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Bringing back Engineering Britain

Posted by: Sally Fallon 9 Dec 13 - 5:01PM  | Engineering

Why a revolution in gender equality could be the key to industry growth

As the UK emerges from recession there is a growing belief that the country should refocus its economy towards manufacturing, but a lack of talented engineers is holding back progress. In the latest of its series of articles looking at bringing back Britain’s engineering heritage, Jonathan Lee Recruitment asks whether a revolution in gender equality could be just what the sector needs.

“Whether a new innovation comes from an individual with a bright idea, or from a group development process, diversity of input and talent is crucial to broadening your creative output,” says Matthew Heath, Managing Consultant of Aerospace, Defence and Aviation. “Only 6% of the current engineering workforce, and only 12% in the wider STEM sector, is made up of women. Whilst just over half of the country’s population is female. If the vast majority of that demographic is not engaged in engineering, then we are not taking full advantage of the diversity available and missing out on a wealth of innovative new perspectives. Furthermore, maintaining the existing talent pool will not be possible, let alone developing it for sustained growth, if we don’t work hard at encouraging young women to look to careers in Engineering. In the long-term this deficiency will damage our international competitiveness and lead to the gradual decline of the industry.”

The educational system as a whole is not producing enough SteM subject graduates to maintain the current status quo, but this deficiency is especially acute amongst girls. the number of students taking Science, technology, engineering and Maths has actually risen in recent years, with the sciences accounting for 17.8% of all subjects taken this year compared with 17.0% in 2012. However, the latest research from engineering uK shows that a large majority of girls lose interest in studying science at school between the ages of 11 and 13, and a staggering 92 % choose not to study triple science aged 14. A recent report from the Social Marketing Foundation found that one in five children will need to become an engineer if the uK has any chance of addressing the sector’s skills shortage, but if approximately half the nation’s pupils are girls who are not interested in the required topics, then the chance of achieving that target is low.

“It is relatively easy to get your average 13 year old boy at least talking about the sciences by pointing out the possibility of working on everything from motorsports to aerospace or defence,” says Matthew. “While there are plenty of young girls interested in those topics, engineering isn’t all cars, diggers and fighter planes and the wider opportunities need to be highlighted to young girls when they are choosing GCSEs or A levels to help generate a greater uptake. Imaginative, high-profile projects like the Olympic Park construction can spark the interests of young and old from both genders, and with technology becoming ever more pervasive throughout our lives, the opportunity of working for cutting edge innovators like Apple or Dyson has a broad appeal. Fighting climate change through work on renewable energy or efficient new technology development is also a popular idea among the younger generations.”

In the US, President Barack Obama called for America to think about new ways to engage young people in science and engineering such as science festivals, robotics competitions, or fairs that encourage young people to create, build and invent. If there is a genuine desire for the uK to follow suit and redress the economic balance, then there has to be a concerted effort between the government, industry leaders and the education system. they must work together to attract secondary school students, particularly girls, to engineering at a time in their lives when they are being asked to make important educational decisions.

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