workforce. Numerous studies demonstrate that diversity in the workforce yields a greater choice of skilled workers, better creativity and innovation, better workforce productivity and better financial performance.
Supporting regional engineering education activities
EngineeringUK are supporting the Face of Engineering festival - a 3-day event hosted at The Common Room, Newcastle from 7 to 9 April. The festival is a celebration of the shared ambitions to inspire the next generation of engineers and to find out about the careers on offer to them.
The festival includes a day-long industry conference where you can hear discussions and debates, facilitated by BBC radio presenter Ngunan Adamu from a range of inspiring engineers and employers on what action is needed to change the current face of engineering, and what can be done to inspire the next generation to a career in engineering across the North East, including from Unipres – a Signatory of the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code - managed and delivered by EngineeringUK, The Code is a community of organisations who commit to working together towards common goals and supports The Common Room, and its ambition to reach more, and more diverse, young people with inspiring messages about careers in engineering, and aligns some of the 4 pledges of the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code – driving inclusion, inspiring connection and showcasing engineering.
Unipres are also delivering practical workshops using a virtual reality welding machine to young people on the schools’ day on Friday 8 April and the family activity day on Saturday 9 April. The aim of these days is to engage local secondary schools in interactive talks with diverse groups of female engineers and challenge misconceptions about engineering and to showcase real life female role models, helping young people gain a wider understanding of different engineering career disciplines and jobs available to them.
It's fair to say that the face of engineering is slowly starting to change, but more work needs to be done to quicken the pace of change to achieve the diverse and insightful workforce needed for the UK to thrive. We encourage the engineering community to continue to celebrate and promote examples of women working in engineering roles and sectors, especially to the girls who could be tomorrow’s engineers.