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Women will play key role in solving engineering skills crisis, says report

Semta report suggests sector should do more to tailor career advice to women who are more focused on an ‘interesting career’ over earning potential

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A report launched in Parliament this week calls for more to be done to encourage women to start a career in engineering to overcome the sector’s looming skills crisis.  

The Engineering Skills for the Future report, from not-for-profit employer-led skills experts Semta, shows that female engineers are more attracted to an ‘interesting career’ than to the salary they will receive.

The report also shows that female engineers are more likely than their male colleagues to encourage people to enter the sector because it offers the prospect of interesting work – and are less likely to focus on career prospects and the potential to earn while learning through an apprenticeship or sponsored degree.

In the report’s recommendations is a plea to education and industry “not to discount any of the people around us” as potential engineers – as a career in the sector simply may not have previously been sold to them effectively.

Semta chief executive Ann Watson said: “Without narrowing the engineering gender gap, there’s simply no way we will ever be able to recruit the engineer’s employers need. If our sector’s skills needs aren’t met, the economy as a whole will suffer and we’ll all be worse off.

“Despite a huge effort by employers to address the gender issue, just 3% of engineering apprenticeships are started by women. We need to ask whether we’re using the right messages to encourage women to enter the sector.

“This is all the more important in the context of Brexit – if we are going to find it more difficult to bring people in from overseas then we need to do much better at making the very most of the potential engineering workforce at home.

“This report will give politicians, employers, engineers and non-engineers alike a vital steer on what they can do to help. Not fixing this problem is simply not an option.”

Semta chairman Allan Cook added: “We simply have to do more on diversity and inclusion in our sector, because if we don’t we’re ignoring the potential contribution of half of our population.

“It’s so important that we can show everyone, but especially women, that a career in engineering can offer you so much more than just a monthly pay cheque and a pension – it gives you the chance to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and to really make your mark on society.”

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is also conducting a study into diversity and inclusivity barriers, this time in ICT research.

The study will look into what the barriers are, how they manifest themselves and what can be done to support underrepresented groups in ICT, including women and black and ethnic minorities.

Working with partners the British Computer SocietyNMI and the UK Computing Research Committee, EPSRC has commissioned the Employment Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University to complete the study which is commencing with an online survey.

Meanwhile, GE has promised to place 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020. The company also wants to obtain 50:50 gender representation in all its entry-level technical programs. GE currently employs 14,700 women in engineering, manufacturing, IT, and product management, representing 18% of the company’s technical workforce.

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