CIPD Scotland Blog by Angela Elliott, Vice Chair West of Scotland

This week we invite CIPD West of Scotland Vice Chair and network rail Senior HRBP Angela Elliott to blog on the vital importance of getting more women into engineering.

> Back to School in Scotland on Equality, Engineering Skills Gaps and Building Our Talent Pipeline

Nearly 18% of companies in the engineering and manufacturing sectors report problems arising from skills gaps. The UK has the lowest numbers of women in Engineering and Technical functions in Europe with women representing around only 11% of the engineering and technical work population in UK.

These are just a couple of key statistics that were covered at the recent Building Your Talent Pipeline seminar organised by Semta and Equate Scotland which took place at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Glasgow. This event focussed on what the Government, employers, colleges and universities can do to help develop the next generation of female engineers and tackle the skills gap.

I was impressed and enthused to hear of the collaboration between some primary schools and employers in engaging pupils in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. I learned that at primary school, girls and boys are equally interested in engineering and this is when girls don’t see any barriers to them pursuing careers in these areas. There are organisations including Primary Engineer, whose work is supported by Tomorrow’s Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, who are facilitating schools and industry collaboration. We heard examples of how girls and boys at primary school are keen to express their ideas and designs for inventions and of how some designs are so good that the pupils have received advice from Intellectual Property lawyers on how to protect their future inventions!

Surprising then that only 14% of engineering undergraduates in the UK are female although in terms of degree results women do slightly better than men. Something clearly happens after primary school and before the end of secondary school that prevents more girls pursuing engineering as a career.  Perhaps its parents, teachers, society or the way girls like to choose their future careers.  If it is true that girls like to try different subjects and gain more experience before deciding on their desired career path, then it would make sense that that we all do more to encourage collaboration between schools and employers to offer insights and information on what the world of work, particularly in the science, engineering and technology sectors offers and the opportunities that exist at all levels for women as well as men.

There are some great examples of organisations including Babcock at Rosyth supporting school teachers with gaining training and experience within industry that increases their knowledge and facilitates them to encourage all their pupils to explore opportunities for their future careers in engineering sectors.

For the last 15 years MBDA Missile Systems, an organisation with locations in England and internationally, have insisted that half the students and schoolchildren on its educational programmes are female with impressive results. They have a policy that all visiting groups must comprise a 50:50 gender split. So if schools are only able to find two girls who are interested in engineering, they can only take two boys along to the visit. By incentivising schools to promote a positive image of engineering to girls, MBDA can draw upon a pool of female talent and this is now paying dividends. Half of the apprentices working there today are female. Insisting on a 50:50 gender split has clearly worked for that organisation and is certainly something to consider to facilitate increased female participation.
Further and Higher Educational institutions in Scotland are playing their part in supporting students gain qualifications and a career in engineering. For example The Engineering Academy which is collaboration between the University of Strathclyde, partner colleges and industry is delivering a route to a range of engineering degrees in the University’s Faculty of Engineering. The Academy is supported by the Scottish Funding Council with additional funded places each year to facilitate widening access to higher education to all people, regardless of background. The results should be more talented college students to further their academic career and become leading lights in Scotland’s vital engineering sectors.

So I believe that the current report card for Scotland’s equality, engineering skills gaps and talent pipeline is: that there is much work still to do but initial signs are promising and we should all keep working hard if we are to achieve positive results in this area.

Further Information:

Equate Scotland is an expert in gender equality throughout the science, engineering, technology and the built environment. Based in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University they work across Scotland in education and employment.

SEMTA is responsible for engineer skills for the future of the UK’s most advanced sectors. Led by employers, their role is to transfer the skills and productivity of the people who power our engineering and advanced manufacturing technologies sectors, enabling UK industry to compete on a global scale.

Angela Elliott
Senior HR Business Partner
Network Rail


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