When it comes to the survival of the UK within the global market economy, I agree wholeheartedly with James Dyson, who once said “engineers are the people who can create practical solutions to our 21st Century challenges of sustainability, housing and an ageing population. And we need more of them.”
As an individual, however, who has spent her career working in an industry in which less than 10% of the population is female, I would especially like to see growth in the number of women choosing the engineering route.
We undoubtedly have the capabilities needed: the ability to tackle the difficult STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), for example, or the creativity required in developing answers to difficult questions. We have seen that women make great leaders in business, frequently using their ability to think outside the box to their company’s advantage.
Moreover, not being part of the majority may even have given women in business the benefit of not having to follow others, thereby enabling spontaneous innovation as part of coping strategies on day to day projects. Becoming an engineer means being able to use all these skills on a daily basis, and a lifelong career will see you work in technical, creative and managerial positions. The progression and possibilities are limitless.
Of course, I would be remiss to ignore the challenges women face in getting into this industry. Working in a male dominated profession can, at times, feel isolating and there is always the risk that the right support systems are not in place to accommodate and encourage success.
This can often lead to a problem in retaining existing female engineers when they feel there is little way of overcoming these challenges. This issue was the basis for us at Carillion to launch Project SNOWE (Support Network for Operational Women in Engineering), a network where women right across the business have a means to draw upon the experience, support and encouragement of their colleagues (both male and female) when working in these engineering roles.
Even with the support that projects such as these provide, and with all the natural capabilities women possess, the challenge still remains as to how to encourage women themselves to consider this career route. Something needs to be done to highlight engineering as a real possibility, one they may not have previously thought to be an option, and often this needs to be addressed at a young age.
While we know girls thrive at STEM subjects at GSCE level, so often we find their interest has dropped off by A Level – a shocking 80% of those who get A* at GCSE Physics for example do not progress the subject into the Sixth Form. These subjects can act as the building blocks for success and by not selecting Maths and Science at this age, a number of career paths (including engineering) are automatically ruled out as an option.
Your Life is a three year campaign aimed at ensuring young adults in the UK have the Maths and Science skills needed to succeed in the competitive global economy. It looks to inspire young people to study Maths and Physics as a gateway into wide-ranging careers whilst also triggering employers to recruit and retain this talent.
Although Your Life is directed at both sexes, I believe it may be critical in ensuring that female students have all the guidance and knowledge they need to follow this fantastically exciting career path to the best of their abilities.
Without being made aware of the necessity of these skills and the opportunities they may bring, we are not only narrowing the pool of possible future engineers but doing a disservice to the young women of today who may not realise their potential.
Traditionally this has been a male career path, and there are, of course, still challenges we face in adapting to a more diverse and equal workplace. However, when the work is as interesting, varied, challenging and enjoyable as it is today I think it is time young girls started asking why should the boys have all the fun?