By Ian Humphries, Managing Director, Boulting Group
Research conducted by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) shows that just six per cent of the engineering workforce in the UK is female, making the country one of the smallest employers of female engineering professionals in Europe. This article explores the pathways into the sector and how it is evolving.
A large skills gap currently looms over the UK engineering industry. Britain produces 12,000 newly qualified engineers a year, however there are currently 54,000 vacancies with this only set to increase. While the government has attempted to address this issue by launching various apprenticeship schemes, these programmes are failing to diversify the workforce. Of the 66,000 people undertaking an engineering or manufacturing apprenticeship, only three per cent are female.
It is now more important than ever that we create a more diverse workforce and inspire people from a multitude of backgrounds, if we wish to successfully develop the industry.
Rachel Tattan, assistant quality surveyor at Boulting Group followed two distinct pathways as she gained on-the-job experience while studying.
“My journey into engineering started at the age of 16, when I undertook a placement while studying at college. The experience spurred me on to develop my understanding of the industry and helped me make the decision to continue with my studies and earn a degree level qualification.
“My degree covered a number of areas including human resources, globalisation and finance, however it was business and management which I decided to focus on in the long-term.
“After working at Engineering Services developer, Mitie Group for over ten years, I took a short career break following the birth of my daughter. As my personal circumstances changed, I wanted to work in a more flexible environment that supported me. Boulting Group offered me exactly what I needed and I couldn’t be happier.”
Quality document control specialist, Claire Vassallo, took a different path into engineering.
“When I left school, I wasn’t interested in university, I just wanted to earn money. At 17 years old, I was introduced to the oil and gas sector, which was incredibly buoyant during the 80s. During my early days in the sector, I chose to concentrate on document control and worked on several large projects.
“In the last ten years, the oil and gas industry has seen a significant decline, so I decided to explore other opportunities. In 2015 I joined Boulting Group, where I work on two considerably large projects, managing quality procedure plans, technical documentation and electrical and mechanical drawings.”
For many years, women have struggled to break into a male dominated environment, however attitudes are changing and more opportunities are becoming available.
“The industry has changed so much in the past ten years,” added Tattan. “It is now becoming much more popular for women to go into roles that they typically haven’t done before. There are ample opportunities for career progression, particularly at Boulting Group. As well as moving up, there is a trend with people moving into other divisions. Boulting is incredibly supportive when it comes to career progression, assisting with individual learning development plans and detailed training programmes.”
But, what advice can today’s female engineers offer those looking to enter the industry?
“Don’t give up,” says Vassallo. “Engineering is a predominately male environment, however, it is changing and bringing with it a wealth of opportunities. I’m very happy with how my career has progressed, but if I could have my time again I think I would have gone to university to back up my skills.
“Having that background to begin with, while learning on the job can potentially give your career a kick start.”
While the engineering industry has a long way to go before it is truly representative, progress is being made. Businesses must engage with younger generations to demonstrate the breadth of opportunities the industry has to offer and how rewarding it can be.