This week marked International Women’s Day – as good a time as any to return to the ongoing issue of engineering’s skills shortages and the lack of females entering the sector, suggests Luna Williams of Vemco Consulting...
Engineering has been facing a skills shortage for the past decade, across almost every sub-sector. In fact, according to the UK Government’s Shortage Occupation List, engineers and engineering professionals make up more than half of all the country’s critically ‘in shortage’ roles.
This is primarily down to two things: a heightened demand for labour, and a lack of uptake in British engineering qualifications.
The issue of women in engineering has been a long-running one, with its workforce being one of the most male dominated sectors in the UK.
While the last five years have seen a range of governmental initiatives put in place to help resolve the issue of skils and lack of gender diversity within the engineering sector, both of these issues still remain. In fact, the engineering skills shortage has widened since the EU referendum result, and the up-take of engineering courses and careers for women has fallen since these were implemented.
Of course, the progress of such initiatives have been massively stemmed by outbreak of the coronavirus, which has caused major standstills within the sector itself as well as its recruitment efforts.
Engineering in Schools
A look at the most recent surveys on schools reveals some trends that can help us to understand the patterns of young people’s interest in Engineering careers.
According to data from the most recent Engineering UK report 46.4% of girls in the 11-14 age bracket expressed an interest in a career in Engineering when surveyed, compared to 25.4% of those in the 16-18 age bracket.
Comparatively, while the general retention of interest was higher in boys, the same trajectory was evident; 70.3% of boys in the 11-14 age bracket said they’d consider a career in engineering, which then dropped off to 51.9% in the 16-18 age range.
These similarities are important to observe; they show that the interest in careers in the Engineering field reduced as all children became older, but that boys are more likely to be interested in the field to begin with.
Based on this information, it is clear that efforts to encourage retention of interest in school-aged children must be multi-faceted. They must work to promote more interest in Engineering-related subjects and careers for girls at a younger age, while also striving to retain all young people’s initial interest in Engineering as they move through their school years.
An Engineering UK report published in 2019 presented compelling evidence showing initial trials of what was called “STEM outreach” were very effective for school. This showed that young people attending a STEM careers event in the previous 12 months were over 3 times as likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not attended one.
While these were initial trials, they suggest that if proper efforts are made to encourage interest in Engineering careers for young people -- be they girls or boys -- we will start to see more uptake in the subject at an enrollment and graduation level in universities and, later down the line, at an employment level.
As the world cautiously moves towards a new post-pandemic normality, a holistic approach to driving recruitment across the industry must be implemented. This must start in schools, and should focus on promoting and retaining interest for children of all ages and genders.
Luna Williams is a commentator for engineering consultants Vemco Consulting