Can we do more to encourage women in engineering?
Tessa Colledge, engineering software programmer at Delcam, part of Autodesk, examines how industry and education need to work together to make more progress in the area of women in engineering
Last week was National Women in Engineering Day, which saw a host of organisations, and even the prime minister, tweeting from Number 10 to help raise awareness of the day.
The day showcased great examples of women succeeding in this field and provided advice for those looking to a career in engineering. Though this focus is fantastic to see, there is certainly more that we, as an industry, could and should be doing to encourage young women into this male-dominated sector.
The STEM skills gap in the UK continues to be an issue for many both within the industry and government. Indeed, according to a recent report from EngineeringUK, there is a current annual shortfall of 55,000 workers with engineering skills and women could play a significant role in plugging this gap.
My personal experience was that I studied maths at university, before a post-grad masters in applied maths. I was recommended my role as a computer programmer for the engineering industry by a personal contact and enjoy my job enormously. It’s a role, however, which I didn’t know about and certainly wasn’t aiming for, throughout my education.
Something which I’m involved in at Delcam is the STEM Ambassadors programme, where we visit local schools to speak to the students about roles in engineering and manufacturing. Though not specifically directed at females, it’s fantastic to see young women engaging in the topic.
Having the chance to understand the opportunities in this field and the qualifications needed for a broad range of careers which sit within the industry, can be hugely eye opening for the students. Having a female from the industry in the room can also really help in ensuring that the young women in the room realise that this career path is available to them too.
Similarly, Autodesk is involved with some fantastic initiatives to encourage children around the UK to get involved in STEM subjects. As well as giving all education institutions free access to its software and developing lesson plans for teachers, there are a number of STEM projects that Autodesk also supports.
For example, Autodesk is involved in the F1 in Schools programme, which challenges students from more than 40 countries around the world to create their own Formula One team.
Spanning age ranges of nine to 19, the main objective of the F1 in Schools programme is to help change the perceptions of science, technology, engineering and maths by creating a fun and exciting learning environment for young people to develop an informed view about careers in engineering, Formula One, science, marketing and technology.
Offering a way to learn STEM related subjects in such an exciting way is achieving great results. Importantly, there are many success stories of people who have actually come through the initiative and have gone on to engineering careers, including positions in Formula One teams.
Access to new technologies and tools to showcase how the industry is developing can also help in recruiting new entrants to the sector. All parts of the engineering sector are experiencing innovation at the moment, from product design and building smart cities, to the end manufacturing process. It’s a really exciting time for students and graduates to get involved in an industry that is experiencing digital disruption at every level.
Looking broadly at the industry, what is great to see is that there are schemes like Women in Engineering Day now in place to ensure that women are exposed to the opportunities available to them in this sector. These industry events are crucial in raising awareness, but businesses in the industry, schools and universities all have a role to play, if we are to make a breakthrough with young women.
In my role, I really enjoy projects that involve complex problems, breaking them down and solving them. Interestingly, I often approach problems in a different way to my male colleagues, which gives our team a better chance of finding a well-rounded solution. Essentially, more women in engineering could well result in more innovation in the industry, along with career satisfaction for those entering the field.
In terms of engaging more women in engineering, it’s going to continue to be a process, rather than a quick fix. What’s crucial is that businesses, industry bodies and education continue to come together with innovative and engaging platforms through which to communicate the engineering opportunity to young women.