Attracting more women into engineering careers could be a way of addressing industry skills shortages, a survey has revealed.
The report published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that just three per cent of technicians and six per cent of engineers employed by surveyed organisations were women.
While the overall female workforce has increased to 24 per cent of all UK staff in 2011 from 20 per cent in 2010, the IET Skills and Demand in Industry Report found that the proportion of women in engineering roles has remained around the same since 2008.
“It is really disappointing that no progress has been made to attract more women into engineering over the last four years,” said Paul Davies, head of Policy at the IET.
“Part of the reason for this is down to the outdated views of engineering that many people have.
“There are actions that the government can take in terms of support, the profession can do more to co-ordinate its activities and organisations can do more to provide an attractive working environment.”
The IET runs a number of initiatives to challenge these perceptions and attract young women into engineering, Davies added.
This includes the IET’s Young Women Engineer of the Year Award, which honours the best female engineers under the age of 30 working in the UK, and the sponsorship of the Smith Institute Report into getting more women into engineering.
“We try and make sure that all the programmes we run are female-friendly, for example, the schemes we run at school, are attractive to girls and not just boys, and show what engineering really is rather than perpetuating the myth that engineering is a dirty, muddy profession which is what puts a lot of girls off, I think,” said IET senior policy advisor Hugo Donaldson.
“It’s all about perception – there’s a cultural sense or feeling amongst girls that engineering isn’t for them and we don’t have complete answers for why that is, but it’s not for want of trying, especially in the last 15 years or so, for the profession to address that.”
The report had some positive news in terms of recruitment, with 188 of the 400 companies confirming that they were currently recruiting engineers.
“Coming out of a recession that has got to be a good thing,” Donaldson said.
“However a lot of organisations who are currently recruiting did say they were struggling to find the people they needed, for example 48 per cent were struggling to recruit senior engineers.”
“That is proof that there are skills shortages because as we’ve just had a recession it should be the perfect time to recruit people.
Most respondents cited practical experience and technical expertise, especially within the graduate population, as key skills that typical recruits were lacking in.
The IET is looking at addressing this area through their accreditation of university degree programmes and ensuring that practical content of accredited degrees met employers’ expectations, Donaldson said.
“The IET and others do a lot of work trying to address skills shortages in the engineering sector, either through going to the government and trying to encourage them to design the education system in such a way as to encourage more people to take engineering and engineering-related subjects, or through things we do ourselves, like Flipside magazine [the IET’s science, engineering and technology educational magazine for teenagers,” he added.
Shadow Minister for Innovation and Science, Chi Onwurah MP, who worked as an engineer before entering politics, pointed out that in 25 years the percentage of female engineering students had not changed.
“That is one of the reasons why science and technology remains sidelined in our culture and in our economy and that has to change,” she argued.
“To compete globally we need more engineers and scientists and we need to be drawing them from a larger pool.
“I call on the Government to do more to encourage more girls into science and engineering, and improve the availability of quality STEM teaching.”
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A full version of the 2011 IET Skills and Demand in Industry Report is available upon request.